The biggest roster changes and takeaways heading into NBL 2019/20
Each year, the NBL offseason seems to outdo its predecessor, and 2019 is no exception. There were a lot of big moves across the league, with some new faces joining the NBL family, and some familiar faces changing their allegiances. Here are some of the biggest changes to happen to each team.
Note: The South East Melbourne Phoenix are excluded, as they will be making their debut this coming season.
Cairns Taipans: Snakes go big (literally) with Cameron Oliver, Kouat Noi and Scott Machado
After a horror 2019 season, the Taipans have gone for a near-complete rebuild, bringing in a ton of new talent and re-signing big man Nathan Jawai.
American import Cameron Oliver is a power player, pure and simple. The 23-year-old former Delaware Blue Coat is a big unit (203 cm and 102 kg) with explosive athleticism. During Oliver’s most recent stint in the G League he averaged 15.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. For a team that had difficulty imposing themselves on the game, Oliver is a great addition.
Adding to Cairns’ size is local Kouat Noi. At 201 cm tall, the projected 2020 draft pick is a versatile player who can score from multiple spots on the court and has the physical gifts to defend all five positions. At only 21 years of age, Noi is still figuring out his game, but has exciting potential that the Taipans will be eager to harness.
Rounding the Taipans’ major additions is former NBA point guard, Scott Machado. He recently averaged 16.4 points and 8.0 assists with the SB Lakers in the G-League. The Brazilian-American is a tough floor general with a hardened defensive edge. At 29-years-old Machado is in his prime, but has the experience of a veteran. His on-court generalship will be invaluable to Cairns.
Adelaide 36ers: No Sobey and Wiley, new wave of imports
The Adelaide 36ers have been quietly building their team away from the spotlight. The biggest blow for the 36ers this offseason was the loss of Nathan Sobey to the Brisbane Bullets and Jacob Wiley heading to Europe.
Adelaide has been busy exploring the import market in response, bringing into the fold 23-year-old Design Taylor from Fresno State, and 29-year-old Eric Griffin, who’s fresh off a stint with Israel's Ironi Nahariya.
Taylor is an athletic ‘3 and D’ guard. Over his four-year college career, he shot 39.6% from three while averaging 13.7 points. In his final year at Fresno he averaged 17.9 points, 5 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.4 steals. It’s too early to call him a Sobey replacement, but he certainly is built in a similar mould. For a team that has traditionally been one of the weaker defensive teams in the NBL, Taylor’s signing is a great step towards improvement.
Griffin appears to be Adelaide’s Wiley replacement. The 203 cm forward brings a wealth of experience playing basketball around the world. Like Wiley, he plays the game above the rim but also has the added skill of being a talented rim protector. Similar to Taylor, Griffith gives the 36ers some extra defensive muscle.
Brisbane Bullets: Sobey joins recommitted Patterson and skilled new imports
After a nightmare 2018 season, the Bullets are on their way back to NBL relevancy after making the semi-finals last season, thanks in large part to Lamar Patterson. Brisbane's managed to create a scary duo with the signing of Nathan Sobey.
Much like Patterson, Sobey had an incredible 2018 season. He logged career highs in points (16.0), assists (5.2), field goal accuracy (46%) and equalled his career-high in rebounds (5.0). At 29-year-old, Nathan Sobey heads to Brisbane in the prime of his career. And with three years on his contract, the Bullets have a top tier player to spearhead a longterm run at the title.
The Bullets also signed American imports Taylor Braun and E.J. Singler.
Braun is a utility wing player with a diverse set of skills and attributes. He will be able to impact the game in a number of ways and could be used as Brisbane’s problem solver. Braun recently played in Italy’s Lega Basket Serie A for Victoria Libertas where he averaged 12.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, while also shooting 36% from three.
Speaking of threes, Singler gives the Bullets some potent firepower from long range. During his recent season in the New Zealand NBL with the Hawke’s Bay Hawks, he shot an incredible 43% from beyond the arc and poured in 20 points per game.
Illawarra Hawks: LaMelo Ball and the veterans
The Hawks may be one of the most interesting teams to watch this season.
The name that has garnered the most attention is 17-year-old global basketball attraction, LaMelo Ball. Playing in the NBL as part of the Next Stars Program, Ball is a volume scorer who likes the ball in his hands. He is unafraid to take nearly any shot made available to him. He has the size and length to score in difficult scenarios and is a talent finisher at the rim. There are still many questions to be answered about how his showman style will translate to the NBL, and his ability to defend much larger and stronger opponents. Regardless, Ball has the ability to shine if he is able to adopt a team mentality.
Aaron Brooks, former NBA player and the 2010 Most Improved Player, is another big signing for the regional NSW team. At 34 years old, the wickedly fast Brooks has a wealth of experience that he brings to the team. Aside from his skill as a player, he could also take on a mentoring role for the young Ball as a fellow American. His impact may be just as important off the court as it will be on the court.
American and former United big man Josh Boone may also have a similar role. His leadership of the younger players (especially Ball) will be a great asset to Illawarra. As an American who has lived and breathed Australian basketball since 2016, he will be a terrific mentor.
Matt Flinn replaces Rob Beveridge as the team's head coach. This will be his first head coaching position in the NBL after serving a 12-year apprenticeship under various coaches. There will be significant pressure on the rookie coach to make the most out of his talented roster. And with the added pressure of having a Ball Brother under his stewardship, Flinn has a lot on his plate.
