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The Top 10 NBL21 Signings (so far)

Written for nbl.com.au by Liam Santamaria

This year’s free agency period has been something of a slow burn.

It was way back in February when the first batch of re-signings were announced and still, nearly nine months later, only one team has completed its roster for NBL21.

That being said, each squad only has one or two pieces left to add which means, excitingly, we’re almost there!

So with most line-ups close to being set, which have been the best signings so far?

In order to answer this, we need to build some parameters around the discussion. After all, comparing signings is a tricky business. Teams are always recruiting to meet different needs; they have different budgets and different returning players as well as different coaches, different styles and so on.

It’s almost impossible to set clear criteria for these kinds of rankings. Nonetheless, here are four questions I like to ponder when evaluating signings:

1. How good is the guy? This also involves questions like: How old is he? What’s his character? What’s his upside? Will he compliment the rest of the roster? How scarce is his skill-set? Sprinkle all that in, mix it up and, voilà, we’re on our way.

2. What are the terms? The Bogey Man hasn’t got his wish so the dollars involved in these contracts are not yet public knowledge. What we do know, however, is each deal’s length and whether or not it involves options at the back-end. All that stuff matters, especially when you put it alongside your answers to question 1.

For example, signing an up-and-coming talent like Sam Froling is nice. But signing a promising youngster like that to a multi-year deal is even better.

3. Does the signing drastically alter the team’s prospects of winning the title? Let’s be real, in a nine team league you should really be trying to win the thing and a couple of key signings can drastically increase those prospects.

New Zealand’s signing of Tai Webster scores well in this regard. Corey’s bro has only committed for the upcoming season, but the fact that he’ll provide import-level production at the PG position is enormous for the Breakers’ championship hopes.

And finally…

4. What are the intangibles? This is a big one. It essentially asks: what else does the signing mean to the club (or the league)? Is the guy a drawcard? Is he the face of the franchise? Is he marketable? It’s the ‘bums on seats’ aspect of free agency and deals involving guys like Bryce Cotton and Chris Goulding tend to score highly here.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

Todd Blanchfield (Perth Wildcats) – makes a whole lot of sense as a local replacement for Terrico White.

Donald Sloan (Adelaide 36ers) – the former NBA guard has the potential to be a game-changer but I’m keen to see him in action before I rank this signing higher.

Sam Froling (The Hawks) – this new two-year deal is a sneaky excellent re-signing as Froling has a very bright future.

Anthony Drmic (Brisbane Bullets) – arrives in Brisbane in the prime of his career on a multi-year contract.

Sunday Dech (Adelaide 36ers) – elite defender with a tireless work ethic and a developing offensive game… locked up on a long-term deal.

Cam Bairstow (The Hawks) – only signed for one year but precisely the type of veteran presence the Hawks require.

THE TOP TEN

10. Isaac Humphries (Adelaide 36ers)

Adelaide’s GM of Basketball Jeff Van Groningen landed a big fish when he signed Humphries to this 1+1 deal early in free agency.

The deal, which features a mutual option for year two, has brought the talented big man back to the NBL after a couple of seasons growing his game in the G League.

There are questions about the fit, sure, but one thing’s for certain: Humphries is a really exciting talent. He’s also only 22 which means he’s still got plenty of improving to do if he’s willing to put in the work.

9. Cameron Gliddon (South East Melbourne Phoenix)

Gliddon’s form fell off a cliff last season and his need for a change of scenery opened the door for SEM to swoop in.

In fact, that’s what I like most about this signing: it’s opportunistic. I mean, we all know Gliddon is way better than what he showed in Brisbane and if the Phoenix can reignite his game they’ll have scored big-time with this deal.

Also, two years feels pretty much perfect for this contract. Any longer would’ve been too big a commitment while any shorter (like a single year or a player option) probably would’ve seen SEM forking out more cash twelve months down the road.

