Hungry Jack's NBL
Five Development Players to Watch in NBL22
Written for nbl.com.au by Tom Hersz
There’s no doubt that the Next Stars program has drawn global attention of late. But another pathway, focused on developing local talent – and one that’s always been there – has also garnered some of the spotlight with some breakout performances last season.
Luke Travers, Izayah Le’Afa, and Mason Peatling all played major roles as Development Players for their respective teams in NBL21, starting games and becoming trusted rotation players, while others like Kyrin Galloway and Corey Shervill had several moments showing flashes of what’s to come. That has not been the norm in years past in this league, but it proved that when given the opportunity, the young local talent can also make an impact.
Travers became one of the youngest players to record a double-double in a Finals game, Le’Afa turned heads with his ability to come up big on both ends of the floor at times, while Peatling started on a Championship team and made solid contributions all season.
This year, there is a new crop of talent who are hoping to earn the opportunity to have their time in the spotlight. Things may need to break right for some of them, but fortune favours the brave, so if they’re ready when their names are called, people will take notice.
Here are five Development Players ready to have an impact in NBL22.
Corey Shervill, Perth Wildcats: While not a new DP, Shervill still has a lot of upside. He only began to scratch the surface of his potential last year, but showed that he is more than capable of contributing at this level.
He’s tough, athletic and can score and at 23, Shervill has a really good chance to carve out a consistent role this season under new Coach Scott Morrison. That may sound strange to say about someone who started two games in the NBL Grand Final, but that was out of necessity due to the number of injuries the Wildcats had.
The reality is that Shervill averaged less than 7 minutes per game in NBL21 for 2.6 points, 1.4 rebounds and not a whole lot else. However, when thrust into a larger role last season, he generally rose to the occasion and earned the right to stay on the floor or get another opportunity.
Shervill averaged 6 points in around 20 minutes per game as a starter in those two Grand Final games, but also showed the ability to make the right reads, move the ball, and hold his own defensively.
He inked a new two-year deal with Perth and will be elevated to the main roster for NBL23.
“I want to continue to get better as a player,” Shervill said upon re-signing.
“My goal is to become a great all-round player. I base my game around defence and being aggressive on both ends of the floor.”
David Okwera, Melbourne United: Originally from Western Australia, Okwera moved to Melbourne a few years ago where he was a junior with the Kilsyth Cobras.
He became seriously noticed at the Under 20 Australian Junior Championships in February 2020. While Josh Giddey and Zac Triplett were winning the title for Victoria, Okwera, playing on the Victoria-A Team (the second team), averaged a double-double along with 3.3 assists per game.
He went on to receive a number of high-level Division I NCAA scholarship offers, but ultimately decided to forego College and turn pro. Okwera was part of the Australian team that played New Zealand in FIBA Asia Cup qualifying in Cairns in February this year and will now be a part of Dean Vickerman’s program going forward, with a two-year deal that converts to a fully contracted roster spot for NBL23.
At 6’11 and 114kg, he is a big unit, but still just 19 years old, he’ll take some time to adjust to the physicality of the NBL. Still, working and developing alongside Next Star Ariel Hukporti, Okwera has a chance to earn some back-up minutes as the season wears on.
“We see so much long-term potential with him,” Melbourne United Assistant Coach Justin Schueller told NBL Media on Wednesday.
“But the unique part about him is just his versatility. He can play anywhere from 3 to 5 right now and do it at various different levels, so our growth with him is just trying to figure out what’s best for him and his development right now; which way that helps the team.
“He’s shown the ability to knock shots, be able to finish in the paint, can be really versatile as a switch defender. I think that’s where, in our league, he’s going to be able to generate some opportunity for himself; more at that defensive end than potentially the offensive end in the early days.”
Okwera, whose favourite player is Kevin Durant, is a great athlete with a quick first step, the ability to finish strong at the rim and good timing defensively as a shot blocker. If he keeps his repertoire simple this season, he’ll be able impact games on occasion and will certainly have some highlight reel moments along the way.
