Xavier Cooks delivered a dunk for the ages, the Cairns Taipans have a chance to keep their winning run going and the Tasmania JackJumpers opened their account in overtime while keeping Aron Baynes’ Brisbane Bullets winless.
That was all part of a fascinating weekend of NBL action in Round 2. With one game to go on Monday night, the Sydney Kings, Perth Wildcats and Cairns Taipans are undefeated, and the Brisbane Bullets the lone undefeated team although so are the Adelaide 36ers who are yet to play.
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Round 2 in the NBL got underway back on Thursday night with the Illawarra Hawks powering away late to beat the South East Melbourne Phoenix 85-72 despite the loss of import guard Justin Robinson.
Then on Friday night, the New Zealand Breakers celebrated their homecoming in front of 5340 fans at Spark Arena to beat the Tasmania JackJumpers 71-65. Second up on Friday was the Sydney Kings beating the Brisbane Bullets 100-90.
Hawks clinch first win of the season | 01:14
The double-headers continued on Saturday firstly with the Cairns Taipans coming from 10 points down early in the fourth quarter to beat the South East Melbourne Phoenix 85-76. The Perth Wildcats then defeated the Illawarra hawks 77-71 but did lose import big TaShawn Thomas.
There was another two matches on Sunday firstly with the Tasmania JackJumpers opening their account and keeping the Brisbane Bullets winless by winning 90-86 in overtime.
The Sydney Kings then blew Melbourne United away to open up a 38-point lead on the way to a statement 91-71 victory with Xavier Cooks delivering a hellacious dunk over Isaac Humphries.
Round 2 will wrap up on Monday night with the undefeated Cairns Taipans playing their first home game of the season against the Perth Wildcats.
URGENCY FOR HAWKS, BUT NO DESPERATION
The Illawarra Hawks were excited about what Tyler Harvey and Justin Robinson could do as a duo in the back court this NBL season, but with the latter now out injured, they need to move quickly to find another partner for the former.
The Hawks underwent great change this off-season but their biggest strength coming into it did appear to be their import back court of Harvey and Robinson.
However, that didn’t even last one full game with Robinson hurting a knee during the season-opener last Saturday against the Sydney Kings. He will require surgery and won’t be seen again in NBL23.
Illawarra still split its Round 2 matches without him with a home win against the South East Melbourne Phoenix and road loss to the Perth Wildcats, but the now need to bring in a replacement quickly.
With NBA teams finalising their rosters and players who miss out on a spot deciding to play G League or where to ply their trades, the timing could be quite good.
The plan is to find a guard with a similar skill set to that of Robinson where he can split the ball handling and scoring load with Harvey.
Hawks coach Jacob Jackomas has described the situation as urgent, but not desperate.
“We really need the right piece and it’s still early in the season. We’re hoping it happens quick but right now we don’t have anyone even though we have a list of guys we are getting through to see if we can get them here,” Jackomas said.
“There is urgency because the season’s on and it’s ticking, but there’s no desperation right now. When that guy does come, obviously he’s going to have the ball in his hands and it will be a big personality in the group.
“So we have to make sure he has some time to gel. We’ve been in situations where we’ve brought in the point guard a little later and sometimes it doesn’t gel the whole season.
“One disadvantage of our group is that they are really tight so if the new guy comes in and he’s like for like, he’ll fit in easily just like Justin did. But if not, it might take a little bit longer. We’re not desperate right now, but it is urgent.”
COOKS CONTINUES TO SHOW NBA POTENTIAL
The continued rise of Xavier Cooks for the Sydney Kings is only getting him closer to an NBA opportunity every day. That’s why his three-point shooting on Sunday was just as impressive as a dunk labelled as the best one of his teammates has ever seen.
Jack White and Matthew Dellavedova were plucked from Melbourne United this off-season to play in the NBA at the Denver Nuggets and Sacramento Kings respectively.
There’s every chance Cooks becomes the next NBL player to join the Australian contingent in the big time.
Cooks was coming off an outstanding 2021/22 season at the Kings where he ended up as Grand Final MVP and to the All-NBL Second Team, unlucky to miss out on the First Team.
He finally got through a season healthy and showed some spectacular play above the rim, his shooting improved and he made all the hustle plays, handled the ball impressively for a big man and did a bit of everything.
Based on the opening three games of NBL23, he appears to have improved further in all areas. That was all on show against Melbourne United at John Cain Arena on Sunday.
Cooks was simply unstoppable in the first half as Sydney opened up a 38-point lead. All anyone was talking about was the most remarkable of dunks that he delivered in the second quarter.
He caught the ball in transition from DJ Vasiljevic and saw an open lane to the basket. Melbourne’s own former NBA centre Isaac Humphries decided to challenge, but had no hope. With the momentum and force Cooks went up, and came down with, he produced a dunk not soon to be forgotten.
However, what highlights how far Cooks’ game has come is that he immediately responded by hitting a couple of three-point shots as well which is exactly what he needs to be able to do to get to the NBA.
As for the dunk, Cooks didn’t mince his words about it at half-time.
“Oh man, I got him. He came late and I love Isaac to death, but I got him,” Cooks said.
“I got him good. I’ve been putting up reps with my shooting too and the boys believe in me, so I’m going to get them up.”
Cooks’ sharpshooting teammate DJ Vasiljevic also loved what he saw in terms of the dunk.
“He punched it on that man, real bad. That’s probably the best dunk I’ve ever seen. X is just a great all-round player and he can play point guard all the way through centre,” Vasiljevic said.
“He’s just really good at screening and rolling, playing defence with how long and athletic he is. X is a very big piece for us and he shows up every game and plays his heart out. I’m lucky to play alongside a guy like that.”