8. Finn Delany (New Zealand Breakers)

Midway through last season I was almost certain Delany was going to bounce in free agency. As it turned out I was wrong and the athletic forward re-upped with NZ straight after they wrapped their playoff push.

“I re-signed with the Breakers because I love this club,” Delany said at the time. “I feel I have unfinished business here and I want to win a championship here.”

Delany averaged 12 and 6 last season while shooting a super-impressive 40 percent from beyond the arc. He’s only 25, he’s rapidly improving and best of all: he’s locked and loaded with the Breakers for the next couple of years.

7. Will Magnay (Brisbane Bullets)

Brisbane’s rising star may be in the NBA soon but, in the meantime, he’s committed to the Bullets for a further two years.

What was particularly impressive about this signing was that the Bullets got it done without Magnay even going to market (much like the Breakers did with Delany). That’s good business, especially after a breakout campaign that saw the 22-year-old named the league’s Most Improved Player and finish on the podium for both the Damian Martin Trophy and Best Sixth Man.

“For me it was an easy decision,” Magnay told Adam Gibson on his podcast back in May. “This is where I develop best [so] this is where I want to be.”

Cue the highlights…

6. Daniel Johnson (Adelaide 36ers)

When the deal was struck between the league and the players’ association earlier this year the 36ers moved quickly to keep DJ from opting-out.

Why? Because the man is a bucket and, as a five-time club MVP, it was imperative they held on to their most important guy.

“Our absolute priority this off-season was to ensure we kept DJ in an Adelaide 36er jersey, not just for the coming season but beyond,” JVG said at the time.

And that’s exactly what they did, signing the big fella to a new three-year extension.

5. Deng Adel (Illawarra Hawks)

The Hawks desperately needed to land an Aussie star in free agency and, right from the outset, Adel seemed like the perfect target.

The 23-year-old is an NBA-level talent and when you combine his dynamic offensive skillset with a stated desire to take strides on D, he’s set to have a big impact on the upcoming season.

“I think he makes the difference to us being competitive with those teams like Perth, Melbourne and New Zealand or not,” Hawks coach Brian Goorjian told NBL Overtime this week. “I think he’s that piece.”

4. Tai Webster (New Zealand Breakers)

The Breakers possess the next two spots in the rankings because, well, they’ve smashed the off-season.

First up is the younger Webster, whom the Kiwis were able to pry away from the big bucks he’s been earning in Europe.

Yes, they’ve only got him on a one-year deal but, with imports dropping from three to two, Tai-Web’s signing is the piece that unlocks the rest of NZ’s championship-contending roster.

3. Lamar Patterson (New Zealand Breakers)

Speaking of NZ’s title hopes, bringing in this guy is also going to help.

Let’s be honest, Patterson has strolled his way into All-NBL First Team honours the past two years because, well, he’s just that darn good.

He’s extremely talented, very versatile, possesses an elite basketball IQ and has a team-first mentality – a combination that makes him a top five player in this league.

Now, don’t get me wrong: the man he’s replacing is also a gun. But Scotty Hopson’s pricey and, up until now, has been unwilling to commit to an overseas deal.

With all that in mind – and amidst all the uncertainty of a constantly shifting recruiting landscape – locking-in Patterson was a big-time move by the Breakers.

2. Chris Goulding (Melbourne United)

This was the deal that Melbourne simply had to get done.

Goulding is still an elite scorer in this league and, after losing Casper Ware in free agency last year, United couldn’t afford to let their franchise player slip through their fingers.

Couple that with the impending arrival of the JackJumpers and the pressure was well and truly on for MU to get a long-term deal locked away. In the end they got it done and the championship-winning skipper wound up re-committing until the end of the 2022-23 season.

It’s a big commitment to a guy who just turned 32, sure, but Melbourne’s fan base adores him and he’s still a world-class shot-maker.

1. Bryce Cotton (Perth Wildcats)

Let’s keep this short and sweet: Cotton is the undisputed best player in the league and, thankfully, he’s back in the red and black for another three years.

Long may he reign!

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