The first weekend of the 2021-22 NBL Blitz is in the books and boy was it good to have hoops back in Australia.
It was a low key opening in Melbourne with a pair of double headers taking place behind closed doors at Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre, but it was a different scene in Tasmania, with the JackJumpers making their opening NBL appearance in front of a Tasmanian faithful that I'm told is desperate for the season to tip-off.
With eight games complete, here's some thoughts as the road to opening night gets underway.
Zhou Qi skill level is off the charts
Speaking with South East Melbourne players and coaches at media day last Thursday, two things continuously came up when I asked about Zhou Qi.
One was his humour, which has me very intrigued, and the second part is his absolutely insane skill level.
Of course, the 216cm Zhou will provide an intimidating presence in the paint on the defensive and put in work on the glass, but it's the ability to funnel offence through the big man that may impress the most.
Still getting accustomed to the South East Melbourne system after being released from hotel quarantine in recent weeks, Zhou flashed his weaponry as a roll man during the overtime loss to Illawarra on Monday night.
On one play during the second quarter, Kyle Adnam lobbed a pass to Zhou who was met by three Illawarra bodies in the lane. Rather than catch the ball, he simply flipped a pinpoint pass to the corner in mid-air to the open shooter in one fluid motion.
He made the play look ridiculously easy and with shooters throughout the Phoenix roster, opposition teams are going to have a difficult decision to make when the big guy is rolling to basket.
Bayles is a competitor
With no Jaylen Adams or RJ Hunter in the lineup for Sydney, Biwali Bayles has found significant opportunity in the Blitz to impress.
Against Melbourne United on Tuesday night, he found himself matched up with Matthew Dellavedova. As Delly does, he brought the full court pressure in the first half, with Bayles seemingly inviting the physical play.
Word out of Sydney is that they love the competitiveness of the 19-year-old, who has no problem mixing the grunt work with flare.
For a dose of the flare, look at this sweet no look dime from the fourth quarter.
Bayles finished the night with 11 points, four rebounds and four assists in 21 eye catching minutes.
XRM exactly what the Hawks need
Justinian Jessup's 27-point explosion on 9-for-12 shooting obviously stands out on the box score, but it's an Illawarra recruit that may unlock the elite outside threat on a more consistent basis.
Justinian Jessup made a splash in his #NBL22 preseason debut, dropping 27 points on 9/12 shooting (7/9 from three) and grabbing 5 boards in the @illawarrahawks 116-112 OT win over the Phoenix.— The NBL (@NBL) November 16, 2021
Cc: @warriors #NBLxNBA pic.twitter.com/hiLfOH6jc2
Xavier Rathan-Mayes joins the Hawks for NBL 22, with the Canadian's ball handling ability set to compliment Tyler Harvey in the back court. Speaking with ESPN, Jessup admits his ability to find space on offence became challenging in the back half of his rookie season.
"I think as the year went on and teams had a bit more depth to the scouting report, it did start to become a bit more congested," said Jessup.
"They knew what we were going to do. As a player you have to figure that stuff out. I think that's something I can improve on, not letting that deter me."
It feels like the addition of Rathan-Mayes in combination with an additional big man threat like Duop Reath could help further unlock one of the best shooters in the league.
The JackJumpers are going to be FUN
As South East Melbourne found in their initial season, finding consistency on both ends of the floor can be a challenge with an entirely new roster, coaching staff and indeed, organisation.
With that in mind, it's hard to predict how competitive the JackJumpers will be but after two Blitz games I think we can safely confirm this is going to be a fun team to watch.
It starts with point guard Josh Magette, with the American pushing the tempo at every single opportunity with fellow import Josh Adams capable of throwing down these types of dunks it's easy to see why.
Much to the delight of the locals, the JackJumpers recorded their first NBL win against Adelaide on Tuesday night, defeating the Cairns Taipans 81-66.
The big question with United
The defending champs come into NBL 22 with a roster with plenty of unknowns.
What level of play can Matthew Dellavedova reach?
How do you replace Jock Landale?
Is there enough scoring and playmaking with the losses of Mitch McCarron and Scotty Hopson?
Jo Lual-Acuil is certainly going to attempt to fill some of the scoring void. Last year's Best Sixth Man is hardly bashful about getting his shots up and he took full advantage of a depleted New Zealand Breakers big man division in the Blitz opener.
Finishing with a ridiculous 37 points and 11 rebounds in 29 minutes, Lual-Acuil bullied anyone who dared guard him.
Two nights later the big man put up 13 points and seven rebounds in an enthralling battle against Xavier Cooks and Jarell Martin of the Sydney Kings.
Lual-Acuil can score in a variety of ways in the post, can play through contact and has the length to shoot over most defenders in the league with a smooth touch for a player of his size.
Is he ready to be an every night problem?
Bryce is back
Perth made their Blitz debut on Tuesday night, dropping an ugly game to the Adelaide 36ers, 63-56.
The result hardly mattered however, with Bryce Cotton making his long-awaited return to the floor after missing the Wildcats' run to the Grand Final with a serious thigh injury.
Cotton finished with seven points in 25 minutes, but he's back, and that's all that matters.
The Blitz is back for a second week with games tipping off on Thursday night.
New Zealand and Sydney will get things started, with star import guard Jaylen Adams in line to make his Kings debut.
The Brisbane Bullets will meet the Perth Wildcats on Friday night, with the word out of Brisbane suggesting Lamar Patterson is in for a big year after choosing to stay in Australia over the offseason.
"He let himself down last year and he'll admit that," Bullets guard Jason Cadee told ESPN.
"That's gone now, the LP I've seen who stayed in Brisbane, wasn't signed but chose to stay, who we've been working out with all offseason....I'll just say, LP's back. That's for sure."
Sign me up for that.
Additionally, Brian Goorjian will meet up with some Bronze medal winning Boomers, when Dellavedova and Chris Goulding leading United against the Hawks on Saturday night.
Bring on another weekend of hoops as we all gear up for Round 1.