Melbourne United Season Preview

Last season: 18-10, first in regular season, lost to New Zealand in semi-finals

2015/16 Points For: 84.6ppg, fourth

2015/16 Points Against: 83.9ppg, third

2015/16 Field Goal Percentage: 43.6%, sixth

2015/16 Defensive Field Goal Percentage: 43.2%, third

2015/16 Three Point Field Goal Percentage: 37.3%, second

2015/16 Defensive Three Point Field Goal Percentage: 34.3%, fourth

2015/16 Free Throw Percentage: 71.5%, sixth

2015/16 Rebounds: 34.3rpg, sixth

2015/16 Rebound Differential per Game: -5.9, eighth

2015/16 Assists: 12.9apg, eighth

2015/16 Steals: 3.4spg, eighth

2015/16 Blocked Shots: 2.2bpg, eighth

2015/16 Turnovers: 10.2tpg, second

2015/16 Turnover Differential per Game: -0.2, fourth

NBL Titles: None

NBL Playoff Appearances: 1 (last time 2016)

Homecourt: State Netball & Hockey Centre, capacity 3,500 / Hisense Arena, capacity 10,000

Head Coach: Dean Demopoulos (2nd season with Melbourne, NBL career record 18-12)

Incoming: David Andersen (France); Cedric Jackson (import – New Zealand Breakers); Tai Wesley (New Zealand Breakers); Ramone Moore (import – Lithuania); Devin Williams (import – University of West Virginia)

Outgoing: Igor Hadziomerovic (injured reserve); Brad Hill; Stephen Holt (import); Daniel Kickert (Brisbane Bullets); Chris Patton; Hakim Warrick (import)

Projected Starters: Cedric Jackson (import); Chris Goulding; Todd Blanchfield; Majok Majok; David Andersen

Bench: Kyle Adnam; David Barlow; Ramone Moore (import); Owen Odigie; Nate Tomlinson; Devin Williams (import)

Loaded.

That’s all you can say when assessing the 2016/2017 roster for Melbourne United.

There was a ton of hype around this club last season and although they were unable to deliver a championship, they were the best team for most of the minor rounds and there was no shame in losing to the eventual runners-up.

But the hype will be even more pronounced this time.

Frighteningly, despite losing star big man Daniel Kickert to Brisbane and two quality imports, Melbourne looks considerably better on paper than the unit that finished 18-10 in 15/16 and were tipped by many to go all the way before they were undone in straight sets by the New Zealand Breakers.

A lot of that has to do with some very intelligent recruiting by Head Coach Dean Demopoulos, who had a solid debut as the sideline leader and figures to be even better this time.

Start with the recruitment of superstar Aussie David Andersen, who makes a stunning return to the NBL after an amazing career that has seen him play in the NBA, become a multiple Olympian and turn into one of the winningest players in European basketball history.

Then look at the addition of one of the greatest point guards in the annals of the NBL, one Cedric Jackson, who just wins wherever he goes.

So there are two guys who could dominate on their own. And you still then bring in another couple of solid imports in silky-smooth operator Ramone Moore and rebounding machine Devin Williams, not to mention a versatile and productive big man in Tai Wesley.

And of course, they still boast maybe the competition’s most feared offensive weapon in Chris Goulding, a guy who can wreck defensive schemes all by himself.

On paper – and I stress on paper – this is easily one of the most talented rosters the league has ever seen. Their 1-5 spine in Jackson and Andersen is as good as it gets; they boast extraordinary offensive firepower up and down the list and depth that goes on and on.

Naturally, games and championships aren’t won on paper. And the biggest challenge for Coach Demopoulos is going to be getting buy-in from everyone – from 1 to 11. If this thing is going to work as the Melbourne hierarchy has no doubt envisioned, it will take sacrifice, whether that be shots, touches or minutes.

But Melbourne United is the title favourite for a very good reason. They have as much talent as we’ve ever seen on one NBL team.

And if it all works, they could be headed for an historic season.

CENTRE

One of the European boys to finally head home to the NBL, 6’11” David Andersen is maybe the first prototype Australian stretch five. Equally comfortable with his back to the basket or facing up, he boasts a great variety of low post moves and a patented turnaround jumper with range out to the three point line. He may be in his declining years but anyone who saw him at the Olympics in Rio would recognise that he still has a lot to give, and provided he stays healthy is going to give enemy teams an almost impossible matchup up front.

FORWARDS

Majok Majok (5.5ppg, 7.1rpg, 49% FG) announced his arrival at the 2015 Blitz tournament in Townsville with 19 points and 21 rebounds against the Kings, and although he didn’t have quite the same impact in the regular season he nonetheless provided the Melbourne interior with some genuine steel. He’ll be relied upon to rebound and do the dirty work for this group.

Small forward Todd Blanchfield (9.6ppg, 6.5rpg) struggled at times in 15/16 to find his niche in a star-studded group, but the 2015 Most Improved Player could have a bounce-back year given increased familiarity and confidence in Coach Demopoulos’ system. Devastating in transition and with the ability to pull up on a dime and bury the deep triple, Todd should be much more effective this season with a great facilitator in Cedric Jackson able to find him in his favoured spots on the floor.

GUARDS

Again with the on paper thing, but ON PAPER, Melbourne’s new backcourt has the potential to rival any that has gone before it, including the likes of the legendary Andrew Gaze-Lanard Copeland duo. Start with floor general Cedric Jackson (12.9ppg, 6.3apg, 6.0rpg and 1.3spg with New Zealand), who has led the league in assists in each of his four years and boasts three NBL rings. The freewheeling point guard has improved his shooting to the point where he is a threat from all over the court, and his ability to penetrate the seams and kick the ball to the open man is remarkable.

Then you talk about 6’4” shooting guard Chris Goulding (18.4ppg, 3.7rpg, 2.8apg, 81.1% FT). One of the most devastating scorers the league has seen in many years, ‘Bubbles’ is brilliant on the catch and shoot but also excellent in creating his own shot. The 2016 Rio Olympian figures to be even more effective with Jackson drawing people to him in the paint and kicking it out, and defensive coordinators will have nightmares trying to figure out how to defend him in this line-up.

BENCH

Depth? Did you say depth? Welcome to a team that goes a legitimate 11-deep, where solid contributors like Owen Odigie and up and comers like Kyle Adnam will struggle to get minutes. That’s what happens when you bring two imports the quality of Ramone Moore and Devin Williams off the pine, not to mention a nightly double-double threat in Tai Wesley and an excellent backup in Nate Tomlinson. And then you’ve got the comebacking David Barlow, who if healthy is always a tough cover.

BURNING QUESTION

Is one ball enough for all that talent? They’ve been pretty smart in bringing in an assist machine in Cedric Jackson, a guy who is just as happy finding guys for open looks as he is finishing at the rim. But that word – sacrifice – has to be a theme for this team this season. If we start hearing grumbles internally, if guys start resenting their teammates, then despite all that awesome talent, it could all go south very quickly.

PROGNOSIS

Melbourne fans – United or otherwise – have heard this all before. The team that’s been assembled should not only contend for a championship, it should WIN the 2016/17 NBL championship. And those fans have had their hearts broken before. But this group boasts an historic talent level and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be favourites to win it all. The backcourt could be something very special, they have plenty of size up front and great versatility up and down the roster. The hype has a lot of substance – the question is whether they can take advantage of all that talent. But for right now, this is the team to beat.

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