Jock Landale is home, and he's set to take over the NBL

Jock Landale should be in the NBA. Instead, he could be the player to push Melbourne United into championship contention.

Credit: FIBA

In what became an extended and interrupted offseason for the NBL, most teams went looking for stability. With reduced roster sizes and only two import slots, as well as early doubts around how those imports would enter Australia, local talent was suddenly more important than ever. Most of the top names in the free agent market were snapped up early, with a swag of players returning from overseas professional leagues and NCAA programs to sign early in the window.

Among the flurry of activity, as superstars and role players, imports and locals alike all found new homes, Melbourne United sat quietly. Sure, they nabbed four-year Duke Blue Devil Jack White on the opening day of free agency, but that was their only real attention-grabbing move for almost five months. They re-signed key holdovers Chris Goulding and David Barlow, but let imports Melo Trimble and Shawn Long walk to overseas leagues. Still with no imports signed late in November, they looked to be well short on the star power needed to contend for a title.

Just two weeks later, any such concerns suddenly seem foolish. What from the outside looked like a lack of initiative on the player market now looks to have been a patient play at a bigger prize. United signed Scotty Hopson, a proven import in the league following his selection to the All-NBL Second Team last season. His scoring punch and playmaking make him one of the most effective offensive players in the league, and he should fit perfectly with United’s guards to form arguably the scariest perimeter trio for opposing defences. There’s every chance, though, that Hopson isn’t the biggest jewel in Melbourne’s offseason crown.

That title could well end up with Jock Landale, the Boomers big who looked certain to land with an NBA team after two outstanding seasons in Europe. That didn’t eventuate, and with so much uncertainty around the world, he instead has decided to return home to Melbourne and sign with United. With their roster now complete, the team will not be adding a second import, which shows the confidence they have in Landale to shoulder a heavy load. Entering the league as one of the most talented local players, he looks set to catapult Melbourne into title contention once more.

Landale’s journey so far

For many Australians, last year’s FIBA World Cup would have been the introduction to Jock Landale. As part of a star-studded Boomers squad that finished fourth in the tournament Landale was able to carve out a key role, playing more than 18 minutes per game during their run to the semi-finals.

For those that predominantly follow the NBA, it may have been a surprise to see the likes of Patty Mills, Joe Ingles and Andrew Bogut spending extended time on the court with Landale. In reality, though, he has been one of Australia’s most successful basketballers since his college days at Saint Mary’s, California. Even more impressively, he has continued to improve and evolve ever since.

At Saint Mary’s, Landale went from a rarely-used backup as a freshman to one of the most dominant bigs in the country as a senior. In fact, The Ringer’s Mark Titus labelled him as “the best centre in college basketball” ahead of his final year. Standing at six-foot-eleven and with a strong frame, he developed a polished post game that helped him to shoot over 60% from the field in all four of his NCAA seasons. That included his senior year where he averaged 21.1 points per game and led the entire nation in field goals made, per Sports Reference.

With that scoring ability came double teams and extra attention from opposing defences, which Landale overcame by improving his playmaking out of the post. In fact, he sat inside the top 20 in the West Coast Conference for assists in his final season, a remarkable feat for a scoring centre. While Saint Mary’s was not able to make the most of Landale’s excellence, reaching the NCAA Tournament just once in his career, he was named the WCC Player of the Year and a consensus All-American in 2018.

After missing out on selection in the 2018 NBA Draft, Landale signed with KK Partizan and immediately began expanding his game. After making just eight three-point field goals in his entire Saint Mary’s career, he shot 12-37 (32.4%) from deep in the Adriatic League and 8-21 (38.1%) in the EuroCup in 2018-19.

After claiming a place in the All-Adriatic League team, which has previously featured a number of future NBA players, he signed with BC Zalgiris in Lithuania for this last season gone. He continued to let it fly from the arc there, shooting a combined 30-91 (33%) in the EuroLeague and the LKL and even being invited to take part in the Lithuanian three-point contest.

His total evolution as a player was on display, and in the brightest spotlight, at the 2019 NBA Summer League.

Playing for the Milwaukee Bucks, Landale was on of the most impressive players at the event as he averaged 18.2 points and 7 rebounds per game while shooting 55.3% from the field and 44.4% from deep (per RealGM). His 23-point outing against China showcased his full offensive arsenal with scoring from the post, the midrange and the three point line.

With the ability to manoeuvre and finish in the post, stretch the floor from deep and score from everywhere in between, Landale will enter the NBL as one of the most complete offensive players in recent memory. Like many post-oriented bigs he has faced scrutiny on the defensive end, but a high basketball IQ paired with a surprising amount of mobility make him a capable rim protector in most systems. Put all of that together, and there is plenty of reason for excitement in Melbourne.

The NBL’s best offence?

With such a well-rounded and polished game, it’s a surprise to see Landale still stuck on the outer when it comes to the NBA. Their loss is the NBL’s huge gain, though, and when it came time to return to Australia there was never any doubt where he would land. When COVID-19 shut down the EuroLeague and most other leagues globally, Landale returned home to train with United over the last few months. “I am incredibly excited to be playing in my home country for the first time in years, for an organisation that’s already done so much for me… the decision was easy in the end,” he told the NBL.

It also helps that he is an ideal fit with the rest of Melbourne’s roster. He has already played alongside fellow Boomers Chris Goulding, Mitch McCarron and David Barlow, and his skillset should help to further unlock their games as well as that of Scotty Hopson. Very mobile for his size, he will be a perfect pick and roll partner for United’s perimeter stars, with the ability to both finish at the rim and create shots for others on the fly. “[It’s] not just his scoring out of the post, his distribution and passing out of the post as well,” Melbourne coach Dean Vickerman told the NBL.

With excellent shooters in Goulding (38.8 3P% last season), McCarron (38.4%), Barlow (42.3%) and Scotty Hopson (40.2%) around him, opposing teams will have to pick their poison when Landale catches the ball inside the arc. It’s an issue that long plagued the opponents of Saint Mary’s when Landale was on fire — do you send a double team and force someone else to beat you? That was a viable strategy against the Gaels, a mid-major program that sometimes lacked other steady offensive options. Against a Melbourne starting lineup where all five players can shoot the ball, it will be much harder to justify sending too much help to Landale in the post.

When those starters sit, Landale should be more than capable of keeping the offence afloat alongside the second unit. United have plenty of talent available off the bench: Shea Ili is among the league’s best defensive guards, Jo Lual-Acuil and Jack White bring buckets of energy on both ends, and Yudai Baba is a super-athletic wildcard. The one thing that group lacks is a reliable source of offence. Having Landale, Hopson or Goulding on the floor at all times should keep the scoreboard ticking. Most teams are happy to have one or two elite scorers to rely on; no other club has the bevy of options that Melbourne has.

Ever since arriving in California as a late blooming teenager, Landale has worked tirelessly to improve and expand his game. After paying his dues in the NCAA and across Europe, there’s no questioning that he deserves a shot in the NBA. “We wanted him to pursue his dreams and go to the NBA, and we’re sure that’s going to happen in time,” Vickerman said, “but right now he’s playing for Melbourne United and we think it’s an absolutely great fit for our club.”

Until that chance comes along, Landale is focussed on doing everything he can to help the club that has helped him so much in a difficult year. “I want to win a championship here and bring one to Melbourne,” he said. It certainly looks like United have the talent to challenge for the title, and Landale himself is set for a mammoth season.

Enjoy him while he’s here, Australia.