NBL | Next Star Watch – Round 16

ONE of the biggest talking points throughout the 2023/24 National Basketball League (NBL) season has been the performances of the competition’s Next Stars.

Through the NBL’s Next Stars program, some of the best prospects in the world have joined Australia’s premier basketball competition in a bid to further their chances of selection at the NBA Draft.

Eight Next Stars have been plying their trade in the NBL, and have been delivering must-see basketball on a weekly basis.

Round 16 saw some massive results in the context of the season, and in the thick of the action were some impressive young guns continuing to make a name for themselves.

Trentyn FlowersAdelaide 36ers

Flowers missed both of Adelaide’s wins over the weekend, with the talented forward still nursing a knee injury. 36ers fans will be hopeful that he returns as his team makes a push for the finals, but Adelaide will be cautious ahead of the NBA draft.

Rocco ZikarskyBrisbane Bullets

It was a quiet performance from Zikarsky in Round 16, mainly due to the Bullets opting to give their cult hero some rest after a tiring campaign to date. He missed Brisbane’s loss to the Wildcats on Friday night, and returned for a slight cameo in the win over the Taipans a couple of days later. In that match, Zikarsky had just 50 seconds of court time, but still had enough time for a lay-up and a rebound in that time.

Bobi KlintmanCairns Taipans

As flagged by the team last week, Klintman missed the Taipans’ two games with a bout of the flu. The illness spread through the team following Round 15, and the impressive young forward was one of the victims, but should be back in the near future.

AJ JohnsonIllawarra Hawks

Johnson was given more responsibility for the Hawks as head coach Justin Tatum looked to inject some energy into his side. The team’s Next Star impressed when on the court, and showed what he is capable of if given the chance.

In the tight loss against the Taipans on Thursday night, Johnson played 10 minutes for eight points, six rebounds and a steal on 4/8 shooting from the field. He attacked whenever he had the ball, and added a different dynamic to the team offensively.

He was given slightly more minutes a couple of days later in Illawarra’s seven-point loss to the 36ers, but struggled with his efficiency in that game, shooting 1/6 in 11 minutes and posting just four points, one rebound and one assist.

Ariel HukportiMelbourne United

Jo Lual-Acuil missed through injury for the second week in a row, giving Hukporti even more opportunity in the starting lineup. Coming up against Tasmania, the second-year Next Star was impressive with his inside scoring, producing 13 points on 4/7 shooting from the field and 5/6 shooting from the free throw line. He also added eight rebounds, an assist, a steal and three blocks in just 23 minutes of court time in another impressive performance.

Mantas RubstaviciusNew Zealand Breakers

The Breakers delivered an extremely important win over the Phoenix to the tune of 21 points and Rubstavicius continued to cement himself as a crucial part to New Zealand’s success. The forward had 15 points (4/7 FG, 2/2 3PT, 5/7 FT), three rebounds, two assists and a steal in that game, enjoying his time as a starter and constantly looking dangerous whenever his team was looking to score. The Breakers are now undefeated when Rubstavicius scores 15-plus points, and he is starting to do that more frequently.

Alexandre SarrPerth Wildcats

Disappointingly, Sarr continued to spend time on the sidelines as he manages a hip injury. Having enjoyed an excellent season in the NBL, the talented big and likely number-one pick later this year will be hopeful to return to the Wildcats’ lineup sooner rather than later.

Alex TooheySydney Kings

It was a tough loss at the hands of the Wildcats on the weekend, with the Kings dropping down the standings once again. Toohey’s underwhelming performance was reflective of his team’s, making some mistakes and struggling to impact the game to his capabilities. However, he has put together a solid body of work throughout the season, and is more than likely to bounce back in Round 17.

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