Hungry Jack's NBL
SF1 Preview: Melbourne United vs Tasmania JackJumpers
When: 7.30pm (AEST), Thursday 28 April, 2022
Where: John Cain Arena, Melbourne
Broadcast: ESPN; Kayo Freebies; Sky Sports NZ
Who won the last time?
Tasmania 83 (McIntosh 20, Adams 19, Magette 14) d Melbourne 61 (Agada 22, Lual-Acuil 12) – Round 21, MyState Bank Arena, Hobart
Melbourne sensed an opportunity to rest players and spread minutes, the JackJumpers sensed the chance to become the first expansion team since the Singapore Slingers and South Dragons in 2007 to make the playoffs and they seized the day, Josh Adams and Josh Magette both money from deep as the JJs outscored United 46-22 in the final 18 minutes.
While it’s best not to read too much into that game given the lack of motivation for Melbourne, the JackJumpers would have loved the way their defence stalled the United ball movement and didn’t allow them to exploit their interior mismatches, while Caleb Agada’s unstoppable transition play en route to 22 points would have delighted Dean Vickerman.
Who’s in form?
Josh Adams – Some players dread facing the Melbourne defence. Not JA. He’s averaged 19.3 points at 55 per cent against the champs, going 9/13 at the rim, 4/8 from mid-range, 8/17 from outside and 8/10 from the foul line as he’s taken and beaten most of what United’s D has given him. When Adams’ pull-up three is dropping, he’s a nightmare to stop.
Jo Lual-Acuil – Remember all the high-low action Melbourne ran last Saturday? We don’t either. Was that because Jack White and David Barlow weren’t on court to execute it, or because United didn’t show their counters? Either way, big Jo scored 45 points at 61 per cent in the first two meetings, and Melbourne will have multiple ways to get him the rock.
Who needs to be?
Fabijan Krslovic – It will be Fab trying to push JLA away from his preferred spots and then exploit him at the other end with his streaky jumper, sneaky offensive rebounding and high IQ short rolls. Krslovic is an underrated key for the JJs, second in their on-off differential and 15th in the league. He’s averaged 2.5 o-boards in just 17:15 per game in his past eight.
Jack White – The JackJumpers have struggled to hit the three at a good clip recently but have spread the floor on the memory of their hot nights. White is the key man to disrupt the on-ball and create delay that shuts down the early pass – while still contesting the red-hot Jack McVeigh – but can jumping Jack also then rebound and exploit the JJs in transition?
Who’s statting up?
- Melbourne are the NBL’s most accurate three-point shooting team. They average 10.2 triples at 35 per cent against the rest of the league, but just six at 24 per cent against the JackJumpers
- United outscored Tasmania 96-52 on points in paint in their first two meetings, shooting
60 per cent from two-point range. Over the rest of the season they’ve shot 50 per cent on twos
- Tasmania average the most three-point makes (10.3 at 32%) in the league and the fewest two-point makes (18.3 at 48 per cent). Against Melbourne last round they made 25 two-point baskets at 59 per cent
- The JackJumpers averaged 8.9 three-pointers at 29 per cent in their opening 12 games, up to 11.4 triples 34 per cent in their final 16. However, they’ve connected at above 34 per cent just once in their past eight games
Who’s matching up?
Chris Goulding v Matt Kenyon – Matt missed out on a Damian Martin Trophy nomination, but very few players have killed Kenny this season. One of them was Goulding, who drilled 29 points at 50 per cent in Round 10 with five trifectas. Kenyon kept CG to two points on 0/5 shooting last round, but it will be a very different Melbourne skipper come Thursday. When Bubbles pops three or more triples United are 15-2, compared to 5-6 when he doesn’t.
Matthew Dellavedova & Shea Ili v Josh Magette – Tassie have won seven of their past eight games, with ‘Gette averaging 6.2 assists in those wins. In that sole loss to Sydney? Just two dimes. If Delly and Ili can keep him from tightly hugging ball-screens the United D won’t be sucked into rotations, while at the other end Melbourne’s PGs have shot 46 per cent from deep over the past six games, a repeat of which will make the champs very hard to stop.
Ariel Hukporti v MiKyle McIntosh – This is a troublesome two-way match-up. In the first meeting Hukporti was damaging with 11 points and six rebounds in 17 minutes, while in games two and three McIntosh sizzled with 36 points in 42 minutes. However, Hukporti missed one and White missed both those contests, so can the big Canadian produce against a full-strength frontcourt, and can he force Hukporti and Co into tough shots without fouling?
Who’s talking the talk?
Scott Roth and Dean Vickerman become sworn enemies on Thursday night, but outside those 40 minutes there’s a bit of a mutual admiration society going on.
