It's very early, but we have a new team at the top of the table as the New Zealand Breakers continue to roll.
In a sign of the early season chaos, the Cairns Taipans and South East Melbourne Phoenix join the defending champion Sydney Kings in rounding out top four, giving the league an unpredictable and fresh feel to start the season.
Kane Pitman, Olgun Uluc and Peter Hooley are back for this week's 3x3, with Melbourne, Perth and new imports on the agenda.
Perth have lost four straight games. What's wrong with the Wildcats?
Kane Pitman: The numbers are still noisy this early in the season, but it's the offensive end that stands out.
Perth have led the league in offensive efficiency in each of the last three seasons and haven't ranked outside the top four since 2014-15 (via realgm.com). They currently sit seventh and while Bryce Cotton (21.7 points per game) has claimed his usual spot near the top of the league in scoring, Luke Travers sits second for the team at just 10.9 points per game. Corey Webster (8.8 ppg) and Brady Manek (8.4 ppg) have significant room for improvement, but it feels like Bryce or nothing with star forward Vic Law no longer by his side.
Olgun Uluc: A few things, but the rim protection should be the first issue to attack.
It's just been non-existent. On Monday evening, we saw United have a ton of line drives to the rim, where they seemingly finished at will. TaShawn Thomas is undersized but we've barely seen him use his athleticism to be a rim protector or deterrent, while there might be some value in getting Oliver Hayes-Brown to start traveling with the team.
Peter Hooley: All the emphasis has been on Perth figuring things out on the offensive end, so much so that they've forgotten to lock in on the other side of the ball.
It was always going to take time to adjust to John Rillie's new style of play, but some of the defensive breakdowns are concerning. Yes, there's been a constant theme around the Wildcats the last couple of seasons in terms of finding consistent contributors outside of Cotton. However, none of that will matter if they don't figure things out as a group defensively. Growing pains were expected but maybe the FIBA break will do the Wildcats wonders.
Which new import has impressed early in the season?
Kane Pitman: Barry Brown Jr. is on a tear to start the season with New Zealand.
Brown is third in the league for scoring, putting up 21.2 points per game. The 25-year-old went 4-for-24 from long range to start the season, before going 7-for-13 over his last two. Currently at 30% on the season, if that number settles in the mid-to-high thirties, he's a chance to lead the league in scoring.
Olgun Uluc: Derrick Walton Jr. has taken the reins of the defending champs, and fit in perfectly.
He quickly announced himself as one of the best players in the league, because he just plays with such composure. The point guard controls the pace of the game perfectly, and has also shot it at a better clip than perhaps we thought he would. Walton Jr. is the floor general for the best offence in the NBL, and spearheads the second best defence, so his impact is as demonstrable as anything.
Peter Hooley: I'll take Dererk Pardon on my team any day
Dererk Pardon has been a revelation for Mody Maor and the Breakers. He was recruited to be a focal point on the defensive end, and whilst he continues to do that, he's starting to really flourish in this New Zealand offense. He's one of those no fuss players who doesn't need to be force fed the ball to be effective. One of those guys who when things aren't going well, doesn't get into his own head but instead just plays harder. It's a rare thing to find an import coming into a new league and team with such a team first mentality that becomes infectious throughout.
What type of player do Melbourne United need as a replacement?
Kane Pitman: A modern big to defend the star small ball bigs across the league.
The emergence of David Okwera as an every night player is worth noting, but United need insurance at a position that demands you defend Xavier Cooks, Mitch Creek, Robert Franks, Keanu Pinder among others. Isaac Humphries has battled the whistle to start the season and United are bare on protection alongside their starting five man.
Olgun Uluc: I'd love to see Untied add a scoring presence to play the four-spot.
United has struggled to create looks in the halfcourt, largely due to Shea Ili's absence and a lack of spacing, so the idea of adding a four-three type guy who has size and can stretch the floor would work quite well. A player that's stylistically similar to DJ Hogg or Robert Franks, for example, would be a cool look for United.
Peter Hooley: A big who can stretch the floor.
United look like a completely different lineup with Shea Ili back. One key area that United could use some depth is their big man department in terms of shooting the rock. Besides Barlow, none of their bigs can space the floor well enough to draw the defense out of the paint. With the way Rayjon Tucker plays and how Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Chris Goulding are starting to figure things out, having a lineup on the floor that will pull the defense away from the key is crucial.