EX-NBA GUN EXPECTS MORE FROM HIMSELF
You can clearly play the game at a high level if you average nearly 14 points an NBA season like Tyler Johnson has done, and he almost played match-winner for the Brisbane Bullets on Sunday, but he still expects better from himself.
Much of the focus at the Bullets coming into this season has been on the return of Aron Baynes, and rightfully so, but they’ve also gone big by signing another player with 376 games of NBA experience in Johnson.
Not only has he racked up that many NBA games, but for much of that time he was genuinely a scoring option on the teams he was on including averaging 13.7 points a game in 2016/17 for the Miami Heat.
Across those 376 games, he did average 9.6 points so he is a proven commodity and at just 30 years of age, was an astute signing for the Bullets.
He hasn’t disappointed either so far and showed his wares on Sunday with 24 points on the back of hitting six three-pointers including the clutch shot at the end of regulation to send the game into overtime.
However, so far it hasn’t led to a win with Brisbane losing its opening three matches with Johnson’s fellow stars Baynes and Nathan Sobey still finding their feet after long layoffs.
While Johnson appears to be fitting into the NBL smoothly, he’s not happy unless what he is doing is helping his team win.
The great positive is that the potential potent back court of Johnson with Sobey, Jason Cadee, Tanner Krebs and Devondrick Walker has offered glimpses of its potential, and is only going to continue to improve.
“Part of the reason I came here was for the high level of basketball and I’ve enjoyed learning where the spots are going to be because they are different on an NBA floor,” Johnson said.
“The floor is shrunk here so it’s important to learn the new rules and how the games are officiated, and the way that I can best suit my skill set and use that for the team.
“Right now it’s still in an adjustment phase and I don’t think I’m at where I need to be. Just because some shots are going in, I don’t think that necessarily translates to how well I can help this team.
“Just because the ball is going in the hoop right now, it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily for the best of what’s going on for everybody.”
UNITED’S UNACCEPTABLE FIRST HALF
Melbourne United coach Dean Vickerman labelled his team’s inability to stop the Sydney Kings scoring 25 consecutive points in the first half on Sunday as unacceptable.
Melbourne was dealt a blow in the off-season when unexpectedly they lost Jack White and Matthew Dellavedova to the NBA. Another player with an NBA future, Ariel Hukporti then ruptured his Achilles at the NBL Blitz ruling him out for the season.
Despite that, United still opened the season with an overtime home win against the New Zealand Breakers but things quickly fell apart at home to the Sydney Kings on Sunday.
Melbourne found themselves 38 points down during the first half. While they stopped the bleeding somewhat in the second to end up losing by 20, there were concerns there for coach Dean Vickerman.
A lot of that is due to players they are still missing with point guard Shea Ili and back up forward Mason Peatling yet to appear over the opening two rounds.
Chris Goulding had just seven points on 3/10 shooting, Rayjon Tucker five points on 1/11, Xavier Rathan-Mayes six on 2/8 and Humphries four on 2/7 to go with four rebounds and four blocks.
It was a game where they needed their stars to fire and following the loss of Hukporti, Vickerman and his staff will need to decide if they need to shuffle their roster around to bring in a replacement big man because they don’t have a spot available.
However, ultimately Vickerman was concerned in what he saw when they coughed up 25 straight points but did take some heart from a solid second half.
“There’s a 25-0 run there and that’s unacceptable for us as an offensive team to not be able to counter it, and not be able to put the ball in the hole through that period,” Vickerman said.
“It’s certainly fixable and there’s some pieces we’re trying to cover right now. We are trying to cover Shea defensively and we’re trying to cover for Ariel’s rim protection and rebounding right now, and Mason’s intensity.
“I thought we still had enough talent to compete and give them a great game, so it was disappointing in that regard that we weren’t able to step up and our best two players were our last two guys signed in (David) Barlow and Lachie Barker. It can’t be like that.”
PINDER’S CHANCE FOR ANOTHER STATEMENT
Keanu Pinder has had a blistering start to the NBL season as he continues to emerge as one of the best bigs in the league, and he has a chance to shine further on Monday night against the Perth Wildcats.
Pinder’s first season in Cairns saw him emerge as a star in the NBL under the coaching of Adam Forde where he was named Most Improved Player and took that momentum into the off-season.
Proud of his heritage as a Nyul Nyul and Jabirr Jabirr man from the Dampier Peninsula (north of Broome and Bunuba in the Fitzroy Valley region), Pinder represented the Australian Boomers where he dominated at times as part of the Asia Cup winning team.
He’s now brought that form into the NBL season including another 19 points, eight rebounds and four assists in Saturday night’s come from behind win against the South East Melbourne Phoenix.
With his mix of power and finesse, size and athleticism, and shooting touch, dunking ability and then what he can do to rebound and block shots, he’s the complete package.
That spells danger for the Perth Wildcats on Monday night when the Taipans play their first home game of the NBL season.
Hawks clinch first win of the season | 01:14
The ‘Cats will be without their own starting centre TaShawn Thomas. There is every possibility that Pinder could put in another match-winning performance with Perth not having a great match up for him.
In the bigger picture, coach Forde can’t speak more highly of his team after their opening two road wins over Tasmania and South East Melbourne.
“The floodgates will open up for us, it’s just a matter of when. We are going to have games where it could open up in the first six minutes or it could be a game like last week where it does in the third,” Forde said.
“But the cool thing about it is that we’ve got some gritty dudes who get after it. I have extreme confidence in this group whether it’s warranted or not, I’ve said it from the start that I adore this group and love how they get after it every day.
“I will go 0-28 with this group and it will be the best season I’ve ever had because they want it, there’s a desire and a chip on their shoulder. There’s all those cool things you want and it’s about building the team you want to coach. This is game two that we’re going to get better for it and that’s two road wins.”