NBL offseason breakdown: A deep dive into three teams and their moves so far
A look at Melbourne United, the Tasmania JackJumpers and Perth Wildcats' prospective rosters for next season.
Credit: JBC Studios
As the NBL offseason crosses the halfway point, the league is starting to take shape ahead of the 2023-24 season.
The market for homegrown players has largely been run and won, with a number of local stars switching jerseys and plenty of young talent returning home from overseas, while some of last season’s key imports have also found new homes. Round one is almost three months away, and there are still plenty of dominoes that will fall before the ball is tipped on September 28. New imports tend to sign closer to the season’s start, with NBA Summer League and training camps sitting as their top priority, and those players are crucial to just about every team. Still, with plenty of action in free agency, it’s worth gauging how a handful of teams are trending after some key signings, or a lack thereof.
These are early impressions, and there will be plenty of scope for these teams to further move the needle in the coming months. By the same token, there’ll be plenty of time to discuss the remaining clubs once they reveal their hands and fill their rosters later in the offseason. For now, though, let’s check in and see whose stock is rising, and who might be stagnating.
Stock up: Melbourne United
By Melbourne United’s lofty standards, the last two years have been a colossal disappointment.
A top-of-the-table finish in NBL22 was undone by a shock semi-final loss to the Tasmania JackJumpers, before the six-time champions missed the postseason for the first time since 2017 the following year. Even the expanded “play-in” format wasn’t enough to save them, with a hot finish to the campaign insufficient in overcoming the 5-11 start to their season.
Those failures clearly stung, as United came out swinging early in free agency and landed some huge punches. This time last year, they were left scrambling after late NBA deals surfaced for stars Jack White and Matthew Dellavdeova, and Jo Lual-Acuil received a huge payday in China. “Any time you’re forced to scramble, you’re not going to make the perfect decision,” coach Dean Vickerman told The Marketplace in April. “We got some really high level talent, maybe they just weren’t quite the Melbourne United type of players.”
That hasn’t been a problem this year, with known quantities signing early in the offseason to give Vickerman and his staff some peace of mind. Dellavedova and Lual-Acuil are back, with NBA draftee Luke Travers also in the mix after crossing over from Perth. United have built a roster that would already be a title contender with no import signings, and what could be one of the most talented groups of locals ever assembled
An all-local starting lineup is a rarity in the modern NBL, but it’s something that United is familiar with. They fielded a near-identical starting five two seasons ago, albeit with White in place of Travers, and subsequently dominated the regular season with a 20-8 record. While they crashed out of the finals against the JackJumpers, they are now well placed to learn from that experience with an even more well-rounded roster.
Lual-Acuil is the centrepiece, a former MVP finalist that is a force on both ends of the floor. There are very few dominant defenders that can also lead a team in scoring, but that’s exactly what he did in his last NBL campaign, pouring in 16.4 points per game along with a league-high 2.2 blocks per game. Dellavedova offered similar two-way production that year, earning selection to the All-NBL Second Team, and he will once again link up with a potent lob threat and pick-and-roll partner in Lual-Acuil. Both seemed likely to only ever return to the league with Melbourne, but landing them is still a huge coup.
Travers isn’t quite a straight swap for White, but he has the potential to be just as impactful. Like his predecessor, the former Wildcat can guard any position one through four, chasing ball handlers on the perimeter and being a deterrent around the basket. His move to Melbourne came with an eye on the offensive end, though; a move away from Perth’s ball-dominant guards could help him to flourish in a more expansive role. “The big thing going around is that Xavier Cooks role… getting a rebound and pushing in transition, or whether it's coming off an on-ball or setting an on-ball, there's a lot of actions I think I can be used in,” Travers told ESPN’s Olgun Uluc.
While last season wasn’t the huge breakout that some expected, Travers showed growth that should continue.
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