NBL Champions Watch – Melbourne United

EVERY player or team in competitive sport has the goal of winning their respective title or championship, and all their work builds up to a shot at it. Unfortunately, only one can be victorious, with those unsuccessful left with a hunger to dethrone those ahead of them.

An issue that is less talked about comes for the victors, as they often do not carry this same motivation. Once you’re at the top, where is there to go from there? This problem often haunts many successful sides, making consecutive championships and dynasties incredibly elusive.

The National Basketball League (NBL) concluded its 2020-21 season with Melbourne United crowned champions, after a dominant regular and postseason. United were the team to beat all year and were able to live up to this hype despite the pressure that comes with this expectation.

Their game looked flawless at times with each player on their list doing their part for the team. Having won the flag, United now become the hunted, with opposition teams desperate to find weaknesses to exploit in the upcoming season. With a target now on their backs, can United adapt to claim back-to-back titles?

The last consecutive championship side was the Perth Wildcats, who won four championships in the span of six years, and went back-to-back in 2016 and 2017. This side has been arguably the benchmark in the last decade, and much of their success was built around their dynamic offense and their mid-game changes.

Under Trevor Gleeson, the Wildcats made sure that despite the personnel changes each season, the chemistry was right heading into their season opener. It was also the signing of superstar Bryce Cotton that helped turn the tide for Perth, so United will need similar offensive heroics if they are going to stay ahead of their rivals.

Their roster will take a slightly different look into the upcoming season, with two crucial departures eased by signing one of Australia’s biggest basketball stars. The team will be without point guard Mitch McCarron, who has left the team to join the Adelaide 36ers.

McCarron was crucial to the team’s system, and was a fine contributor in a championship year. The 28-year-old was a workhorse all year, pushing the tempo on both ends of the floor, and finished with averages of 10.2 points, five rebounds and 5.1 assists.

The loss of McCarron was offset by the signing of Matthew Dellavedova, who has returned to the NBL after a strong stint in the NBA. Dellavedova will bring plenty of strengths to the side, none more important than his defensive hustle and winning experience.

Dellavedova is known as one of the most ruthless defensive players in the world, and has given some of the best NBA point guards a hard time, so this will be crucial in stopping some of the championship contenders in the NBL. He also brings a wealth of knowledge when it comes to sustaining success, as he was a part of the Cleveland Cavaliers side that made back-to-back finals, winning in their second appearance. He will bring a new look to the team and will make it difficult for opposition teams to work out United’s system on both ends heading into the season.

While they were able to cover the loss of McCarron, the team will be hurting over the departure of team MVP Jock Landale, who has left to pursue a career in the NBA for the San Antonio Spurs. Landale was a key part of the team’s system and offensive sets in the 2020-21 season, with his ability to score both inside the paint and from behind the arc.

The team will sorely miss the contribution of the big man, and will be looking for others to step up in his absence. However, there may be a silver lining in this. With Landale departing, the team’s offence will be likely to become much more unpredictable, and therefore tougher for teams to prepare for.

With nine teams looking to find any weaknesses in their game, United will be the most studied and hunted team heading into this season. However, with some crucial changes to their roster and the ability to take from past dynasties, Melbourne are a strong chance to back up their efforts for a second consecutive season.

Photo: Getty Images

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