NBL20 Season Preview: Teams 9 to 5

Boomers: in their own words (5:58)

ESPN sits down with the local Boomers for their take on Australia's FIBA World Cup experience. (5:58)

Basketball never sleeps.

There was the World Cup and the Boomers' gripping run to the final four, followed by the preseason Blitz in Tasmania, when we finally had the chance to see the teams play and start to project how they will fare in the upcoming season.

We witnessed Tasmania welcome NBL basketball with its warm embrace and we also had the opportunity to see some highly-touted prospects on the hardwood and ruminate about their NBA lottery futures, and how exactly they will perform in the NBL.

With all that in mind, welcome to NBL20.

It's time to once again preview each team and project their seasons ahead.

Before we get too carried away with the preseason, the usual note of caution: Take what you see at the Blitz, and in the rest of the preseason, with a grain of salt.

It's the warm-up before the real show starts. Teams experiment. Rotations and schematic understanding are in flux. The real thing starts now, and in this preview, we forecast how teams will finish this season based on a long view.

Here are Nos. 9 to 5. Teams 4 to 1 will be revealed on Tuesday.

All statistics courtesy of Spatialjam.com unless otherwise noted.

Cairns Taipans

Major additions: Scott Machado, Cam Oliver, Majok Deng, Kouat Noi

Major losses: Melo Trimble, Devon Hall, Alex Loughton

A year into his tenure in Cairns, Mike Kelly is finally able to trot out a team that looks like putting into practice his free-wheeling philosophy. They're a long, aggressive and athletic team who will disrupt with a collective length, try to force turnovers, and will base their game in attacking the lane and getting into transition.

Scott Machado, who replaces the 2018 scoring champion Melo Trimble, is certainly not a like-for-like replacement. He will be at his best leading the break and surveying the smorgasbord of options on the wings.

Machado demonstrated his passing prowess during the NBL Blitz, but on the whole, he does not have a reliable outside shot, nor the finishing ability once he's able to jitterbug into the paint. There is just no history of Machado being an offensive threat. (For what it's worth, he was 2-of-17 from the field at the Blitz, per RealGM)

Things will get dicey when teams start to duck under on-balls, play away from him off-the-ball, and dare him to shoot. The trickle down effect mutes the impact of his passing ability.

There's not a lot of scoring and creativity outside of DJ Newbill, who remains their best two-way player. He will land big shots, as always. He has the ability to guard 1-through-3.

Newbill's offensive efficiency dropped in his first season with the Taipans. He might not be tasked with defending the opposition's best wing every game, meaning he should have more energy devoted to the offensive end.

Cam Oliver, an under-sized, active pogo stick, will live off dump-offs in the paint. Oliver has attempted to expand his shooting range, but the results have been uneven. On defence, he will struggle guarding one-on-one against some of the leagues true big men, but his value will be as a weak-side rim deterrent.

Majok Deng provides an option when things slow down in the half-court, and when transition opportunities are short-circuited. Deng isn't a star but his usage rate has often resembled one, as the gunner off the bench for the 36ers. Higher usage often equates to lower efficiency for non-stars, but Deng's impact has been positive since his debut in the league.

Nate Jawai will likely come off the bench, and the Taipans can always throw it inside to him to clean up possessions, and to act as a hub for that second unit.

Perhaps the biggest issue is that the Taipans have no depth. Jarrod Kenny, Anthony Fisher, Mirko Djeric and Fabijan Krslovic will be asked to log substantive minutes, revolving around Jawai.

The Taipans will be a fun, chaotic team this year. Noi and Deng will certainly have their moments. They'll be disruptive in passing lanes and burst out in transition. Expect them to throw the ball all over the gym ... and probably lead the league in turnovers.

Prediction: 9th

Adelaide 36ers

Major additions: Eric Griffin, Deshon Taylor, Daniel Dillon, Kevin White

Major losses: Nathan Sobey, Jacob Wiley, Demetrius Conger

Joey Wright has replenished his squad that fits his fiesty identity.

