NBL: Best of rookies (and other young guns) on show at Blitz
The 2015/16 NBL Blitz is done and dusted, with most of the clubs taking the opportunity to spread the minutes around their rosters throughout the five-day tournament.
Some of the less experienced players were given the opportunity to shine ahead of the season proper, with a handful of rookies and young guns showing just what they can do and staking their claim for some extra minutes come round one.
Majok Majok (Melbourne United)
With new import signing and former NBA veteran Hakim Warrick playing an extremely limited role during the Blitz after arriving in the country just a couple of days prior, Majok was unleashed and immediately showed he is one to watch in season 2015/16, starting all three of his club’s games.
Across his first two games, against Illawarra and Adelaide, the former Ball State product played 28 minutes and totalled 14 points and 10 boards whilst shooting a combined 7-for-10 from the field.
While tidy without being spectacular, his numbers were enough to suggest Majok would provide valuable contributions to his side throughout the season proper, but he wasn’t even close to done.
In United’s final hit-out against an undermanned Sydney outfit, Majok exploded for 19 points and 21 boards on 8-of-11 shooting in just under 33 minutes of game time.
Majok completed his first pro season in Slovenia with Helios Domzale prior to coming to Melbourne, and that experience coupled with his Blitz numbers suggest that he will likely be called upon by coach Dean Demopoulos with plenty of confidence during the 2015/16 campaign.
Nick Kay (Townsville Crocodiles)
Metro State College star Kay will head into his first professional season with huge wraps after averaging just over 20 points and seven boards in his senior year, and his Blitz performances have done little to quell the hype ahead of the season proper.
Kay relished his starting role and the extra minutes in a depleted Crocs side, tallying 32 points and 14 boards across two games he started, including an 18-point, 10-board outing in 27 minutes against New Zealand.
Comparisons have already been made between the young star and import teammate Brian Conklin, who was named league MVP in 2014/15, which indicates a big future lies ahead of Kay.
With the Crocs tipped to struggle this season, Kay could be given plenty of opportunities to shine and after his performances at the Blitz, coach Shawn Dennis shouldn’t hesitate to inject Kay into the game at any stage.
Jarrod Kenny (Perth Wildcats)
Kenny is a mature-aged rookie, with the New Zealand international having played in the NZNBL for the past 13 years.
Nonetheless, the 30-year-old point guard is set to commence his first season in the league on the back of some impressive showings in the Blitz, where he was given a chance as Damian Martin missed through injury and Jermaine Beal worked his way back to full fitness.
Kenny averaged six points per game across the Wildcats’ three matches and provided poise and control with the ball, helping his side to two wins and a tight loss to undefeated Cairns.
With Martin still in doubt for the start of the regular season next week, Kenny may well have a sizeable role to play for the Wildcats during the early rounds.
Nathan Sobey (Adelaide 36ers)
Sobey will embark on his first season in the NBL on the back of some big wraps after an impressive college career at Wyoming where he averaged just under 10 points per game in his final year.
After a slow start to the Blitz, Sobey showcased his talent with a combined 25 points, 10 rebounds and three assists in two games against Melbourne and Illawarra respectively.
The Victorian guard will play off the bench but has the opportunity to cement himself in the regular rotation early on, just as teammate Brendan Teys has done in recent seasons.
Should the Sixers need points in a hurry, coach Joey Wright may well turn to Sobey, and after showing what he can do during the pre-season, Wright should be able to do so with confidence.
Igor Hadziomerovic (Melbourne United)
While Majok was getting all the press for United during the Blitz, Hadziomerovic was fitting into Melbourne’s line-up quite comfortably and providing his side with valuable minutes off the bench.
Hadziomerovic’s best performance came in Melbourne’s opening game of the tournament, where he posted 10 points on four-of-five shooting, whilst adding five assists and three steals in 21 minutes on court.
With the likes of Chris Goulding, Todd Blanchfield and import Stephen Holt more than capable of posting plenty of points for the club, it means the pressure will be off Hadziomerovic to score and his ability to contribute in other areas will be effective.
Minutes won’t come easily for Hadziomerovic given the talent of United’s roster, but if given the opportunity he has shown he will be able to hold his own, and more, on court.
Corey Maynard (Townsville Crocodiles)
Maynard is not an NBL rookie but he deserves recognition after showing he is ready to take the next step after a quiet 2014/15 season.
The Crocs rested import guard Jordair Jett for much of the Blitz, handing Maynard the chance to make an impression at his new club, and that he did.
Maynard netted 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting in 24 minutes off the bench in a defeat to Cairns, while against New Zealand he showcased his all-round game, starting at point guard and finishing with seven points, six boards and six assists in 27 minutes.
With Jett and Mitch Norton ahead of him in the rotation, Maynard’s minutes will likely dwindle significantly during the regular season, but his Blitz performances will give coach Shawn Dennis something to think about and will certainly do his chances of a spot in the regular rotation no harm.
Shea Ili (New Zealand Breakers)
While Ili, like Maynard, is not a rookie, his role in the successful Breakers’ side has been extremely limited in recent seasons and he is a relative unknown as a result.
The Kiwi guard looked good during the Blitz and may have a bigger role to play as Corey Webster (NBA) and Tom Abercrombie (injury) look set to start the season late.
In a matchup with Cairns, Ili exploded for 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting before fouling out in 31 minutes on court, highlighting just what he is capable of at the offensive end.
His explosive scoring ability is not dissimilar to that of teammate Webster, meaning that while Webster is chasing his NBA dream in America, Ili will have an opportunity to make inroads into the Breakers’ rotation during the opening rounds.