Jock Perry, Tasmania JackJumpers: You’ll notice Perry right away when the JackJumpers come to town simply due to his frame. At 7’1, he’ll be one of the tallest players going round in NBL22, and certainly the tallest on Scott Roth’s roster.
At 24, Perry is also a little more seasoned than other DPs. After transferring from Saint Mary’s to UC Riverside for his senior year, Perry took advantage of a bigger role, starting all 22 games and averaging 11.6 points and 5.2 rebounds, while also proving he can stretch the floor, connecting on 37% of his threes.
Perry clearly has good touch, as he shot 49.4% from the field, 36.7% from deep and 78.9% from the charity stripe over his four seasons in the NCAA. In twelve games with the Ballarat Miners in the NBL1 this past season, Perry averaged 16.1 points and 8.4 rebounds, taking team MVP honours.
He’s not a great shot blocker, especially for someone his size, but did become a solid positional defender as a senior.
The JackJumpers are also a little thin in their center ranks with Will Magnay the only true five man on the roster. Magnay is also still getting back to 100%, so Perry will likely play some back-up minutes right away.
Roth has been clear that nothing is promised to any of his players in terms of minutes, so while Perry was originally signed as a bit of an insurance policy for Magnay, he has the opportunity to earn time.
“I think he’s capable,” Roth told NBL Media this week.
“He’s got a ways to go just with physical strength and picking up the overall speed of the game, but his skill level to shoot the ball and pass, and he is 7’1, are all positives for him.”
Roth expects Perry to start some preseason games and then continue to play as Magnay ramps up. Perry will need to be solid on the boards, anchor the paint defensively and finish consistently on offence for Roth to fully trust him into the regular season, but he has that opportunity.
Sam Timmins, New Zealand Breakers: When originally signed by the Breakers, Coach Dan Shamir was excited to get Timmins into his program, but didn’t expect him to play much this season. The plan was to sign an import Centre to help fill the void while Rob Loe ramps up in his return from last season’s knee injury, but instead Shamir signed Jeremiah Martin as their third import.
That leaves their front court lacking a little depth with Loe, Yanni Wetzell, Kyrin Galloway and Finn Delany as their main bigs. Ousmane Dieng will play some minutes at the 4 spot, but is more of a wing, which means there could be a role for Timmins.
Standing 6’11 and with four years of College experience at Washington, plus coming off a very strong NZ NBL campaign with the Otago Nuggets, Timmins, 24 years old, is not your average development player. He averaged 19.2 points, 13.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.5 blocks per game for Otago, earning All-Star Five honours as well as being named the Most Outstanding Forward and capturing the Most Improved Player award.
Timmins may not play regularly, but there will be times when his size and rebounding knack will help the Breakers, especially if he can hold his own defensively and become a solid screen setter. Think Colton Iverson-lite.
The Breakers have a second-year option on Timmins and Shamir is hopeful they’ve found someone they can develop into a future rotation player.
“There is a learning curve playing the kind of basketball that we play in the NBL,” said Shamir.
“Sam will need time to adjust, but he definitely can develop into a Breakers player who helps us for a long time.”
Zac Triplett, Melbourne United: Let’s start with what may be working against Triplett and that is the depth of Melbourne’s guard rotation. Matthew Dellavedova, Chris Goulding, Shea Ili, import Caleb Agada and veteran Dion Prewster will all deserve minutes.
Agada, Prewster and Goulding could also spend some time at the three spot, but will play a lot of shooting guard, while Dellavedova and Ili will man the lion’s share of point guard duties.
Where does that leave a recently turned 20-year-old combo guard, with just three professional games under his belt in the NBL1 and only one season of College Basketball?
Well for starters, Melbourne thought enough of Triplett’s talent and upside to ink him to a multi-year deal (he’ll become a fully contracted player in the second year), which is not something they generally do with DPs.
