By the end of November, we all suspected the headline matchup of the weekend would be Cairns vs. New Zealand, right?
Maybe not, but that's exactly what we've got, with the two big risers heavily featured in this week's edition of NBL 3x3.
Kane Pitman, Olgun Uluc and Peter Hooley are back to discuss the Taipans and Breakers matchup, ask which team has the best import trio, and look at some interesting numbers from the enthralling season so far.
Which team has the most influential import trio?
Kane Pitman: Sydney signed an ideal trio to fit the roster.
In 309 possessions together on the floor, the Kings have outscored the opposition by 50 points (+12.8 per 100 possessions) with Justin Simon, Derrick Walton Jr. and Tim Soares on the floor. Simon and Soares are likely to be in the Best Defensive Player conversation and all three fit the high tempo offence Chase Buford wants to unleash. The Kings' front office nailed it again.
Olgun Uluc: The New Zealand Breakers' trio.
There are perhaps more talented trios out there, but the Breakers' crew fill needs for Mody Maor's team and do it at an elite level. Brantley's self-creation in his position has been great, Pardon has the perfect skillset to complement the rest of the roster, while Brown Jr.'s scoring ability has made him the perfect spark plug off the bench.
The Breakers seemingly recruited these guys to slot into specific roles and, thus far, it's worked to perfection.
Peter Hooley: Give me the Breakers trio over anyone else right now.
Individually they may not be the most talented trio in the league, but when it comes to helping their team win, they're head and shoulders above the rest. Big kudos to the New Zealand Breakers for recruiting three pieces that fit seamlessly into the puzzle that Mode Maor wanted to create. Pardon has emerged as a beast on both ends, Brantley is using his physicality to prove he is a nightmare matchup and then Barry Brown Jr might just be the captain of the all green light team.
Who wins the Cairns-New Zealand matchup on Friday night?
Kane Pitman: Give me the Snakes... for their defence!
The Taipans have earned credit for their ability to fill it up on the offensive end, all the while their defence has been rapidly progressing and has received a further boost with the re-introduction of Tahjere McCall. Somewhat sneakily, the Taipans are tied for third in the league for defensive efficiency (104.1 points per 100), while they have endless supplies of shooting on the other end. With both teams proving their defensive chops thus far, I like the depth of scoring options in the Cairns lineup
Olgun Uluc: I'll have to go with New Zealand.
But, it's very close. The Taipans' rangy, dynamic offence should be able to make the Breakers' elite defence work harder than usual, but Maor's group has the depth to come at you in waves. When it's so close, and home court advantage hasn't meant much, the best bet is to go with the team with the better defence and depth. Right now, that's the Breakers.
Peter Hooley: I've been big on the Cairns train for a while now so I can't jump off yet.
It will be interesting to see which style of play wins out in this exciting matchup. How does Cairns' incredible pace go against the Breakers' physical defence? After a poor shooting night last game for the Snakes, I am expecting them to bounce back at home and get the job done. They have too many weapons able to shoot the three, so I just can't see them all going cold again. The self-belief of that group is at an all-time high, so there's no reason they can't continue their run.
Present an interesting stat from NBL23 thus far...
Kane Pitman: South East Melbourne's defence is worth watching.
Head coach Simon Mitchell called out the criticism of his team's defence after the Throwdown last weekend, pointing to the high level of shot making across the league. Currently, Phoenix opponents are shooting 37% (4% above league average) from three and 62% (3% above league average) at the rim. With continuity beginning to build with healthy bodies on the roster, it will be interesting to see how the numbers progress over the next month. Has it been bad luck or bad defence leading to efficient shot opportunities?
Olgun Uluc: Scoring inside the paint never gets easy in Sydney.
Tim Soares has a 6.1% block percentage, which is good for third in the NBL; that means he gets a hand on that percentage of his opponent's two-point attempts while he's in the game. When Soares heads to the bench, he's replaced by Jordan Hunter, who's 6.6% block percentage is second in the league. The Kings have two of the best shot-blockers -- and, inherently, rim attempt deterrents -- in the league, and that's translated to them being one of the NBL's best defensive teams.
Peter Hooley: After seven rounds of the season, I still find it incredibly surprising that the Perth Wildcats are the only team in the league who are yet to win the rebound count in a game.
They have tied their last two and no surprise, they have gone on to win those games. It's been an issue for a couple seasons now, that they just don't have that major piece down low who can rip down rebounds for fun. It cost them in big games last season and it was a big issue early to begin NBL23. If they want to make a legitimate run at a title, they're going to have to buy in on the glass.
Stats for this article via realgm.com and spatialjam.com