Are you ready for some NBL action this weekend?
Starting with a juicy matchup between Sydney and Illawarra, hoops fans will be desperately hoping for a triumphant return for a league that has ground to a halt over the past three weeks.
Kane Pitman, Peter Hooley and Josh Garlepp are back for this week's edition of 3x3, discussing rivalries, Boomers prospects and identifying talent that could be primed to take the next step in the NBA.
Kane Pitman: The season starts now for the Sydney Kings
3-3 entering a marquee matchup with the Illawarra Hawks, the Kings may be one of the teams to benefit from the brief halt of NBL 22.
Star import duo Jaylen Adams (ankle) and RJ Hunter (knee) have used the hiatus to work towards full fitness, with both expected to suit up in weekend matchups against the Hawks and then the New Zealand Breakers.
Many have been quick to highlight two losses to Melbourne United, but let's not forget they took the matchup between the two contenders when Adams was in the lineup. For a team with championship aspirations, it's been a stuttering start to the campaign, but with key cogs returning to the floor, the time for excuses will soon be over for the Kings.
Once the duo return, we will get a clearer indication of whether it's time to worry about Chase Buford and the Kings.
Peter Hooley: They finally got their much deserved first win on the weekend, but I would argue New Zealand's first win actually came in the offseason
Inking Yannick Wetzell to return home was an incredible signing for the Breakers, but to have him signed for three years, is even better.
There's no doubt about it, Wetzell is a star on the rise. He had an outstanding rookie campaign for the Phoenix, as we all saw flashes of just how good he could be. I've been super high on his potential since last season, but even I'm surprised as just how quickly he's become a dominant force. Averaging 20ppg and just under eight rebounds, Wetzell has been a consistent performer for the Breakers in NBL22. At just 25-years-old, his best is yet to come. It's clear to see the work he puts in during the off-season is starting to pay off, with both his strength and his touch around the hoop.
Matt Walsh and company have an exciting local centrepiece to build a future around. I wouldn't be alone in saying this, but the next step I'd love to see in Wetzell's career, is to have New Zealand's own Steven Adams - take him under his wing and help him fulfill his superstar potential.
Josh Garlepp: "That's the sign of a dysfunctional organisation"
In New Zealand's drought-breaking win over Brisbane, Breakers owner Matt Walsh was seen on the broadcast interacting with the coaching staff as he sat adjacent to the visitor's bench.
During the third quarter, Australian basketball legend and now NBL commentator Andrew Gaze mentioned that it was potentially a bad sign to have a club's owner interacting with on-court in-game strategy.
"You can't be putting pressure on a coach to bring players in and out of games," Gaze said.
Walsh isn't your standard NBL owner.
He's outspoken, played professionally for 20 years but also has spent a lot of time on the road with the club as they navigate the NBL season perpetually away from home.
While there's probably tension from the toughest schedule in the NBL and a 1-6 start, the truth behind the on-air moment is likely far less worrying.
Especially when Dan Shamir is signed until the end of the 2023/24 season.
Thybulle praises 'invaluable' Maxey as Simmons remains away
Matisse Thybulle breaks down the role Tyrese Maxey has elevated into in the absence of Ben Simmons' unique skillset.
WHICH PLAYER WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE SUIT UP FOR THE BOOMERS IN THE FEBRUARY WC QUALIFYING WINDOW?
Kane Pitman: Will McDowell-White has been one of the shining young lights of NBL22
It should be noted that the players mentioned here may be unlikely to actually suit up, with the Boomers likely to fill the squad with international and NBL development players, but McDowell-White is one name that would likely be in the mix if the NBL halted proceedings for the qualifiers.
Carrying much of the ball handling duties in the absence of Peyton Siva, McDowell-White has been a steadying presence while also showing significant development as an outside threat. Averaging 10 points, four rebounds and four assists, his 3-point mark has spiked to 43 percent, up from 28 percent last season on increased volume.
He also has, in my opinion, the dunk of the season thus far, which is a hill I'm still willing to man completely on my own...
Peter Hooley: It's when, not if, Jack White becomes a prominent part of our Boomers program
As he continues to slowly build back up to his pre Achilles form, White has already shown flashes of the player that every Australian basketball fan fell in love with. The athleticism, the defence, the leadership and just his overall presence on the floor, will become a vital asset to our national team in the future.
Whenever you have one of the greatest basketball minds in Coach Mike Krzyzewski vouch for you as one of the best leaders he's ever had, then you must be a very special individual.
He's not going to put up 25ppg like Patty Mills, but he's going to be a player that a coach like Brian Goorjian will want on the floor. Whether it's this FIBA window or not, don't be surprised if the future of Australian basketball is led by Jack White.
Josh Garlepp: When this King is ready, I'd love to see him back in the green and gold
Sydney's Dejan Vasiljevic has been on a minute restriction over his first four games following a season-ending Achilles injury in his rookie year.
"I think these couple weeks of no games and more practice, playing more in practice with the conditioning and getting my legs underneath me, I think it's helped me heaps. I feel like my legs are back to normal," he told NBL.com.au.
