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Key players, form guide & why each team can win it: NBL 2022 Finals Series preview

It could not have been scripted any more perfectly. The NBL final four is locked, the matchups are set, with one of the wildest weekends in league history serving up an insane appetiser for what's to come over the next two weeks.

Melbourne United, the Sydney Kings, Illawarra Hawks and incredibly, the Tasmania JackJumpers are set for playoff action.

To get you prepared, I'm going to tell you why each team can win it all and of course why they can't.

Let's get started with the defending champions.


(1) Melbourne United - 20-8

Recent form: United enter the postseason with a 4-1 record over their last five games, though only one of those games came against a postseason team.

That game was Saturday night in Tasmania, with the JackJumpers picking up the win that ultimately led them to a historic playoff berth.

The 61 points United scored on Saturday night was by far a season low, with 33 percent shooting from the floor and 16 turnovers leading to an ugly effort heading into the postseason.

Health report: Star guard Matthew Dellavedova missed the last game of the regular season after a dental procedure but is set to play Game 1. Jack White felt some back soreness in the warmup of the same game but is also expected to play on Thursday night.

Key player - Jack White: White is willing to do all the dirty work. He crashes the glass, he boxes out, defends multiple opponents on a single possession and sets screens. He's a winner.

United are 19.5 points per 100 possessions better than their opposition with White on the floor, which is a team-best mark.

Overall, Melbourne is 19-4 when White suits up, and 1-4 when he doesn't. On a team loaded with veteran stars, he might just be their most important player.

Why they can win it: This one is easy. Defence.

With the addition of Yudai Baba, United can now throw Matthew Dellavedova, Shea Ili and Baba on the star guards they will see in the postseason, while also having the safety net of White, Ariel Hukporti and Jo Lual-Acuil in the paint.

Put simply, there is no let-up with the Melbourne defence, you have to find a way to score against 40 minutes of elite stoppers. On the season their defence is giving up a ridiculous five points fewer per 100 possessions than the second ranked team.

Cause for concern: Melbourne finished in the bottom half of the league in half-court offence (0.92 points per possession) and transition (1.04 PPP). They were very much a middle-of-the-pack team on that end of the floor.

Of course, that is OK when your defence is on an elite level, but it will be interesting to watch how they navigate Tasmania and then potentially Sydney or Illawarra, with those other three teams second, third and fourth in the league for defensive efficiency.

(2) Illawarra Hawks - 19-9

Recent form: The Hawks are 4-1 over their last five, with wins over Sydney and Melbourne included in the stretch. The three games prior also included wins over Tasmania and Melbourne again, with a blistering run catapulting the once shaky squad to homecourt in the first round.

Given the quality of opposition, they have a case for being the hottest team in the league.

Health report: The Hawks have been the healthiest team in the league all season, with the number of games missed for key players able to be counted on one hand. They'll be good to go for Game 1 on Friday night at home.

Key player - Tyler Harvey: It's been an interesting season for Harvey, with the MVP candidate from last season struggling with efficiency and shot selection on a team absolutely stacked with individual scorers.

He will have good memories in the matchup with Sydney however, averaging 20 points and four assists on 53.8 percent from the floor and 40 percent from long range in the two recent games to round out the regular season.

Slowing the Hawks down in transition will be an emphasis for the Kings, leaving Harvey's ability to get downhill into the paint to score and facilitate as a major key.

Why they can win it: Individual shot making.

With Tyler Harvey, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Duop Reath and company, the Hawks have a number of players who can get their own shot, which can prove invaluable in the postseason.

While the Hawks have become a little stagnant at times, having multiple weapons who can create their own looks in late game and shot clock situations is going to prove difficult to defend.

Cause for concern: How do the Hawks handle a grind-it-out postseason?

Illawarra are terrifying in transition. Second in the league on the season in transition points per possession, the Hawks are by far the most dangerous team in the open court based on the regular season sample size of playoff teams.

Of the 14 players in the NBL with at least 50 transition plays, Justinian Jessup is No. 1 in the league by generating 1.43 points per possession. Antonius Cleveland is the No. 1 transition frequency player in the league, while Tyler Harvey is also near the top of the rankings.