At the head of that line will be Deshon Taylor. Taylor is a Pat Beverley clone - a defensive, aggressive pest who fits perfectly into the Wright mould. And like Beverley, he appears somewhat limited offensively. His back-up, Kevin White, is largely the same.

Overall, there's not really much in terms of reliable offensive weaponry on this roster. This team projects to be more of a defensive unit -- one that is nasty and in-your-face -- and like Cairns, will look to generate points in transition from defensive stops and turnovers.

A year after owning one of the worst defensive ratings in the league (116.1 points per 100 possessions, ranking only ahead of the hapless New Zealand Breakers), that will be quite the sea-change.

Without a refined playmaker at the head of the offense, Ramone Moore will pick up most of the half-court creation. Something to monitor though: Moore led the team last season in turnover rate, per Spatialjam.com, at 19.4 percent.

Only five players (with the threshold of playing over 300 minutes) had worse turnover rates across the league last season, and three of them were big men.

When the 36ers are forced into the half-court, much of the scoring burden will once again fall upon Daniel Johnson, who will amble to his spot on the left block, shimmy, pivot, and step through for his usual diet of and-ones. Like Tai Wesley, Johnson's old man game is an NBL treasure - cherish it, folks.

Eric Griffin, who arrived with a lot of hype around his athleticism, has looked a little lost in preseason, on both sides of the floor. He doesn't have the same energetic presence as Jacob Wiley, and in truth, he's not the same type of player. Unlike Wiley, he needs the ball in his hands to be engaged; he wants to face up and charge at the rim.

Griffin also looks a little unsteady on his feet on defence. Again, it was only preseason, but his token effort to box out Nate Jawai for that game-winning tip during that first skirmish at the Blitz was a little jarring.

Harry Froling will be relied upon to provide his usual zeal and offensive punch. It will be interesting to see him paired with Johnson on the court - that alignment provides more scoring, but it's also a plodding frontline.

Outside of Froling, there's not much scoring power coming from the bench, which includes Jack McVeigh, Brendan Teys (if Wright chooses Anthony Drmic as his starter), Obi Kyei, White and Daniel Dillon, back in the league.

This team only goes as far as Johnson can take them. The 36ers need someone else to pop to propel them back into the mix that fights for that last playoff spot. Who will it be? Griffin? Taylor?

Is this what Anthony Drmic ultimately tops out as? Drmic will enter his fourth season in the league, and his efficiency has regressed as he's used up more possessions and minutes. To offset that, we've seen an uptick in assist rate, but for the first time last season, he was rated as a net negative, per Spatialjam.com.

With the exodus of perimeter depth over the past two off-seasons -- including Mitch Creek, Josh Childress and Majok Deng -- this is Drmic's opportunity to nail down a starting role.

After shooting 34.6 percent from three-point range last season as a team -- second from bottom in the league (per RealGM) -- expect another relatively poor season from deep. Teams will once again pack their defence inside the arc, cut off the lifeblood of the 36ers, and force Adelaide to beat them from the outside.

Overall, I'm not sure there's enough here to get back to the playoffs.

Prediction: 8th

Illawarra Hawks

Major additions: LaMelo Ball, Josh Boone, Aaron Brooks

Major losses: Brian Conklin, Cedric Jackson, Jordair Jett, Kevin White

The focus will be on LaMelo Ball as everyone, including the Australian basketball fraternity, scouts, and casual observers, track his every movement and scrutinise it to the nth degree.

In his lone appearance at the Blitz, LaMelo looked good. Really good. But from this point onwards, he will face more dialled-in defences who understand his tendencies better. Equally, he will grow.

His shooting will be up and down (for those raving about this shot-making, he's largely taken high-degree-of-difficulty looks that won't sustain). He will get into foul trouble. I'm not sure he has the burst to consistently penetrate into the heart of a defence.

