NBA scouts are headed down under to evaluate NBL talent, plus all the latest news, opinion and reaction from across the NBL following a bumper round 15.
The Crosscourt column can reveal scouts from multiple clubs will arrive this week, including Portland and Houston.
Breakers’ Next Star forward Rupert, currently ranked at 18 in a recent NBA mock draft, is the main focus for scouts.
The 18-year-old Frenchman possess the athleticism and shooting to make a successful transition to the world’s best league.
Rupert has only averaged seven points, 2.31 rebounds and 0.92 assists, but he missed a large chunk of the season with a wrist injury.
He returned from injury against Perth in early January, dropping 14 points while he has looked impressive in his recent games as the Breakers look to finish the regular season inside the top four.
Scouts also have strong interest in Sydney’s Cooks.
The Kings forward has taken his game to another level this season after winning a championship and the grand final series MVP.
Cooks is right in the mix to win the NBL’s MVP award alongside Phoenix gun Mitch Creek.
The Kings’ marquee man has averaged 17.25 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.05 assists this season.
He also consistently in scores in double figures, including 20-plus points in four of his past five games.
Crosscourt column has received calls from NBA contacts asking questions about Cooks’ game and off-court personality as scouts prepare to watch his games and personally meet with him in the coming weeks.
There is a genuine belief that the Kings forward can make a successful impact in the world’s best league, especially as an impact bench player with his ability to attack the rim, rebound and defend.
The big question mark on Cooks is his jump shot, free throw shooting and shooting from range, but he is making efforts to improve.
His field goal percentage has risen from 56 per cent to 62 per cent this season.
Cooks is keen to give the NBA one last crack, even with the human sacrifice of juggling life with his young daughter.
NBA scouts will also have a chance to look at and speak to NBL players like Keanu Pinder (Cairns), Robert Franks (36ers), Brady Manek and Luke Travers (Perth).
TUCKER BACKS UP TALK AS UNITED MAKES LEGIT PLAYOFF PUSH
Melbourne United import guard Rayjon Tucker is finally walking the walk after talking the talk in the pre-season and full credit to him.
Tucker, who had 30 points, four rebounds and two assists in United’s win over Brisbane on Saturday, caused before a basketball was bounced when he boldly declared he was the league’s best new import.
“It’s no disrespect to anyone else that is above me, but I don’t feel like there is a new import better than me,” Tucker said.
“I’m here and ready to prove that I’m the NBL’s No.1 new import.
“I’m the best import – no other new import checks off as many boxes.”
Tucker felt obliged to respond to News Corp’s import power rankings list at the start of the season, which had him at No.5.
The 24-year-old was surprised to see his name behind Alan Williams (Phoenix), Jarrell Brantley (Breakers), Tyler Johnson (Bullets) and Derrick Walton Jr (Sydney Kings).
Tucker was compelled to reach out and push his case as the NBL’s premier new import.
He initially struggled to live up to his self-proclaimed mantle at the start of the season, but he has shown marked improvement in recent rounds as he comes to terms with the league’s physical, intelligent style of play.
Tucker has scored in double figures in five of the past six games, including dropping 30 points twice.
It’s no coincidence that the guard’s standout form has coincided with Melbourne’s charge up the ladder.
United has won eight of its last 10 games, including four straight, to move into seventh position with three rounds remaining.
Melbourne finish the regular season with clashes against Adelaide (A), New Zealand (A) and Adelaide (H).
On current form there is no reason why United can’t win all three games and defy the odds to make the finals.
PHOENIX FULL STRENGTH FOR RUN HOME
The South East Melbourne Phoenix will welcome back its trio of injured stars for Monday’s season-defining home clash against the Brisbane Bullets.
Mitch Creek (eye), Trey Kell (knee) and Gary Browne (calf) have all been given the green light to take on the Bullets.
It’s perfect timing given South East Melbourne sit in sixth position, just one win ahead of arch rivals United in seventh.
The Phoenix have proved they can beat the league’s best teams, including defending champions the Sydney Kings, but they need to make the finals first.
After Monday’s Brisbane clash, South East Melbourne finish the season with tough games against Tasmania (A), Perth (H), Cairns (H) and Sydney (A).
It’s a difficult draw, so the Phoenix will deserve to qualify for the playoffs if they can beat contenders like the JackJumpers, Taipans and Kings.
Boomers big man Aron Baynes hasn’t produced his finest in his maiden NBL season, but he stepped up against Melbourne United on Saturday.
Baynes dropped a new NBL career-high 21 points and 11 rebounds as the battling Bullets pushed United in a 101-91 loss.
It was pleasing to see the veteran centre excel given it has been a difficult season in Brisbane.
Baynes is also finding his feet again following his freak injury during the Boomers’ Tokyo Olympics campaign in 2021 that left him unable to walk and fearing for his career.
It was always going to take the big man time to rediscover his best.
Brisbane CEO Peter McLennan says Baynes remains committed for next season despite the club’s woes potentially damaging the Boomers star’s hopes of returning to the NBA.
“Baynesy’ is here for another season,” McLennan said about Baynes, who has averaged 11.28 points, 8.44 rebounds and 0.96 assists while shooting 42 per cent from the field.
“I’d love to see him get back into the NBA. It will hurt us, but we want to see him get there and be a part of that process if we can help that.”
At 36, it won’t be easy for Baynes to return to the NBA, but he has earned the right to give it a go.
TALENTED 36ERS MUST AIM UP
You can’t deny the Adelaide 36ers possess the talent to make the playoffs, but as history has taught us, talent can only take you so far.
The 36ers look formidable on paper led by star trio Antonius Cleveland, Robert Franks and Ian Clark yet they haven’t been able to produce results.
This was shown over the weekend with Adelaide losing two crucial games against Tasmania and Perth.
The 36ers failed to fire in the big moments and it’s left the club in serious danger of missing the playoffs, which would be a failure given the money spent on this season’s roster.
Adelaide sit in eighth position with three rounds remaining and face a tough task to qualify for the top six playoff format.
The 36ers finish the season with games against Brisbane (A), United (H), Cairns (A), Kings (H) and United (A).
It’s far from an easy run home, with the Bullets game the easiest, but clashes versus United (twice), the Kings and Taipans will really test Adelaide.
The 36ers need to discover consistency to have any chance of making the playoffs.
PLAYOFF BOUND TOUGH TASSIE SET EXPANSION BENCHMARK
The Tasmania JackJumpers’ success has prompted calls that the Apple Isle franchise is among the most successful expansion teams in the history of Australian sport.
It’s a fair call to make when you consider what the JackJumpers have achieved in the club’s first two seasons thus far.
Tasmania defied the odds to make the grand final series against the highly fancied Sydney Kings last year.
This season, the JackJumpers sit inside the top four with three rounds remaining while they regularly attract sold-out crowds at MyState Bank Arena.
Tasmania look destined to make the playoffs again this season, and from there anything is possible.
The NBL deserves enormous credit for having the foresight to expand into Tassie before a domestic powerhouse like the AFL.
The vision has helped the JackJumpers achieve immediate success to justifiably be mentioned in the same sentence as proven expansion franchises like the Sydney Swans, Melbourne Storm and the West Coast Eagles.
Originally published as Crosscourt column: NBA scouts heading Down Under with eyes on the NBL’s leading talent
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