NBL | Next Star Watch – Round 19

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 19 of the NBL marked the penultimate week of the 2023/24 regular season, and although some Next Star journeys are coming to an end, others are finding form at the pointy end of the fixture.

Trentyn FlowersAdelaide 36ers

Flowers missed Adelaide’s heavy loss to the Bullets with a neck injury, continuing what has been an interrupted NBL campaign for the offensively talented forward. With Adelaide still in the hunt for a finals spot, there is a chance Flowers is not done yet, however.

Rocco ZikarskyBrisbane Bullets

Zikarsky saw his highest number of minutes in five weeks, seeing more action given the advantage the Bullets had on the scoreboard for much of their game against the 36ers. Also in his favour on this front was the absence of Tyrell Harrison, and while Aron Baynes secured the starting spot, Zikarsky was able to get valuable minutes off the bench. He finished the game with four points (2/3 FG), one rebound and two blocks.

Bobi KlintmanCairns Taipans

After spending weeks coming off the bench following a short stint on the sideline through injury, Klintman returned to the starting lineup in Cairns’ heavy loss at the hands of the Wildcats. Despite the 29-point final margin, Klintman was able to keep the Taipans in the game throughout the first three quarters. Although it was not his most efficient scoring night (3/11 FG), his injection into the starting five made Cairns a much more dangerous side throughout stages of the match. He finished the game with 11 points, with only two other Taipans players reaching a higher total on the scoring front.

AJ JohnsonIllawarra Hawks

Having produced a highlight that was seen around the world with his massive dunk over Zikarsky last round, there was no doubt that Johnson would see minutes once again. Coming off the bench, Johnson played four minutes in Illawarra’s loss to New Zealand on Friday night, and poured in two points, a rebound and a steal in an energetic cameo. A couple of days later, he showed his playmaking prowess as the Hawks got the better of the Kings in the Freeway series. Johnson dished out a pair of assists in just three minutes of playing time, showing that he can impact the game whenever given the opportunity.

Ariel HukportiMelbourne United

Although he was the beneficiary of Melbourne’s minute-sharing on the eve of finals last round, Hukporti was a victim to this in Melbourne’s win over the Breakers on Sunday. Head coach Dean Vickerman is looking to get everyone involved as the ladder-leaders prepare for a short break while the play-in takes place, and this saw the team’s Next Star play just 12 minutes. In that time, Hukporti posted four points, two rebounds and a block, and while it was not his most productive performance, the big man still looms as a key figure for United in the coming weeks.

Mantas RubstaviciusNew Zealand Breakers

It was a mixed bag for Rubstavicius in Round 19, but his output on both ends was still important as the Breakers kept their 2023/24 campaign alive with an important win over the Hawks. The forward posted an impressive two-way showing in that game, impact the game both offensively and defensively in his second consecutive strong showing. He delivered 13 points and three steals and was undoubtedly one of the most important players in that match. Unfortunately, Sunday’s loss to United was less productive for Rubstavicius, who fouled out without a score next to his name. Still in the hunt for a play-in spot, the Breakers will be hoping the Next Star replicates his first performance of the round moving forward.

Alexandre SarrPerth Wildcats

As has been the case for much of the 2023/24 season, Sarr was the standout Next Star for Round 19 with a tremendous showing in the big win over the Taipans. The potential top pick in the 2024 NBA Draft delivered his first double-double of his NBL tenure, showing his continued growth throughout the fixture. Against a talented frontcourt, Sarr was the star of the show and was arguably the best player on the court given his effectiveness on both ends of the court.

In 19 minutes, the athletic forward poured in 14 points on 6/9 shooting from the field to go with 12 rebounds in a stat-stuffing performance. Five of those boards came on the offensive end and helped generate second-chance opportunities with his veteran-like positioning under the hoop. He also added three blocks and helped shut down the Taipans’ interior offence, showcasing all he has to offer.

Alex TooheySydney Kings

After spending most of the season in Sydney’s starting lineup, Toohey was moved to the bench after a quiet few weeks. The Kings lost to the Hawks, and Toohey took some time to adjust to a different role within the team. He delivered two points, two rebounds and an assist in that game, but should be better in the long run for being exposed to a new responsibility.

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