Now four years into the competition and after falling badly in the back-end of NBL22, the South East Melbourne Phoenix have recruited experienced imports to compliment a host of Australian talent to prove last year was just a slight blip for the franchise.
The South East Melbourne Phoenix were brought back down to Earth in NBL22, unable to replicate the highs of the franchise's maiden finals appearance the year before. The Phoenix faded in the back-end of last season to miss the playoffs, with a mix of COVID-19-related problems and injuries hampered another tilt at a Championship.
In the off-season, the Phoenix have a few new faces in the line-up, relying on imports to compliment a host of Australian talent. Former Phoenix Suns and Brooklyn Nets centre Alan Williams is the most high-profile of South East Melbourne's imports, while the late re-signing of Zhou Qi a week before the season was important for the franchise.
During the pre-season, the Phoenix secured zero wins from five games, with two hit-outs against the JackJumpers and losses to the 36ers, Wildcats, and Kings throughout the NBL Blitz. Co-captain Kyle Adnam top-scored in four of those five games, including a 24-point, five-assist game against Sydney in the team's final NBL Blitz match-up.
How they did last year
6th (15 wins, 13 losses, 101.32%)
The Phoenix won their first three games of the season, which included a 94-88 win in the Throwdown against United, to sit in first place after two rounds. The Phoenix would remain inside the top four up until the end of Round 15. From Round 14 however, the side would only win two of their next 10 games to slip outside finals contention, despite winning their last two games of the regular season.
Mitch Creek won his second club MVP in a season where he was the Phoenix's top-scorer of NBL22, averaging 20.5 points per game. Ryan Broekhoff was the club's leader for rebounds (6.7), while Xavier Munford averaged 4.3 assists per game.
How they can improve
A healthier list during the season will help with team cohesion on the floor with their best starting five, however, the Phoenix already have problems even before the NBL23 season begins.
Each player in their ideal starting five will be unavailable in the early stages of the season with Ryan Broekhoff (hamstring),Trey Kell (ribs), Gary Browne (knee), and Mitch Creek (foot) all missing through injury, while Zhou Qi joins the team in mid-October.
While it gives a chance for role players to get some court time that they might not otherwise see, or be provided with limited minutes, will benefit those particular players, but for a squad that fell apart with too many players out for a variety of reasons last season, the Phoenix will hope history won't repeat itself and the club won't be on the backfoot from the beginning.
Returning: Mitch Creek, Ryan Broekhoff, Kyle Adnam, Dane Pineau, Reuben Te Rangi, Owen Foxwell (Development Player), Tohi-Smith Milner (Nominated Replacement Player), Zhou Qi (Special Restricted Player)
Ins: Alan Williams (Lokomotiv Kuban), Gary Browne (Petkim Spor), Trey Kell (Olimpia Milano), Junior Madut (University of Hawaii), Grant Anticevich (University of California), Anzac Rissetto (Franklin Bulls - Development Player)
Departing: Xavier Munford (Hapoel Tel Aviv), Cam Gliddon (New Zealand Breakers), Izayah Le’Afa (New Zealand Breakers), Adam Gibson (Retired), Brandon Ashley (Altiri Chiba), Tristan Forsyth (Tasmania JackJumpers), Koen Sapwell, Lachlan Barker (Melbourne United)
Point guard: Gary Browne | Kyle Adnam | Owen Foxwell
Shooting guard: Trey Kell | Junior Madut
Small forward: Ryan Broekhoff | Reuben Te Rangi
Power forward: Mitch Creek | Grant Anticevich | Dane Pineau
Centre: Zhou Qi | Alan Williams | Anzac Rissetto
The Phoenix's strength lies in putting up shots when in opportune positions, and passing the ball to keep their opposition on their toes, to create an avenue towards, or a better look closer to, the basket. The Phoenix knocked down the second-most field goals of NBL22, averaging 32.3 per game at 45 per cent shooting.
The three-point attempts didn't always work out for the Phoenix last year, which is why when the players got into the lane and paint, they were able to put up better percentage shots, and score. By getting inside more often too, it invites opposition defenders to resort to fouls, with the Phoenix nailing 75.9 per cent of their free throws - third in the league -, another easy enough way to extend their scores.
South East Melbourne will need to clean up its defence, more so in the way of fouls. The Phoenix averaged 19.1 fouls a game in NBL22, and the trend looks set to continue, with import Williams fouling out in the team's first four games of the NBL23 pre-season. Similarly, Qi struggled with the officiating and getting into foul trouble when he first joined the Phoenix last season.
The adjustment to the NBL can be a tough ask for many, taking time to find their feet, the way the game is played, and with that, how the game is officiated. With most of their new additions being players who haven't played in the NBL before, it might take some time for them to get settled into the league, especially if some will need to play more minutes early on to cover the currently-injured players.
Sudanese shooting guard Madut is set to enter his first year of professional basketball, and has already exuded playmaking ability and court awareness to impact the game. Through the Phoenix's five pre-season matches, Madut was one of two players on the team's roster to start in each fixture; the other being Adnam.
Due to this, the Hawaiʻi Rainbow Warriors college player and 2019 second-team All-Mid-Florida Conference recipient was able to get plenty of minutes on the floor, staying on the court for more than 28 minutes on a few occasions. In two games, he put up 11 points, and in other two, he scored nine points, while racking up a large number of rebounds, including a high of eight against the Kings.
Prediction for NBL23
If the Phoenix can stay healthy across the season, there's every chance the team returns to the post-season with a high-calibre team capable of making it to the Grand Final, and winning the Championship. Now four years into their tenure in the NBL, this season's roster looks the best on paper, with more experience than not across the squad.
Predicted Round One Starting Five
The South East Melbourne Phoenix begin their NBL23 campaign at home against the Tasmania JackJumpers at John Cain Arena on Saturday, October 1, from 6pm AEST.
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