In 2021/2022, the Melbourne Boomers played in a storied season that was one for the books. The sky was the limit for the Boomers, breaking an 11-year drought to win the Championship against the Lynx in three games.
After falling short in 2020, the Boomers entered last season with redemption and hunger for a Championship. They brought back much of their core in Ezi Magbegor, Cayla George, Penina Davidson, Tess Madgen, and were able to bring back Lindsay Allen after the 2020 hub season did not allow imports outside of Oceania, as well as bringing in Tiffany Mitchell, and Carley Ernst to cover players selected for the Opals.
This season, despite finding a new head coach and the retirement of Izzy Wright, Melbourne has again regained its core group and has all the makings of another Championship-winning side.
How the did last year
1st - Champions (12 wins, five losses)
Before the season started, head coach Guy Molloy (who is also the New Zealand Tall Ferns head coach) announced it would be his last season coaching in the WNBL in order to move on fully to Basketball New Zealand. Knowing that their coach was to leave at the end of the year, prior to the season starting, the hunger grew stronger for Melbourne to win the competition and see him off with a Championship.
With a chip on their shoulder, Melbourne battled all the way to the end. The team dropped their first game to the Spirit but with the mindset the Boomers have, there was little time to dwell on the result, going on to win the next four, before the Lightning snapped the streak. Their remaining regular season losses were each by single digits, before finishing the regular rounds with two resounding victories over the Lightning and Captials.
In the finals series, Melbourne faced Adelaide in a best-of-three, winning in two games. After a COVID-19 situation rocked the other semi-final series, Perth became the team to face Melbourne in the Grand Final.
The Boomers dropped Game 1 of the series at home, however, bounced back against the odds in Perth to even the series, and, back home, the team sensed the occasion with many players stepping up, with the Boomers beating the Lynx by 18 points to claim the Championship - sending of Molloy and Izzy Wright with a ring in the process -, with Allen named Grand Final MVP.
Returning: Cayla George, Penina Davidson, Rachel Brewster, Lou Brown, Sophie Burrows, Lauryn Hippolite, Tess Madgen, Lily Scanlon, Tiffany Mitchell (Indiana Fever)
Ins: Kristy Wallace (Atlanta Dream), Mia Murray, Olivia Nelson-Ododa (Los Angeles Sparks)
Outs: Ezi Magbegor (Seattle Storm/Sopron Basket - Hungary), Lindsay Allen (Minnesota Lynx/Gorzow Wielkopolski - Poland), Carley Ernst (Southside Flyers), Tess Heal (Santa Clara University), Izzy Wright (Retirement)
Despite some key losses in Allen and Magbegor that will no doubt be felt, Melbourne was somehow able to fill in those needs in free agency, although it's hard to pinpoint a certain strength for a team that just looks like they aren't going to skip a beat talent wise.
Picking a strength for the reigning Champions doesn't come easily, as Melbourne has depth up and down the lineup. Rebounding and rim protection can be handled by Cayla George and Penina Davidson, and Olivia Nelson-Ododa, guard scorers Tiffany Mitchell, Tess Madgen, and Kirsty Wallace are capable, and Lily Scanlon can provide enough speed on the floor to cover the entire court, bucket to bucket.
Nelson-Ododa does not have that large of a sample size for professional basketball. She was drafted with the 19th overall in the second round of the 2022 WNBA draft by the Sparks. With Liz Cambage abruptly leaving the Sparks to dry, Nelson-Ododa found herself in a familiar situation from when she starred at University of Connecticut. The 197cm centre recorded seven games with multi blocks and swatted at least one shot in half the games she appeared in. No one can ever replace Magbegor but Nelson-Ododa will do an amazing job at filling in her shoes.
The 2021/2022 WNBL Sixth Player of the Year Kristy Wallace finally got her shot in the WNBA with the Atlanta Dream after being drafted in the second round in 2018. She proved she can play with the best basketball players in the world and exceeded so many expectations with her addition strengthening the Boomers' core.
On a roster so stacked and talented, it can be hard to pinpoint a weakness in the Boomers squad, with reigning Champions seeminly invincible. However, coming into the early stages of this season, the Boomers will be without a critical piece of their title defence.
Madgen suffered a knee injury in the Women's World Cup which required surgery. It's predicted she'll only be missing a month, but it means the point guard position - which without Allen, Madgen looked likely to be the starter - now presents as a weakness for the Boomers.
It will now come down to Scanlon, who can run with the best of them and has great IQ with not a lot of sample size. Although point guard is a cause for concern at the moment, Scanlon should not have any problem shattering any doubts that the position is in a temporary flux.
As referenced above, Scanlon, with a rookie season now under her belt will be having to hit the ground running this season, especially as cover early in the season for the injured Madgen.
Scanlon played 21 games for the Boomers last season, but averaged just 9.1 minutes per game. She averaged 1.9 points, 0.7 rebounds, and 0.6 assists per game in the limited time, but showcased her game awareness and speed to take into this season.
The 19-year-old made some rookie mistakes last season but that can happen when you're a rookie. With her rookie season under her belt now and a whole offseason of practice and preparation, she will be set to take over the point guard position, until Madgen gets healthy, but it will only benefit her development more.
Prediction for 2022/23 WNBL season
The Melbourne Boomers have a great opportunity to go back-to-back this season and win another Championship for the franchise. The team is talented enough and has a deep enough amount of depth to remain at the top and win against their opponents that another Championship is not out of the realm of possibility.
The Melbourne Boomers begin their season against the Perth Lynx at Bendat Basketball Centre on Wednesday, November 2 from 9.30pm ADST.
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