How Mitch Creek's NBA journey prepared him to lead the South East Melbourne Phoenix

Following an exciting year in the NBA with Brooklyn, Minnesota and most recently the Australian Boomers in the World Cup, marquee forward Mitch Creek is finally home, and primed to lead the NBL’s newest franchise - the South East Melbourne Phoenix.

Earlier in the year, the 27-year-old honed his craft as a do-it-all forward with the Brooklyn Nets’ G League affiliate, the Long Island Nets. Starting in 32 out of a possible 41 games, Creek made a living by cutting and scoring in close, something that has made him a household name in the NBL. The forward enjoyed games as a facilitator, rebounder and above all a consistent scorer, posting a reliable 55 per cent from the field to help his side secure a top seed at the end of the regular season.

It was those displays against G League opponents that saw Creek make his NBA debut in January with the Brooklyn Nets. Playing just two seconds in his first game, Creek made big plays against Boston in his second appearance before receiving a second 10-day contract, dishing up eight points, five rebounds and four assists against the Bucks in what proved to be his final game with the Nets.

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Upon his return to Long Island, Creek continued to offer versatility at either the wing or four position. A notable defender, Creek also worked hard at the scoring end of the court, ranking first on their roster for Offensive Win Shares, and finished with a season offensive rating (estimate of pts produced per 100 possessions) of 121, equal-second with all players who took to the court with Long Island last season. During his only playoff appearance with the G League Nets, Creek was ultra-active, posting 13 points and 12 rebounds, again solidifying his work ethic on the big stage.

Creek garnered interest from the Minnesota Timberwolves as the season regular season began to wind down. By April, he was added to the Timberwolves roster and played in their second-last match against eventual champions Toronto. In what seemed to be the perfect match for a guy with a wolf tattoo, Creek worked out with the team in the offseason, learning from first-year coach Ryan Saunders.

His attention quickly switched to Las Vegas once July came around, and at the NBA Summer League, Creek showed his ability to fit in and mesh well. The Horsham product led the Minnesota Timberwolves all the way to the championship game, doing everything possible to make himself known to the NBA scouts out there. On average, Creek played the most minutes per game for Minnesota, shooting a team-high 64% from the field.

The swingman's physicality, defensive tenacity and leadership placed him in good stead for the next chapter of his basketball journey - the FIBA 2019 World Cup.

Creek received exposure on the international stage with the Boomers' deep run in China. Despite falling short of a medal, competing with the finest in the world showed Creek to be an intelligent and reliable rotation player on the Australian team, playing an average of 11.5 minutes per night. A tournament highlight for Creek was a second-round blockbuster with France, where the Victorian recorded a perfect shooting game from the field and finished with eight points and three rebounds, including two plays that went flew under the radar.

Back home, the South East Melbourne Phoenix is ready to build their own story in the new season, and Creek is looking very ready in his role as the Phoenix’s marquee player.

“Any time you have a new team, there’s always stepping stones and obstacles in the way,” Creek said.

“But we’ll get out on the track and figure things out as we go along.

Freshly returned from China, with a new haircut and the NBL media shoot, Creek has made it clear his attention sits with the Phoenix. The forward will be a leader on and off the court, and without a doubt feature heavily in the Phoenix's execution on both ends.

What might be a worry for some, would be shooting – he shot 22 per cent from three-point territory during his time in the G League. To facilitate spacing, Phoenix secured long-range shooters to place around Creek. In a preseason hit out against Illawarra Hawks on September 15, three Phoenix players shot 50% or better from the perimeter. Despite the loss, both John Roberson and Ben Madgen proved reliable options from deep as did NBL veteran Tai Wesley, who will play a key role in year one at South East Melbourne.

With Adam Gibson returning from injury and Creek entering the frame following national duties, Madgen expressed admiration for what the two veterans will bring on both sides of the court.

“We can really start create some cohesion now. We’ve got our full team and we can start getting our rotations going, seeing who’s working really well together and making some tweaks.” Madgen told club media.

“His game is really unique where he can guard one through four, even some fives in this league. Also, offensively, he’s very potent at the rim. We’re going to utilise his strengths."

Following the NBL’s preseason Blitz, Creek fans will look toward Melbourne Arena on October 3 for the inaugural 'Throwdown' event between cross-town rivals South East Melbourne Phoenix and Melbourne United.

“Any time you have a new team, there’s always stepping stones and obstacles in the way,” Creek told Phoenix media earlier this week. “Everyone from the front office to the playing group is ready for game one. We’ll do it together and as one.”