Over 21 games, the former World U17 all-tournament team selectee silenced any NBL doubters averaging 15.4 points while shooting 41.5 per cent from deep to help the Kings to third at the time of his injury.
Vasiljevic has risen to every level over his journey so far - AIS, NCAA, NBL - and at every step he's been an absolute competitor.
The 24-year-old has just got through the toughest challenge of his young career but the same determination that got him here is why you'd love him lining up next to you on the Boomers.
WHICH RIVALRY IS THE JUCIEST MATCHUP ON THE ROAD TO THE NBL22 PLAYOFFS?
Kane Pitman: It's the Throwdown for me
My astute colleagues will reference some rivalries that have longer storylines, but the Throwdown is quickly emerging as one of the spiciest matchups in the league.
It may be too soon to qualify this as a rivalry, but the building blocks are there. A playoff series was followed up with a heated contest earlier this season, setting the table for the rest of NBL22. Perhaps the best part is the fact the fans have bought into the battle in a big way.
We were robbed of the postseason series being held in Melbourne last year, but it looms as a possibility with both teams holding championship aspirations.
Peter Hooley: There are now so many elite rivalries across the NBL, that it's tough to pinpoint which one is the best. However, the best rivalry for mine will always come down to success.
Winning championships is the pinnacle of all team sport. It's what we judge greatness on.
It's hard to go past the rivalry that the Perth Wildcats and Melbourne United have developed over the past few years. The Wildcats have been the epitome of success for over a decade, and since United entered the league, they've won two titles and lost a GF series to Perth.
Having been part of that 2019 GF series, the atmosphere and intensity of playing away in the Jungle as the reigning champions was insane. Let's not forget Bryce Cotton waving off the United fans after a game winner.
Josh Garlepp: Sydney Kings v Melbourne United
When these two franchises face-off, both fire-up and it feels like Australia's whole basketball community is watching.
"(The rivalry) is definitely intense," Jack White said before their Boxing Day match-up.
"Both teams are super high-level teams. There's definitely been a bit of history over the last few years in terms of the battles that each team has had. I'm really just excited to be a part of it."
The two biggest clubs, from the two biggest cities with spokespeople more than happy to argue where Australia's 'Hoops Capital' should lie.
They split back-to-back finals series and this season the United lead the regular season series 2-1, most recently with two lopsided wins going the Melbournians' way.
The Kings organisation is passionate, as is Vickerman on the sidelines but all of that only adds to the pageantry.
WHICH NBL PLAYER IS IN A POSITION TO CAPATILISE ON AN NBA CONTRACT?
Kane Pitman: Tajhere McCall is a guy that stands out to me as a prototypical NBA product
The league is hoping to have overcome the worst of the latest COVID wave, but the door will remain open for potential 10-day contracts on the road to the postseason as many teams turn their attention towards preparing for next season.
A 6'4" guard with length to guard across multiple positions, McCall has already turned heads to start his first season with the Cairns Taipans. Known as a defensive stud, the 24-year-old is also putting up numbers on the other end of the floor, averaging 16 points to go along with six assists per outing.
The one knock would be the lack of a consistent outside shot, but he ticks a lot of the other boxes typically required to get a shot in the league.
Peter Hooley: The NBA has been throwing lifelines to older players and some chances to young ones. They need only look down under to find some of the best players in the world outside the United States.
Duop Reath is someone who a lot of us expect to make the leap to the NBA eventually, but he's shown enough in NBL22 already to say that he deserves a chance. A big man who can not only hit the 3, but knock down step backs off the dribble, is something that will have NBA scouts' attention. At only 25, there's no doubt that Reath has an exciting future ahead of him on the basketball court. How great would it be to see him get a quick 10-day opportunity now and then never look back. Well, great for us, maybe not so much Illawarra Hawks fans.
Josh Garlepp : Bryce Cotton. It would be fun to watch. That's it. That's my reasoning.
Former South East Melbourne import Keifer Sykes' years of dedication were rewarded this week when he signed with Indiana for the remainder of the season.
Sykes found the right fit in the NBA and most importantly minutes to demonstrate he belongs at that level, averaging 13.6 points per game over his last five games.
The guard managed 14 PPG compared with Bryce Cotton's 23.47 PPG during NBL21, that's not taking anything away from the now Pacer.
I don't think many would disagree that given the right opportunity the three-time MVP and current scoring frontrunner would be able to have his own impact in the NBA, especially in the regular season.
Over three years, 23 games and three clubs - Utah, Phoenix & Memphis - Cotton showed glimpses before being finally released by the Grizzlies in 2016.
Since arriving in WA, Cotton has been near unstoppable.
This year, returning from a season-ending quad injury, the guard appears to have added to his game and despite multiple changes at the club he has adjusted and flourished.
Now Cotton is well established, well paid and is unlikely to leave Perth, I'm merely suggesting it would it be fun to watch the 29-year-old leave some fingerprints on the NBA after shaking the NBL's foundations.