THE NEXT National Basketball League (NBL) season is just around the corner, and there is plenty to keep an eye on in the 2022/23 campaign.
One of the biggest positives for the competition over the past few years has been the injection of young talent into the league, with the NBL attracting not only domestic, also but international young guns.
Since the league added the Next Stars program and brought in the likes of Lamelo Ball, the competition is now a genuine pathway to the NBA for budding prospects around the world.
In the Young Gun Watch series, we take a look at some of the most impressive talents the competition has to offer ahead of the upcoming season. Next up is Ariel Hukporti, who enjoyed a promising first season in the NBL last year.
Hukporti was born in Germany, and his basketball prospects were recognised from a young age, particularly when he stood at 5 ft 11 in at just nine-years-old. After a successful junior career, the big man made his debut in the Basketball Champions League, an annual competition run by FIBA. After claiming the MVP award at the Basketball Without Borders competition during the NBA All-Star weekend, there was buzz surrounding Hukporti’s name.
In the lead up to the 2021/22 NBL season, Hukporti signed with Melbourne United as a Next Star, which is becoming known as one of the fastest methods for young players to rise. Standing at 7 ft, he was destined to draw headlines and make an immediate impact for the reigning champions. However, he was forced to bide his time behind United superstar Jo Lual Acuil, who was in career-best form and ensuring Hukporti came off the bench.
Despite not being able to secure a starting role, Hukporti was still able to impact the game in his first season in Australia. He averaged 15 points per game and was able to register seven points and five rebounds per game and was a massive part in giving United’s bench a boost when the starters needed a breather.
Season 2022/23 looks more promisign from Hukporti’s point of view, with Lual Acuil and Jack White departing United. While the team recruited some handy replacements, it is evident that the team plans to get some more runs into Hukporti. Choosing to remain with United for another season to continue to develop his craft, the big man is set to take another step in what could be a breakout year.
Fittingly, one of Hukporti’s biggest strengths is his strength, with the ability to bully the opposition inside the paint and if he can focus on that throughout the upcoming season, it should add some dynamism to Melbourne’s offence. Physically, there are few big men like him in the NBL, with his capability to run the floor in open court making him a tough matchup for many of the competition’s fives. His ability to get off the ground is also impressive, making him a more than capable shot blocker with a quick reaction time.
Hukporti’s biggest area of improvement is his jump shooting, which is a bit expected for his position. The modern game has implemented stretch shooting in a big way, and if he wishes to take his career a step further, it will need to be addressed. However, he showed slight progression in this area as the season rolled on, and his mechanics look to be on the right track.