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Melbourne United's NBL championship belief built in their defence

Melbourne United have been the dominant defensive team of NBL22 thus far, with head coach Dean Vickerman pointing to a pretty simple formula when it comes to the defending champions locking down on that end of the floor.

"It's recruiting more than anything," he told ESPN with a laugh.

"The people we bring to the club, you need to be a two-way player to play for United and if you're not we're going to ensure that you really improve in that area."

Veteran guard Matthew Dellavedova was one of those prized recruits of last offseason, with his trademark defensive presence just one of the significant attributes he has brought to the club.

"He's got an elite level of confidence. It's hard to break him at all, whether that be his shooting, how he's defending. He always has a super belief in how he goes about it and what he can get done," Vickerman explains.

While the former NBA champion is a known commodity, Vickerman trails off when discussing Dellavedova to heap praise on one of the underrated stars on the United roster.

"On the other side, (Dellavedova) can go to an elite level for a period of time but to me, it shows how good Shea Ili is and how long he can stay at an elite level for four, four-and-a-half minutes where Delly could go for two-and-a-half. Shea just has that next level tank that is so amazing. I think it's been great to see Delly known as that defender but then to see Shea and say, 'wow, that's pretty elite.'"

While Ili remains part of the second unit, the backcourt duo spends plenty of time on the court together, often rotating assignments on the most electric guards in the league from Bryce Cotton to Jaylen Adams.

Away from gameday, Dellavedova has often praised Ili as one of the players that impressed him the most during training camp, with the pair regularly going head-to-head at practice.

"I think it's great for Delly," Vickerman said. "The pressure on him, the aggressive coverages are where Shea can make him a better player in a league that's different to where he's been before."

The bad news for opposition teams is that the clamps don't just reside on the perimeter, with Jack White, Jo Lual-Acuil and Ariel Hukporti averaging a combined 3.4 blocks per game, while the team holds a league-best 11.9 block percentage.

"If some of the scouts are to have guys going downhill then we have Jo and Ariel and Whitey protecting the rim, it's pretty special.

"We might not do any offensive scouting for the team we play until the day before, it's two- or three-days build-up of getting our defence and understanding what our solid coverage looks like, what our aggressive coverage looks like and then we will focus on the offence on the last part of it."

With awards season around the corner, it begs the question: Which United player would be the frontrunner in Best Defensive Player calculations?

"The categories are so tricky. Are you picking the most versatile, or the best rim protector or what is it?" Vickerman pondered.

"I guess it's all-round defensive value to your team. I think if you asked most people on our team, they would say Shea is the best defensive player but then they'd pause and say Ariel is doing an amazing job, then they'll talk about Jack and Delly. I believe if our team voted right now, they'd probably say Shea Ili is the best defender on our team."

While United appear in the box seat to hold home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, the old adage that defence travels fits, with the team holding a scorching 11-2 record on the road.

"It's a real positive for us. We looked at the season and saw the stretch we'd be out of John Cain Arena with the [Australian Open] tennis, and we billed that one up to say we had to smash that period and we did it this year. I think that confidence carried over, feeling comfortable being on the road. We enjoy it.

"We have a lot of players with kids, sometimes you get on the road and maybe sleep a little better," Vickerman laughed.

"We love having the kids and being a family club, I certainly wouldn't change that, but we've bonded really well, it's just us on the road, let's get together, be totally unselfish and do what we need to do to get the job done."

With three games to play in the regular season, a historic back-to-back title opportunity is within the club's grasp, though you won't hear Vickerman entertaining that idea, after the team failed to achieve the goal after winning the 2018 championship.

"It's not spoken about. The first time around, often I took on that challenge to say it's never been done. No Melbourne NBL team has gone back-to-back. We took on that challenge and spoke about it and I didn't think it was great for us, maybe it put a little bit of extra pressure on what we were trying to do.

"The back-to-back won't be spoken about with this group. It's a different team, different circumstances, different way to go about it so we've put ourselves in a position to challenge and that's what we're trying to do every year at Melbourne United. Hopefully we can stay healthy and have some breaks and have a real good shot at it."