Who are the Opals? The biggest takeaways from their Japan series

Opals young gun Jade Melbourne. Matt King/Getty Images

Who are the Opals? The question beckons as we see a new era of Opals prospects enter the equation and look to move forward after what has been a tumultuous year of basketball drama.

Without giving any more attention to the adverse and disappointing events of the past year, let's switch focus to what an exciting time it is for Australian basketball as we countdown to the FIBA Women's World Cup held in Sydney.

Taking on Japan in a three-match series, coaches and Aussie fans were given a chance to see how the next generation of Opals talent would fare on the international stage.

This series had three Opals debutants in Steph Reid, Anneli Maley and Bec Cole, and we saw the likes of Maddy Rocci, Shyla Heal and Jade Melbourne take on more responsibility within the team. These three are competing for open guard spots in the roster, with Michelle Timms coining the series as a "baptism of fire" for the point guards.

It's important to keep in mind that there are multiple Opals squad members who were absent in this series due to overseas playing commitments and therefore this series was not a fully accurate depiction of what we can expect to see in September at the World Cup. It did show us, however, the potential of what a new look for the Opals could give us....

GAME 1: Australia 72-66 Japan

From the get-go, it was clear that Japan would be playing their typical game style of intensity on defence. This was particularly evident against our point guards who were hassled all the way up the court and often double-teamed off screens.

Despite her tight handles and strong build, young guard Shyla Heal struggled with the defensive intensity as she still lacks the size and foot-speed that many possess on the international stage. If she can find a way to combat this then she will become a stronger threat from the guard spot, as she has already proven that she is a capable shooter.

Opals debutante Steph Reid held her own, stepping up to be point guard off the bench. Her quick speed allowed her to keep up with Japan and handle the full-court pressure. She made the most of her opportunity, taking shots when they were there and knocking them down in the process.

Like Heal, Reid is very undersized in the guard spot, making things more difficult on the defensive end as neither can afford to be switched onto a bigger opponent. It was clear that the Opals had adopted a three-man-switch for most on-ball screens, which could definitely work to resolve the issue. However this game showed it needs work and should be something they continue to address in their training.

In this series, Australia's offence had a different look than what we are used to. By keeping the key as open as possible, spacing the floor and moving the ball through the hands, the Opals looked a lot more threatening. The guards had space to drive with the option to score or dish as there were plenty of options. It proved beneficial to have bigs like Darcee Garbin and Cayla George who are dangerous from deep; they even opted at times for some high-low action together, adding another dynamic to the mix.

The standouts from this game were Melbourne and Tess Madgen. Despite playing limited minutes, Melbourne proved to be the breath of fresh air that was needed. Her energy and enthusiasm played a crucial part in the Opals getting their first win as she played every minute of the fourth quarter, making it a worthwhile 10 minutes of court time.

Tess was the team's constant throughout the game with her hustle and one-percenters proving to be essential, creating second-chance opportunities and extra possessions for her team. She was the definition of leading by example and she provided whatever the team needed at the time.

GAME 2: Australia 55-56 Japan

Game 2 saw Maddy Rocci back in the line-up after recovering from a minor injury; she was starting point guard, pushing Heal to the bench. She showed why as she handled the full-court pressure best out of the guards, using her physicality and speed to avoid being pushed around.

Additionally, the team made an adjustment by leaving the floor open rather than having a big try to set a mid-court screen. In saying that, Rocci did seem to have a few early nerves as she lacked some composure on offence.

Someone who didn't show any nerves was Sara Blicavs; she lit up the scoring for the Opals with 12 quick points in the first quarter with no shot coming the same way. But that appeared to be the only offensive spark Australia could muster.

The same could be said for Japan. The game was low-scoring for both sides as they struggled to find an offensive rhythm. Most shots were coming from outside but the first half saw neither team having much luck, this was evident in the scoreline being 21-19.

After half time it was a three-point shooting blitz from both teams, a large improvement from the first half. Okoye caught fire shooting this game, including three from deep, and made Japan a lot tougher an opponent to guard. The Opals were not having as much luck as the game went on and just couldn't find an answer for Japan, resulting in a tough loss in the final minutes.

GAME 3: Australia 67-69 Japan

As expected, the final game ended in a tight finish and the lead was forever in question, neither team letting the other get away with it. Unfortunately, the game went the way of Japan, but the Opals can hold their heads high for doing so well against a team that won the silver medal at last year's Olympics.

Arguably the most exciting part of this game, from an Opals perspective, was the introduction of debutante Anneli Maley into the side. She made an impact immediately as her first play of the game was getting a monster rebound before getting fouled on the put-back and gaining herself an and-one opportunity.

Maley had 11 points and seven rebounds for the game, silencing the critics who didn't think she could crack it at an international level; the reigning WNBL MVP did not waste a second of her court time.

Melbourne's ability to create for herself or others out of a broken play stood out again this game. Not to mention her speed and athleticism up the floor. She's not someone you want to lose sight of as a defender.

Blicavs and Madgen were both consistent again, staying aggressive, winning the ball and scoring when necessary for their team. The whole team was incredibly selfless in offence, almost always making the extra pass and committing to finding the best option. Nevertheless, what let them down in the end was their lack of scoring prowess. At times they were stagnant and nobody appeared particularly dominant in a scoring position.

Moving forward, the Opals will need to find a new potion. After years of having a large presence inside that could not be matched, they need to find another way of creating fear in their opposition -- something I'm sure won't be hard when the team regains its members who were unavailable due to playing in the WNBA or Europe at the time of this series.

So, who are the Opals? Regardless of who is picked in the final team for the World Cup later this year, the Opals will be a team full of fight, grit, enthusiasm and unanimity in their quest to get back on the podium and back to being one of the most feared teams in the competition.

If fans can take anything away from this friendly series, it's that the Opals' future is bright and full of promise. A new style of game generated by youth and a mix of experience will be sure to lead the Opals to great success ahead. Bring on September!