If the Kings are able to get back and turn the game into a halfcourt battle, the question will be whether or not the Hawks can execute in the halfcourt with their league-worst free-throw rate of 21.3 percent not leading to easy points during the regular season.

(3) Sydney Kings - 19-9

Recent form: Much like Illawarra, the Kings' early-season form left them a big hole to dig themselves out of.

They did so by winning 14 of their last 16 games, including 10 straight on the road. As far as playoff tune-ups, Sunday's one-possession loss to the Hawks without Jaylen Adams will leave them feeling confident moving into what should be an absolutely insane series.

Health report: Illness has hit the Kings camp over the last two weeks, with Jarell Martin exiting health and safety protocols last weekend. Star guard Jaylen Adams also spent time away from the team with illness but should be fine for Game 1 on Friday night.

Key player - Jaylen Adams: How could it be anyone other than Adams?

An electric scorer, the import star is equally as willing to facilitate, depending on what coverage the Hawks show him.

Fourth in the league for scoring and first for assists, Adams is dynamic in the halfcourt. In last week's overtime classic, Adams saw constant double teams at the point of attack, adjusting to finish the night with seven assists while also getting to the free-throw line 11 times once he was free from the initial coverage.

Rarely rattled, Adams brings a level of calm to the Kings offence. They are 16-6 with him in uniform and 3-3 when he misses.

Why they can win it: Defensive versatility.

Playing undersized line-ups for much of the season, Chase Buford has led a top-two defence on the back of versatility that begins with Xavier Cooks.

Cooks does it all for the Kings, guarding every position on the floor at times, protecting the rim while also being a beast on the boards.

Only Melbourne cleaned up their defensive glass at a higher rate than the Kings this season, with the Kings limiting second chance opportunities throughout the campaign.

Cause for concern: By the time Friday night rolls around, the Kings would have had plenty of time to get their legs back, though, star pair Adams and Martin will have had limited game time in the two weeks prior to Game 1 against the Hawks.

Adams last played on April 17 against Adelaide, while Martin has played just 15 minutes since April 14.

In a three-game series, there is no time for rust.

(4) Tasmania JackJumpers - 17-11

Recent form: Should we call them the heart-thumper Jumpers?

Prior to taking care of business against Melbourne on Saturday night, the JackJumpers beat South East Melbourne and New Zealand by a combined total of six points. Overall, they carry a four-game winning streak into the postseason.

Perhaps more importantly, they are 2-0 against Melbourne teams at John Cain Arena. They have nothing to lose.

Health report: The JackJumpers have been without starting big man Will Magnay throughout the season, though all the other key players look set to play on Thursday night in Melbourne.

Key player - Josh Adams: On a team that lacks individual shot creators, Adams is a key ingredient to keeping the scoreboard ticking over.

The JackJumpers are 9-3 when Adams scores at least 19 points, while they are just 8-8 when he fails to reach that mark. In addition, they are 4-0 when he hits at least four triples in a game.

In many ways, the import guard is the barometer for the offence. When he's hitting shots, they are usually rolling. A three-game series is an incredibly small sample. If Adams cooks at the right time, this could get really interesting.

Why they can win it: The JackJumpers defence has kept them in games all season long. While the offence has at times sputtered, they have been able to win games on nights they have been inefficient on the back of their defensive tenacity.

Melbourne averaged just 74 points across three games with Tasmania this season. If Tasmania can keep United off the offensive glass and limit second chance opportunities, they will bank on turning the series into a scrap.

Cause for concern: Reliance on the three-point shot.

This season 45.3 percent of the JackJumpers' field goal attempts have come from behind the three-point line, the highest mark in the league. Melbourne on the other hand, have the second lowest opponent three-point rate in the league at 37.8 percent.

A team that wants to shoot threes against a team that guards the perimeter as well as any. Shot quality will be critical for the JackJumpers.

*All stats via SpatialJam.com and Jordanmcnbl.com