Melbourne United: Lose Casper Ware, gain Melo Trimble, Casey Prather and Shawn Long
After losing fan favourite Casper Ware to the Sydney Kings, there was a brief moment where we wondered what shape Melbourne United would take next.
Replacing Ware is 2019 NBL leading scorer and former Cairns Taipan, Melo Trimble. Last season Melo averaged 22.50 points, shooting 45% from the field and 42% from three. Admittedly, Trimble put up these numbers while on a team that really struggled to win, so it’s important to put these incredible numbers into context. However, Trimble's talent for scoring cannot be disputed. Sharing the backcourt with the attention-grabbing Goulding will give him ample opportunity to do what he does best.
Casey Prather will make his return to United this season, the club he helped win a title in 2018. In Prather, Melbourne welcomes back a player already familiar with their system and culture. It shouldn’t take more than a few games to rediscover his feel for the NBL and Melbourne’s style of basketball. Barring something unforeseen, Prather should give United immediate bang for their buck. In Prather, Melbourne also adds an incredibly versatile player with natural scoring ability. Prather is a skilled slasher, able to get to the rim with minimal fuss. He also has the physical gifts that make him a formidable presence on defence, able to guard multiple positions.
With Josh Boone leaving for Illawarra, Melbourne upgraded their centre slot. Joining Prather is former New Zealand Breaker big man, Shawn Long. Long was awarded NBL Second Team honours after an incredible season across the Tasman. Last year he put up incredible numbers, leading his team with his scoreboard impact and his work on the glass, with 18.2 points and 9.1 rebounds. Although undersized for a big man, Long gives Melbourne energy and athleticism that can be harnessed on both ends of the floor.
New Zealand Breakers: RJ Hampton, Sek Henry and Chris Obekpa join new coach Dan Shamir
RJ Hampton is easily the highest-profile addition to the Breakers’ roster. Ranked fifth on the 2019 ESPN 100, Hampton is an attacking point guard with great shooting touch and an ability to finish in the paint. His upside is an incredibly exciting prospect for the Breakers. At 195cm Hampton has great size paired with his natural skill, which will make him a handful for smaller guards in the NBL. On the other hand, playing against bigger and stronger opponents in a physical league may take him a while to adapt.
2018 Israeli League MVP Sek Henry's signing makes New Zealand’s guard depth legitimately scary. Corey Webster will most likely start, but Henry is a formidable backup to have coming off the pine. The Jamaican American can score off his own dribble and make the smart play.
Related: Terry Li signs with NBL SKY Sport Breakers, becomes first Chinese NBA Academy prospect to turn pro
The Breakers also added a rim protector and rebounding specialist with the signing of Chris Obekpa as a Shawn Long replacement. At his last club in Lebanon, he averaged 3.3 blocks to go along with his 7.8 rebounds. Obekpa brings a lot of toughness to his new team.
Rounding out the big changes is new coach, Dan Shamir. Replacing Kevin Braswell who was let go in the first year of his three year deal, the Israeli coach has a decorated career coaching in his home country. He has won three Israeli Cups as a head coach and two EuroLeague Championships as an assistant.
Perth Wildcats: Dario Hunt
As the reigning NBL champions, the Perth Wildcats will be the hunted ones this season.
It only seems right then that they bring on American big, Dario Hunt. Although undersized for the position he plays (206 cm) Hunt is a strong, long and athletic centre with a nose for rebounding, winning the Lega Basket Serie A rebounding title in 2016. Hunt also has defence in his DNA, getting WAC All-Defensive Team honours three years in a row (2010-2012).
With the departure and eventual retirement of Tom Jervis, Hunt tops up Perth’s interior presence. Another new Wildcat, Majok Majok also helps to bolster Perth’s muscle.
Outside of Hunt and Majok, Perth’s roster is nearly a mirror of last season’s squad. Wani Swaka Lo Buluk has been signed to a three-year deal, Nico Pozoglou is a Wildcats DP, and both give Perth some energy off the bench. It appears the Wildcats' mentality is ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.
Sydney Kings: Ware joins, Will Weaver takes the wheel as new head coach.
One team’s loss in another’s gain, a theme that will come more than once in this article. This season, Ware takes off the black jersey and puts on a purple one.
Here is another case of a top contender not missing a beat, after losing one of their franchise players. With Jerome Randle gone, the Kings welcome another of the league’s top guards, Casper Ware. As well as being an elite two-way player (three-time All-NBL First Team), Ware brings championship experience to a team craving a title. And for a team with pressure mounting to deliver, Ware is an incredibly valuable addition. He is a clutch player who is unafraid to take the big shot and has one of the best inside/outside games in the NBL. Although comparisons can be made about Randle and Ware’s offence, Ware is definitely a defensive upgrade from Randle. The small guard from California was one of the leading contenders for Defensive Player of the Year last season, an award that went to now teammate, Andrew Bogut.
The Sydney Kings also welcome a new coach, with Will Weaver replacing Andrew Gaze at the helm of the ship. Weaver has extensive coaching experience in the USA, most recently as the head coach of the Long Island Nets, the Brooklyn Nets' G League affiliate team. Prior to that, he worked under Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown as his special assistant. On top of that already impressive resume, he is also the assistant coach of the Boomers. Weaver brings a lot of coaching experience to Sydney, time will tell if he is able to steer the ship to the promised land.