The Phoenix Puzzle: Is Keith Benson the right fit?
South East Melbourne Phoenix and GM Tommy Greer have got a lot of things right.
Marquee player in Mitch Creek - Tick
Local favourite hometown hero in Kyle Adnam - Tick
A 5'10 lights out import in John Roberson - Tick
But when it comes to US import Keith Benson, something feels missing.
Whilst it may be early and by no means am I claiming to be an expert in body language; however, Benson looks disinterested.
He's moving like he has just jumped off a flight from LAX to Melbourne and is feeling jet lagged. Is that all it is?
NBA D-League champion(2016)
All-NBA D-League First Team(2017)
NBA D-League All-Defensive Team (2017)
2× NBA D-League All-Star(2016, 2017)
In 2016, Benson won a D-League championship with the Sioux Falls Skyforce, before being named to the All-NBA D-League First Team the following season.
Phoenix head coach Simon Mitchell expressed his excitement to bring Benson to the NBL during an interview with NBL media.
“Keith is a very accomplished centre with significant experience in both the US and abroad," Mitchell said.
"He was an NBA G-League All-First teamer in 2017, an all-defensive team member, excelling in rim protection as well as a conference player of the year and defensive player of the year in college.
Phoenix need a 6'11 centre who can be a force during NBL20. With their roster complete and Mitch Creek joining the team after a run with the Boomers World Cup squad, the Phoenix would have been hoping to see more from their key import signing.
Across the NBL Blitz, Benson seemed non existent.
After starting the first match up he went on to play under 10 minutes. Contributing just four points and four rebounds in a match up against the Sydney Kings.
He was subsequently move to the bench in game two of their two-game weekend, replaced by local product and NBL1 standout Dane Pineau.
After what is arguably one of the more publicly visible demotions, meant for players to show some determination and aggression in response, Benson once again lacked athleticism and excitement, posting a mere three points and three rebounds in 11 minutes of court time.
In that game against New Zealand, the Phoenix were able to take control of the glass out-rebounding the Breakers 34-21. In fact, of those 34, the Phoenix pulled down 15 offensive rebounds in which Benson was barely sighted grabbing just one of those.
Rim protection is what SEM Phoenix were looking for when they signed the former D-League champ. Across the course of the NBL Blitz, Benson tallied seven rebounds and no blocks.
Can he be their answer?
In a league where big men play key roles in success, Phoenix need to question whether they can roll the dice on an import who is putting up the numbers of a local player?
Replacing imports in season 2018/19 proved to be a success. Jerrielle Benimon turned into Shawn Long. Alonzo Gee was moved on for Lamar Patterson. Both the Breakers and the Bullets wouldn't argue the fact that they got better with the changes made.
South East Melbourne are arguably a little thin at the five spot, and will need to rely on the 30-year-old to display the pedigree he has on a consistent basis. But if these lacklustre performances start to span into the regular season, will the Phoenix be forced to show their hand early?
Only time will tell.