Can Melbourne United's new imports cover their offseason losses?
The team is staying steadfast on its formula for last season's success.
Credit: May Bailey Photography
There have not been many NBL offseasons quite like Melbourne United’s. After dominating last regular season with the league’s strongest local contingent, United was seemingly set for long-term success.
That all changed, when free agency hit.
MVP finalist Jo Lual-Acuil departed to chase opportunities overseas. After impressing for the Australia Boomers and at NBA Summer League, both Jack White and Matthew Dellavedova landed NBA deals.
While that player pathway is a product of the club’s success, it also left them high and dry ahead of next season. Only weeks ago, it seemed that both White and Dellavedova might return; instead, Melbourne were suddenly left without three of their starters at a time when the local free agency market had already been seemingly sucked dry. While he has never been one for subtlety, it was easy to see where Corey “Homicide” Williams came from, when he said that he had “never seen an offseason so horrible to a team”.
After having just one import in each of the past two seasons, Melbourne has now been forced to spend big on overseas talent. They have replaced their departing Aussies, as well as last year’s lone import Caleb Agada, with a trio of American stars. Guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes, wing Rayjon Tucker and forward Jordan Caroline are now stepping into those big shoes left behind.
It is far from a straight swap, but the hope will be that those three players can offset the talent that United has lost this offseason. Can they successfully fill the void that was created in free agency, or better yet, can they improve a team that fell short in the finals?
Of Melbourne’s three signings, Rathan-Mayes is the most known quantity in the NBL. He was a key member of an Illawarra Hawks squad that went 19-9 last season, and while he came off the bench for the majority of the season, he had a big enough impact to finish runner up in voting for the NBL’s Best Sixth Man award behind Shea Ili.
That award certainly won’t have the same one-two finish next season, with Rathan-Mayes and Ili now teaming up for United. One of them will take on a starting role running the point, while the other will likely remain as a high-impact reserve. The two will provide an interesting duality, with Ili one of the league’s top defensive guards and Rathan-Mayes known more for his offensive prowess.
United likely knows more than most, how dynamic Rathan-Mayes can be at his best. In their final meeting with the Hawks last season, he poured in a game-high 25 points, including nine in the fourth quarter, as Illawarra came from behind to win. It was an impressive display of shot making off the dribble, as he showed off the skillset that placed him in the NBA in 2018.
That offensive ability was something Melbourne lacked at times last season, particularly during their shock semi-final loss to Tasmania. “Sometimes you just miss having that guy who can go get a bucket. We needed that from someone when Chris [Goulding] went down, and we just didn't have that guy,” United coach Dean Vickerman told ESPN during NBA Summer League.
On the surface, a straight swap of Dellavedova for Rathan-Mayes looks like the offensive upgrade that Melbourne’s after. For all that he did so well, Dellavedova was not “that guy” that Vickerman needed to get them a bucket. Never a volume scorer, he scored just 0.59 points per play in isolation while shooting below 40% from the field overall, per Jordan McCallum.
With a shifty handle and a quick trigger, Rathan-Mayes fits the profile of the go-to scorer that Vickerman speaks of. At times that he was just that for the Hawks, as he would pick apart an opposing defence from the midrange. Almost one-third of his total shots last season came from that midrange area, per Spatial Jam, and he shot at a clip above the league average from there.
Despite those promising moments, he was still an inefficient scorer overall for much of the season.
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