Healthy once more, Dejan Vasiljevic and Jack White loom as NBL X-factors
After both returning from serious injuries, Dejan Vasiljevic and Jack White are set to lift their teams to greater heights.
Credit: Russell Freeman Photography
The NBL has been blessed with talent in recent years, and last season’s rookie class was no exception. Between talented Next Stars, returning college graduates and polished development players, the 2021 season featured one of the deepest groups of youngsters in recent memory.
While Josh Giddey had run away with the Rookie of the Year award by season’s end, that wasn’t always a foregone conclusion. The most obvious challenger midway through the year was Dejan Vasiljevic, with the sharpshooting guard joining the Sydney Kings after a stellar NCAA career and expanding his game with aplomb. Another candidate who was a little less flashy but arguably just as impactful, was Jack White, who led Melbourne United in blocks per game as they posted the best defensive numbers in the league.
Their seasons would end in heartbreak, though. Both emerging stars suffered devastating Achilles tears that ruled them out of action for the end of NBL21 and the early stages of NBL22. Vasiljevic’s Kings missed a finals berth by percentage only despite being hit hard by injuries throughout, while White was forced to watch from the sidelines as United won their sixth championship.
After spending the past eight months recovering and rehabbing, both Vasiljevic and White returned to the court in round three. That alone was cause for celebration; as the Kings praised Vasiljevic for his determination and United players and staff sported “Jack is Back” t-shirts, their performance on the court was momentarily put on the backburner.
Neither Vasiljevic or White will have much time to resettle, as their teams look to steady after shaky starts to the season. Both Sydney and Melbourne hope to make deep finals runs, but after three rounds they are floating around .500 and still searching for consistency. It almost seems unfair given the severity of their injuries, but each team’s young star looms as the X-factor that could send them shooting up the table.
Credit: May Bailey Photography
There are always plenty of ups and downs during a full NBL season, and the Sydney Kings saw both ends of the spectrum in the span of one weekend. Just two days after giving up a 26-0 start, being held to 47 points and copping an NBL-record 42-point loss to Melbourne, the Kings bounced back to beat the previously undefeated South East Melbourne Phoenix on the road. After showing off their best and their worst in quick succession, it was hard to tell where in between Sydney’s true ability might fall.
When looking at the bigger picture of the season to date, some interesting trends start to appear.
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