“We see him as a really exciting long-term prospect,” said Schueller.
At 6’6, Triplett is a tall guard who has some playmaking ability and solid handles. He averaged 22 points, 3 rebounds and 7 assists in 3 games with the Melbourne Tigers in the NBL1 this year. In his second game against NW Tasmania, Triplett had 36 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 1 block, while hitting 5 for 12 from long range and 11 for 23 overall.
He has some all-around game, but it is his shooting ability that has the United coaching staff most excited.
“He’s come into practice and demonstrated how elite a shooter he already is,” added Schueller.
“That’s his point of difference compared to most players, just how he can space the floor and knock shots down. We feel pretty comfortable and confident that if one of our guards got injured or for whatever reason fell out of the rotation, that he would be able to come in and be able to space that floor, knock shots down and not be a liability in any other guard area.”
“The big thing for him at our level is going to be him carrying the ball and being a decision maker when other teams take point guards away. He’s just getting better and better in that space as well.”
That ability to impact games is exciting and if he can confidently take his opportunities, he’ll have some moments this year and is someone who will likely earn a larger role as the season wears on.
Other notable DPs in NBL 22
Taane Samuel, Brisbane Bullets: The 22 year-old Kiwi, is a strong forward who made the NZNBL All Star Five this year with the Wellington Saints, averaging 16.5 points per game on his way to a title. Described as having a high basketball IQ along with a balance of size, athleticism and strong three-point shooting, Bullets Coach James Duncan is excited to have him on board. “At his age, it’s hard to find a Development Player with his skill set and toughness. We’re looking forward to seeing Taane grow and contribute to our group.”
Chuanxing Liu, Brisbane Bullets: At 7’5 and 130 kgs “Big Liu” will become the tallest player in NBL history. A member of the Chinese National Team, Liu played in Olympic Qualifying and Asia Cup Qualifying this year and Duncan labelled him a rim protector, a strong finisher around the rim, with the ability get up and down the floor. He’ll back-up Tyrell Harrison and battle Jack Salt for the back-up minutes.
Will Hickey, Melbourne United: The 22 year-old former South East Melbourne Phoenix DP in NBL20, who goes by “Davo” is a 6’4 combo guard. He’s coming off a strong NBL1 campaign in 2021 with the Ballarat Miners, averaging 18.2 points, 3.4 assists and 8.4 rebounds. “He has some stuff that you just can’t teach. His change of pace is catching everyone off guard and the way he sees the floor, he’s an elite cutter and just a really good rebounding guard,” said Schueller of Hickey.
Kyle Zunic, Perth Wildcats: Coming off 4 years at Winthrop 4 years, where he led the NCAA in charges taken, Zunic is joining the right club. A defensive minded guard from Illawarra, and the son of Zoran Zunic who played for Sydney in the 1980s, he’s in a great spot to improve even more on that end of the floor. “Kyle has a Damian Martin type mentality,” said Perth GM Of Basketball Operations, Danny Mills. “He’s a defensive-minded guard, someone that can come in and be disruptive on that end and make a shot on the other. He’s coming into a perfect situation where he has Mitch Norton, an established starting guard, and Kevin White, a veteran who’s also from the Illawarra region, as mentors. So he’ll be in a really good spot to develop.”
Jaylin Galloway, Sydney Kings: Still just 18 years old, Galloway who played just 8 games last season for Sydney has signed a multi-year deal to stay with the Kings. A DP this year, he’ll be fully contracted in NBL23, while there is a club option for NBL24. A 6’6 wing, he had a strong showing for the Australian Emus at the Under 19 World Cup in July.
“Jaylin is an impressive young talent that we are lucky to keep in our program,” Kings CEO, Chris Pongrass said. “He is full of confidence, and that was evident in the minutes he saw last season. Coming into this league as an 18 year-old is not easy, and Jaylin is comfortable going head to head with the best of them.”