Key injuries to play-in contenders have shaken up the run home of the 2022-23 NBL season, but which one will have the biggest impact?
Meanwhile, the talent across the league has made the fight to crack an All-NBL team as tough as ever.
Kane Pitman, Olgun Uluc and Peter Hooley answer those burning questions on this week's 3x3.
Which injured player is the biggest loss: Shea Ili or Ryan Broekhoff?
Kane Pitman: Both are devastating losses, but surviving without Broekhoff has always been a test. As Simon Mitchell quite rightly pointed out postgame, when Broekhoff is hitting from deep, it's gravy. He's the do-it-all star of the Phoenix, who doesn't need box score stats to qualify his value to this team. Over the last two seasons South East Melbourne are 23-14 when he plays and 6-11 when he sits. His floor spacing is invaluable on a team that shoots fewer threes than any other team.
Olgun Uluc: Shea Ili The entire first half of Melbourne United's season featured a constant stream of Dean Vickerman in press conferences lamenting the absence of Shea Ili, and that's because the performance on the court warranted it. The game slows down, Chris Goulding gets less touches, and there's no effective third point guard on the roster to make up for the loss. Ili has proven to be the glue that holds United together on both ends, so probably losing him when the team still needs to qualify is the worst luck.
Peter Hooley: Shea Ili We saw what a United team without Ili looked like and it was far from pretty. They have no doubt turned a corner since then, as a whole, but now they'll have to shuffle things around once again. Xavier Rathan-Mayes will now have to play 30+ minutes and lead the team offensively, which didn't work in the first eight rounds. However, I think he is more prepared for that now and with the inclusion of Marcus Lee and how well he is playing, this is a different looking Melbourne team. When it boils down to it, there is simply no replacing what Ili has brought to this team since he came back and it is a devastating loss.
Which team is looking the most vulnerable with regard to play-in contention?
Kane Pitman: It could be, sneakily, the Wildcats.
While the two Melbourne teams are locked at 14-12, the Wildcats sit in fifth with a 13-11 record. They have four games to play, including another brutal turnaround from a 930pm Friday night game in Perth to a 2pm Sunday game in Tasmania. The Wildcats leak points on the defensive end and probably need three wins from the final four games to feel safe. Two wins would leave them anxious. DO NOT let one slip on Friday at home against Illawarra.
Olgun Uluc: United.
United's final two games of the season aren't just must-win, but there's also a good chance they'll need to significantly improve their percentage as well. The Phoenix have two tough matchups remaining but a solid percentage, while the Wildcats have a few games in hand, so the next two for United are as do-or-die as it gets.
Peter Hooley: Phoenix
For a similar reason to Ili being out for United, is why I'm concerned for the Phoenix. Broekhoff is more than just what we saw in the first half against Perth on Sunday. His presence on the floor and leadership goes far beyond putting the ball in the basket, and the Phoenix are going to miss that. We saw last season after he got hurt the Phoenix fell apart and failed to cover for his absence. Whilst the talent around him is still there, it'll take a collective buy-in from every man on that roster to help get them to the finals.
Pick your All-NBL First and Second teams, and who's unlucky not to make it.
Kane Pitman: First Team: Cotton, Walton Jr., Doyle, Creek, Cooks Second Team: Brown Jr., Goulding, McCall, Brantley, Pinder
Unlucky man: Dererk Pardon. It was down to Brantley and Pardon for the final inside spot on the second team, but it was Brantley who got the nod. Pardon has been a monster around the rim from an efficiency perspective and is a beast on the offensive glass, but it's the positional versatility of Brantley that gets the nod.
Olgun Uluc: First Team: Cotton, Walton Jr., Doyle, Creek, Cooks Second Team: Goulding, Brown Jr., Hogg, Pinder, Pardon
Tahjere McCall missed a heap of games so Hogg gets the nod over him because of his consistency throughout the season. As for the Pardon over Jarell Brantley decision, I'm again going for the guy I think has been the most effective player over a more consistent stretch; that one is wildly tight, though.
Peter Hooley: First Team: Walton Jr., Cotton, Doyle, Cooks, Creek Second Team: Brown Jr, Goulding, Hogg, Brantley, Pinder
Tahjere McCall incredibly unlucky, but if I had to pick between him and Hogg, DJ gets the nod due to McCall's missed games.