Star recruit Aron Baynes might be the saviour that the Brisbane Bullets need this season, as they look to transform themselves into playoff contenders.
NBL analyst Liam Santamaria believes that the Bullets were “never feared” by other teams in the league, but that might be about to change.
Baynes headlines a new-look Bullets roster, with two of their regular starters from last season both moving south to Adelaide.
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Robert Franks, who finished in the top five for both points and rebounds last season, has headed to the 36ers along with guard Anthony Drmic.
But Brisbane have been busy in the off-season, also signing former NBA player Tyler Johnson and guard Devondrick Walker.
While Santamaria describing Baynes as a “game changer” for the Bullets might not quite be a hot take on its own, how he can help transform this team could have a major impact on the rest of the league.
“Baynes for me at Brisbane, the key thing is that team over the past few years has lacked toughness, grit, being rugged when rugged is required,” Santamaria said on NBL Overtime last week.
“They’ve been skilful, (Nathan) Sobey, (Jason) Cadee and (Lamar) Patterson, but when push came to shove team’s never feared Brisbane and what they would do to them physically. They were never a strong rebounding team but Baynes in the mix changes that.”
The Bullets showed plenty of fight and potential in key games last season, beating the Perth Wildcats, Illawarra Hawks and South East Melbourne Phoenix early in the season.
But the prospect of a playoff berth slowly slipped away, as Boomers guard Nathan Sobey went down with an injury.
Brisbane ended up finishing NBL 22 in eighth position, with 10 wins to their name, but there’s plenty of reason to be excited about the season ahead.
“You know what’s cool though is we’re talking about the Brisbane Bullets to start the opening episode of Overtime for the season,” Santamaria added
“I’m excited for the Brisbane fans. This is a team that has not won a final since they came back in the league in 2016.
“The fact they’ve got an exciting team, health will be a thing, Baynes, Tyler Johnson his knee, (Nathan) Sobey is out right now with a bone bruise in his knee.
“But they’ve got talent on that roster and it’s a big year for James Duncan to be able to get some things done with that group.”
Former NBL MVP Corey Williams agreed that the Bullets have lacked “toughness” over the past few years, but is tipping another under pressure club to turn their fortunes around.
The Perth Wildcats fell agonisingly short of a playoff appearance last season, but the hurt went well beyond the standard feelings of falling short.
Perth’s two-point loss to the Phoenix saw them miss out on the NBL playoffs for the first time in 35-years.
While there’s now a play-in tournament which, if history were to repeat, would see them make the playoffs, they have “more to prove than any other team” this season.
“You would’ve hated to be looked at on that team as one of those players that break this streak,” Williams said.
“They are under some serious pressure and you know with Perth Wildcats that usually respond. They’re going to be p***** off, they’re going to be angry, they’re going to be physical.
“What they were able to do as far as the players they brought in, I love what they’ve done.
“I believe in this team. You know the relationship with me and the team out west but I believe in this roster, and I know they have more to prove than ever.
“They have more to prove than any other team in this league. I believe Perth because of those reasons, they’re going to win this year.”
There is plenty of optimism and belief felt across the league ahead of the new season, with another team looking to “shock some people” in NBL 23.
The Cairns Taipans may have finished ninth last season, one game behind Queensland rivals Brisbane, but import Shannon Scott is expecting more wins this year.
“Talking with the coaches and some of the players and the excitement over here, the willingness and wanting to change the season from last year. I’m looking forward to that,” Scott told reporters last week.
“I know the reputation and what happened last year, so it’s nothing to lose now. It’s go out there, play well and probably shock some people.”
The NBL regular season tips-off in just under a month, when South East Melbourne host the Tasmania JackJumpers at John Cain Arena on October 1.
On that same night, there’s a mouth-watering New South Wales blockbuster between the Illawarra Hawks and Sydney Kings.