NBL | Next Star Watch – Round 20

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 20 of the 2023/24 fixture marked the conclusion of the regular season, and the end of the road for several Next Stars, although others still have plenty of basketball ahead.

Trentyn FlowersAdelaide 36ers

Flowers missed Adelaide’s final game of the season with a lingering neck injury and given the Sixers missed the play-in, his time in the NBL has come to an end. The forward averaged 5.2 points per game on 45 per cent shooting from the field and 42 per cent shooting from three-point land.

Rocco ZikarskyBrisbane Bullets

Zikarsky’s season has also ended after the Bullets failed to make the top-six following a loss to the Breakers on Friday night, and the Kings bested the Phoenix to sneak in via percentage. In the must-win clash, the cult hero played just three minutes, but still managed to produce a team-high two blocks despite not seeing much court time. It was still an impressive campaign at 17 years of age, with Zikarsky appearing in all but one of Brisbane’s 28 games and averaging 3.2 points and one block per outing.

Bobi KlintmanCairns Taipans

The final Next Star whose campaign was brought to an end over the weekend, Klintman was one of the most impressive youngsters throughout the 2023/24 season. The Swede has been a key part of the Taipans’ rotation when healthy, and has done no damage to his draft stock. It was another solid performance from Klintman, who overcame early foul trouble to post nine points and four rebounds in just under 19 minutes of action.

AJ JohnsonIllawarra Hawks

It was a mixed bag for Johnson as the Hawks booked fourth spot in the standings after a tough start to the season. He played seven minutes off the bench as Illawarra locked in its spot in the play-in with a win over Perth, and in that match, he produced two rebounds and always looked to get involved in the play. However, he was not called upon in the Hawks’ loss to United later in the round, and will be eager to get back in the rotation throughout the postseason.

Ariel HukportiMelbourne United

Hukporti is hitting some nice form heading into the finals, and is still a key piece of Dean Vickerman‘s game plan. Although Melbourne fell to Cairns on Friday night, the big man was arguably his side’s best and was given the most minutes of any United player.

In that match, Hukporti came off the bench to produce 15 points (7/8 FG) and seven rebounds, while also maintaining active hands defensively and protecting the paint well with two steals and three blocks in a tremendous two-way performance.

Melbourne got back on the winners’ list a couple of days later against the Hawks, and Vickerman continued to use Hukporti heavily in the rotation. The German was given 17 minutes of court time and produced four points and five rebounds in the final hit out before United begin their finals campaign.

Mantas RubstaviciusNew Zealand Breakers

With the Breakers losing some key players to injury throughout the season, Rubstavicius has become an extremely important piece within the team’s rotation, particularly on the offensive end. The forward was once again showcasing his ability to find the bottom of the net in New Zealand’s win over Brisbane on Friday night, posting 12 points as the Breakers locked in a play-in spot with an important win. In the loss to the Sixers a couple of days later, he flirted with a double-double by producing eight points and seven rebounds. His place within the starting lineup looks strong, and he could have some big moments as the Breakers look to book a spot in the finals.

Alexandre SarrPerth Wildcats

There were plenty of eyes on Sarr as the regular season concluded over the weekend, with several NBA scouts landing in Australia to watch the potential number-one pick. Despite the added pressure, Sarr did not disappoint, posting some eye-catching numbers as the Wildcats played their last match for a couple of weeks.

Although the Wildcats could not manage a win in Round 20, the athletic forward was still impressing. Against Illawarra on Thursday, he posted 11 points, six rebounds and three blocks, before one-upping himself a couple of days later when his side fell to the JackJumpers. On Saturday night, Sarr delivered 17 points, four rebounds and two blocks and putting his strengths on full display. He is heading into the finals with a head of steam and will have impressed those taking notes on behalf of NBA teams.

Alex TooheySydney Kings

Toohey returned to Sydney’s starting lineup in a must-win clash against the struggling Phoenix on Saturday evening, and repaid the faith with a wonderful outing. In a record-breaking 55-point win for the Kings, the forward was one of the best for the reigning champions, demanding a spot as a starter moving forward and getting more involved offensively, which had been one of his big struggles in the past month.

He ended the game with 16 points and six rebounds, making seven shots on 11 attempts and proving a reliable avenue to scoring for the Kings. Only former MVP Jaylen Adams attempted more shots from the field than Toohey, which will do his confidence a world of good heading into the play-in next week.

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