“Scott just presented me with a cigar for getting to first place so that gets him a lot of credit as a person for doing that,” Vickerman laughed after the teams’ Round 21 clash.
“He’s been amazing. I said it in an article before, I was part of a franchise in Singapore, expansion franchise, it’s tough bringing that whole thing together.
“But you just see the buy-in from everyone in his group by how they play the game and how they support each other, how they defend together, how they share the basketball, to be able to do that in one season is amazing.”
For Roth, Melbourne was the team he most wanted his JackJumpers to emulate as they progressed through their first season.
“I love their team,” he said.
“I think they're fantastic, I think they're so well coached, they’ve got championship pedigree running through them, I watch them all the time and I just really enjoy watching them play.”
Melbourne have enjoyed playing the JackJumpers, even if it hasn't been easy.
While the final game has an asterisk next to it, Tasmania led the season series 205-200 when scores were level early in the third term last Saturday before blowing it open.
While the defending champs prevailed in the teams’ inaugural clash, they didn’t have things all their own way before prevailing 76-72 in a New Year’s Day grind.
“We turned the ball over a lot, a that was a big part (due to) their physicality, their defensive intensity and just their desire,” Vickerman said.
“They play a tough, defensive style of basketball that I really enjoy going against and it’s going to make us a lot better.”
United got an early taste of how the undersized JackJumpers would bite without a true centre, and it took until the second half before they found the hole in the donut that allowed Jo Lual-Acuil and Ariel Hukporti to dominate.
“We knew with Magnay not being in there today we were either going to see a lot of switches or we were going to see a lot of aggressive coverage,” Vickerman said.
“The aggressive coverage was good for them, it stalled us from being able to move the basketball the way we wanted to move it, but we found a way.”
There was the same sting in Tassie’s tail last weekend, and it made United anything but.
“We know in a big game if you don’t use each other well enough and go a little individual you can see that sort of result happening,” Vickerman said after the rout.
“For us to only have seven assists and not create great advantages, having to play too much one-on-one, it just looked a little selfish tonight that we didn’t execute and create the shots that we needed to, so that will be the focus for us going into Game 1.”
They’ll need to find ways around Tasmania’s physical post defence. In their two losses to the JJs, Melbourne have taken 14 two-pointers from outside the key, compared to just one in their victory.
Last week they scored just 26 points in the paint and shot the ball at 41 per cent from two-point range after dominating those two areas in the first two battles.
At the other end, Tasmania have averaged 88.5ppg in the past two meetings, their simplified ball movement first truly unleashed against Melbourne in Round 10.
Earlier in the season they had moved the ball without purpose, resulting in their import guards having to bail them out from unfavourable positions late in the shot clock.
Early in the new year they made key adjustments, with Adams and Magette having the ball in their hands more often, but keeping it moving through a series of short pass and screen exchanges across the top of the arc.
“My assistant coaches did a fantastic job of breaking things down the last three weeks and being able to pick apart some things we could hang our hat on,” Roth said after his team’s famous win in Melbourne.
“Stay poised and be in some kind of structure and some kind of shape that we could play out of at the end of the (clock).
“It gives us predictable shots, it gives us predictable looks and you can live with that. Early on we were a little scattered across the board.”
It has given other teams fits, spooked by the JackJumpers' three-point potential the D has spread to cover five shooters, opening up the key-way and putting teams into regular rotations.
With McVeigh a walking bucket, and McIntosh and Krslovic both capable from outside, if guards can’t disrupt the catch and the approach to the ball-screen, opposition bigs are left to make tough choices.
United were left chasing penetration and subsequent ball movement throughout the Round 21 clash, but for Vickerman that wasn’t a bad thing.
“Any time you get to play a team late season and they're going for it, you get to see how they want to attack you, how they want to defend you … and where they go to in key moments,” Vickerman said.
“They’ve got a pretty heavy playbook, we didn’t see everything the other night so we’ll go back through the whole season to see some areas they used offensively.”
While that scouting is important, Vickerman will be preaching energy and effort before Thursday’s clash.
“We talk about them, their physicality and the rebounding and we still weren’t able to really match it,” he said.
“So that’s a starting point for us, can we actually get into the fight and do a good job in that area and then hopefully allow some of our offensive threats (to run) and really try to free them up with our screening as well.”
For coach Roth, it’s just about renewing that belief that his team can topple the champs and progress to the NBL Grand Final in their club’s inaugural season.
“Expect to win,” Roth said.
“We've been saying for the past two or three weeks that we’re good enough to beat anybody at any time, and when you go to Melbourne expect to win and don’t think anything other than that.”