Yet even now, he doesn't look hurried. His willingness to guard and disrupt, and his propensity for rebounding (on both ends) are eye-popping. He actually moves with purpose without the ball, as an off-ball cutter, or merely to open up space for his teammates. Even if it turns out that he can't shoot (nor score) consistently, that's still a player right there.

What obviously stands out is his vision, and how he's able to read the defensive coverage, and fling passes from a full repertoire. His height means he can see over most of his defenders when he does venture into the paint.

Damian Martin defended him in their Blitz encounter and came away impressed. He told ESPN, "[The] most impressive aspects were his passing and poise. [He] certainly plays with an IQ well above his age."

There is an unquantifiable value to that. Passing is contagious, and the Hawks have displayed a willingness to ping the ball around already in preseason. Emmett Naar is another willing facilitator. Todd Blanchfield and Tim Coenraad should feast on outside jumpers this season.

The Hawks have two of the best at cleaning the defensive glass in Josh Boone and A.J. Ogilvy - Boone ranked second, and Ogilvy third in defensive rebound rate last year. That should help the Hawks hunt out transition points with opportunistic wings such as Blanchfield, Dan Grida and Angus Glover flying down the court, flanking Ball.

Boone and Ogilvy will share the court together as well, which represents an awkward fit on both ends of the court.

Across 114 games as a Hawk, Ogilvy has attempted less than one three-pointer a game, and has shot it at a 26.9 percent mark. On offence, he and Boone like to do similar things. This is one of the configurations Matt Flinn will need to negotiate.

Boone is still an exceptional defender, and someone you can build a scheme around. His numbers have been remarkably consistent (albeit with a drop in field goal percentage last season). But he will also be 35 years old in November, and that's a concern for someone who relies much more on nimbleness than say, Andrew Bogut. Defensively, one of them (likely Ogilvy) will be tasked with chasing power forwards and venture outside of their comfort zone.

After playing anachronistic ball last season -- the Hawks were second from bottom in three-point rate -- their shot profile should shift to one that favours outside shooting, particularly with Ball probing in transition, ready to sling passes to willing shooters spotting up.

Aaron Brooks will one of those long-range snipers, and he will provide instant scoring, and experience, off the bench. He can get any shot he wants. In crunch time, Brooks may very well control the offence with Ball playing off the ball.

There's an interesting mix of young and old on this team. Grida and Naar will develop further.

There will be moments when the Hawks are absolutely electric, particularly in transition. But at the end of the day, I'm not sure the Hawks have a single top-10 guy on this roster, and that matters when it comes to chasing a playoff spot.

Prediction: 7th

New Zealand Breakers

Major additions: R.J. Hampton, Scotty Hopson, Sek Henry, Rob Loe

Major losses: Shawn Long, Tai Wesley, Patrick Richard, Armani Moore

There's something wafting over from New Zealand, with the turmoil of the Breakers' offseason including a bizarre coaching situation, the resignation of Dillon Boucher, and Corey Webster being denied a release on the eve of the Blitz. Sandwiched in-between was the signing of Next Star, RJ Hampton, another bonafide lottery prospect.

Despite the distractions, can they secure a playoff spot? They certainly have the perimeter scoring talent to do so.

For now, all eyes will be on Hampton, but he won't be the prime-mover for this team. This team will be paced by Scotty Hopson and Webster. The drama aside, Webster will still feature as the one of the main Breakers' offensive threats.

Webster had an odd season for NBL19. He was an unashamed gunner who did little on defence, often jogging back in transition, and turning his back on his mark in off-ball situations.

For the season, Webster's net rating on Spatialjam.com was minus-17.5 per 100 possessions. That was the second-worst rating across the league, amongst players who logged at least 500 minutes,

What should be encouraging for Breakers' fans is that he has shown himself to be a more willing passer over the preseason. In NBL19, the Breakers were last in the league for assist rate. That can mean many things, but it also complemented the eye test when the Breakers' offence gave off a "your-turn-my-turn" vibe.

