Which is the stronger conference?
The East looks tougher with Mt Gambier, Geelong and Nunawading all running with rosters that are littered with high end talent and proven rotation players. On paper, these three appear to be a playoff lock leaving just one spot in the playoffs up for grabs for Albury-Wodonga, Kilsyth or Sandringham.
The South has a number of question marks with a substantial amount of roster turnover amongst the top squads of last season. Bendigo, Dandenong, Ballarat and Hobart might be the favoured playoff sides in the conference at the moment but new imports in the league are the wildcard and could shift the dynamics considerably.
Can anyone compete with the depth of Mt Gambier, Geelong or Nunawading?
The short answer is no – other teams are going to need elite import production to counteract the depth discrepancy.
Mt Gambier are the title favourites yet again with their star Australian core all returning and two front-court imports signed to balance out the roster. Luke Jamieson was superb at power forward in his debut Pioneers season and his starting partner Daniel Alexander looms as someone who can help put this offense at the top of the league. Jack Madgen came in late last year so will be better too.
Geelong don’t quite have the upside of Mt Gambier with Demarcus Gatlin returning (he was good but wasn’t an elite import), rather, they are relying on a bounce back year from Nick Owusu and the injection of Ma’alo Hicks’ talent to be enough to get them over the top.
Nunawading have gone for an import this season with Dain Swetalla slotted in next to Simon Conn. Swetalla played almost all of his minutes at center last season but is an athlete and the Spectres will need him to chase mobile fours around whilst hurting the opposition on the offensive glass on the other end. Tom Wright is the big addition on the wing with his stellar play and ability to fill different roles an easy fit on any team.
Which of the new imports do we have an eye on?
Daniel Alexander is a talent and dominated the West Australian SBL last season. He joins Mt Gambier side with strong shot creators and shooters that will give him plenty of room to operate.
Akeem Richmond averaged almost a dozen three point attempts a game back in his senior college season and his shot could go a long way to deciding the Thunder’s fortunes. His backcourt partner is the reliable Daniel Sepokas whilst the remainder of the roster is fairly young.
Davon Usher is the likely leading scorer for a Ballarat team that has lost some major scoring punch over the off-season so he could impress.
Nelson Kirksey comes across from South Australia’s Premier League where he was a strong scorer. Kilsyth are desperate for him to replace Kyle Adnam’s shot-creation and also Joel Naburgs wing scoring. He’ll have all the ball-handling he can handle with the Cobras talent mainly sitting in the frontcourt this season.
Which locals are we most interested in?
Jorden Page joins Dandenong with the team needing quality guard minutes given the absence of Andrew Harms, Lucas Walker and Daequon Montreal. That's a lot of shot-creation missing which leaves Page an opportunity to average in the mid-teens in scoring.
Peter Hooley never landed an NBL gig after college and instead went to the British Basketball League where he played sparingly. Ballarat gives him a chance to play in a backcourt that needs 30+ minutes from him.
Tom Fullarton is my pick for Youth Player of the Year. He has really nice size for a wing and should continue to develop as an all-round scorer and shot-creator this season.
Igor Hadziomerovic's a wing who should be able to handle, create, shoot and defend well at this level. Sandringham have been fairly uninspiring to watch in recent seasons so here’s hoping for a big season from him.
Deba George is always a favourite given his shot-making and flare but his production slipped last season and so did the Bandits win total. The squad around him this year is a little smaller and almost a totally new rotation of players including a new back-court partner in Joel Spear.
Ben Richmond has gone from Australian Institute of Sport attendee to then appear on an AFL list, to now being back in basketball. Given Craig Moller's impressive code swap and form in the SEABL, Richmond is someone to watch.
Can Tom Garlepp’s short term stint in Hobart land them a playoff spot?
Hobart start the season with the services of Tom Garlepp for four games and he projects as a legitimate difference-maker given his scoring prowess. Their fixture reads NW Tasmania, Frankston, Melbourne and Sandringham (all at home) to open the season so the likelihood of Garlepp’s leaving them at 4-0 is real. Mathiang Muo can play a number of positions well at this level and he is a terrific signing considering the losses of Jarrad Weeks and Wright. The imports are hard to gauge without seeing them but Chris Whitehead is a small guard, who doesn’t shoot many threes, whilst Rob Heyer was a low usage guy at Boise State a couple of years ago. Lewis Thomas is the man coming in for Tom Garlepp and he has okay stats in the similarly talented British Basketball League.
Do Bendigo have any chance of matching last season’s dream run?
The likelihood of repeating last season’s efforts appear slim with the league’s best offensive player in Jeremy Kendle and the SEABL’s best defender in Damian Johnson both moving on (as well as local starter Kevin White). The back-court is smaller with Dyami Starks and Adam Doyle joining the squad. Starks averaged over nine three point attempts in his senior year at Bryant whilst Doyle is proven at this level and will contribute well. C.J. Aiken has the shot blocking prowess of Damian Johnson (not the all-round skillset though) and needs to be a disciplined defender on that end for Bendigo to contend again, given Matt Andronicos doesn’t play big minutes and the depth is lacking. Chris Hogan’s bounce back season was underrated last year with his dead-eye long range bombing a pivotal part of the squad, but he'll have a hard time repeating that.
Which cellar dweller from last season will be more fun to watch?
The team doesn’t have the talent of the 2015 team (think Dejan Vasiljevic, Jack McVeigh, Deng Gak, Harry Froling, Jack White etc.) that notched up a number of wins, but the Centre of Excellence are the obvious answer to this question with Angus Glover and Tom Fullarton returning yet again and the super talented Sam Froling a year older. There’s even some international flavour in the squad that adds a different dimension if they can log minutes.
Melbourne have gone further down the Asian route with two more Chinese players joining Bo Liu. The backcourt loses Rhys Carter who was a real difference maker, whilst Daryl Corletto will once again be a mid-season recruit. A small-ball unit of Liu at center and Ari Stewart at power forward might be their best bet for some offense.
Frankston appear thin again with Bennie Lewis the only returning starting quality player. Taylor Dyson needs to impact as a scorer in the backcourt and he is joined by fellow newcomer Sean Preston. Alex Francis is undersized, given his skill-set, but will do fine with his rebounding and inside play in the SEABL alongside Nate Buss who can stretch the floor at the other big spot.
Canberra appear likely to miss the playoffs this season with their roster almost unknown outside of Ben Allen, Daniel Joyce, Ben Kearins and James Toohey. Last season they snuck the Tim Coenraad signing past me and will need something similar (or an import) to be competitive.
South Bendigo Dandenong Ballarat Hobart NW Tasmania Frankston Melbourne
East Mt Gambier Nunawading Geelong Albury-Wodonga Kilsyth Sandringham Canberra BA Centre of Excellence (ineligible for playoffs)