The bouncy Scotty Hopson is a very capable co-pilot and should benefit from this pass-happy ethos, either in transition or attacking off closeouts. Hopson can also slide up to be a small-ball 4 when the Breakers downsize to spread out the opposition - and they may need to do that often to juice the offence. When he's engaged, he looks a two-way terror, snagging steals and deflections; he and Hampton could potentially form a two-headed beast in closing down passing lanes.

Sek Henry, their other import wing, will operate primarily off the ball as a floor spacer and solid defender.

Whilst fellow Next Star, LaMelo Ball, wowed everyone with his poise and production in his lone game at the Blitz, Hampton quietly impressed with his zippiness. He won't have the same shot creation responsibility as Ball (he doesn't have the same passing instincts as Ball either), in a line-up that includes Webster and Hopson. That should enable him to pick his spots.

His greatest value may be on the defensive end (if he commits to it) with his length disrupting smaller guards, as well as helping on the glass. He should be a terror in transition. He can scoot through little gaps in the half-court - he has a little Dante Exum about him.

His athleticism should enable him to finish in the paint against taller humans. His outside shooting looks a work in progress.

The Breakers' big man corps will be an adventure, and that could prove their undoing. The rotating cast of Rob Loe, Finn Delany, Tom Vodanovich and Ater Majok are workmanlike. It remains to be seen who they bring in to replace Chris Obekpa.

Prediction: 6th

South East Melbourne Phoenix

Major additions: Mitch Creek, Tai Wesley, John Roberson, Ben Madgen

Major losses: N/A

The Phoenix commence their inaugural season with the recruitment of a tough, experienced core who will be ready to compete from Day One. And they are tough.

Mitch Creek headlines this roster, but he has capable veteran lieutenants in Ben Madgen and Tai Wesley.

Creek is their best player, but Wesley might be their most important. Much like Bogut for the Kings, he can provide the Phoenix with a fulcrum in which to funnel their half-court offence through.

John Roberson projects to be one of the top point guards in this league. He might be small, but he's a savant at creating separation off-the-bounce to unleash outside shooting devastation, particularly when pulling back to his left. I'm somewhat sceptical of his ability to finish inside the paint though, particularly when defenders swarm him along the perimeter and force him inside the arc.

Keith Benson's offensive numbers likely won't amaze during the season as he plays more of a screen-setter role for Roberson. He's theoretically their rim protector and lane-clogger, but he did not log many minutes at all during the Blitz, so that's something to monitor. When he was on the court, he looked a step slow.

Kyle Adnam excelled as a bench microwave last season at the Kings, and it's expected that he will provide that change of pace with the second unit. And it's a very iffy second unit that is crying out for scoring.

Adam Gibson is a tough, veteran presence that any new club needs, but he won't provide consistent offence. Instead, he will be asked to shepherd along a bench that is quite green.

Terry Armstrong is ultra-athletic, but I'm not sure he will play a lot this season. Kendall Stephens could be a pivotal swing piece as a long-armed prototypical 3-and-D guy.

The remainder of the bench is made up of Dane Pineau, Deng Acouth and Daniel Trist. Trist, who needs to play as a 5-man in this league, couldn't forge a path to rotation minutes at United, but he will get minutes on this roster. Outside of Wesley, the Phoenix big man rotation looks a little thin, mirroring that of the Breakers.

Simon Mitchell could stagger his starters and have Ben Madgen run with the bench for stretches, if anything, to feature him more as a first option.

You might also see the Phoenix use a closing line-up of Wesley-Creek-Madgen-Adnam-Roberson for more offence.

Creek is a beast in this league, and he can legitimately guard 1-through-4. He will rebound the ball and initiate transition all on his own. Driven by the pain of the World Cup, he could have an MVP-calibre season.

Still, I'm not sure the Phoenix have enough - they just miss the playoffs in their maiden season.

Prediction: 5th

More to come...