THERE are other SBL players capable of making the jump into the NBL with the quality of the league in 2019, but depending on the type of player a club needs, Liam Hunt, Jerami Grace and Marshall Nelson should all be at the top of any list of local players.
Whether it’s the Perth Wildcats who have two spots left on their roster and appear set to go with an import centre with one of those spots leaving one position available for a local signing or any other club with spots for Australian players remaining, the SBL should be somewhere they seriously look at.
With current and former NBL players like Clint Steindl, Greg Hire, Cody Ellis, Shawn Redhage, Brad Robbins, Earnest Ross, Drew Williamson, Kyle Armour and Joel Wagner among those in the SBL still playing and thriving, along with an impressive import class in 2019, the standard is tremendous.
That’s where if you are local player producing impressive performances in the league it should count for plenty when NBL clubs are weighing up finalising their rosters.
So depending on the type of player they are looking for, the SBL does currently have three standout players who look capable of stepping straight into the NBL for the 2019/20 and making an impact.
If a club was after big, then the Geraldton Buccaneers starting centre Liam Hunt would provide everything a team would be after.
If they want a dynamic guard who is capable of scoring and handling the ball, then the Perth Redbacks’ Marshall Nelson couldn’t have done more to impress on the back of spending the past two seasons already in the NBL at the Illawarra Hawks.
And then if you were willing to take a chance on a son-of-a-gun fresh out of college who looks to have tremendous talent, then Jerami Grace deserves consideration given he will count as a local as the son of the legendary Ricky Grace.
Liam Hunt is in his second season in the SBL with the Geraldton Buccaneers following his college career at High Point University in California having split his time growing up between Geraldton and San Anselmo.
It was at the Buccs in the SBL where his father Dan created quite the legacy playing 382 matches which saw him average 16.9 points, 12.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 3.0 steals and 1.6 blocks along the way while being part of the club’s lone championship in 2000.
So Liam grew up idolising his father and now he is getting to follow in his footsteps in Geraldton where he is putting in a tremendous 2019 season cementing himself as one of the best bigs in the competition.
While Hunt had a good first campaign in 2018, he has gone to another level in 2019 with his game, with the shape he is in and there’s no question he is a genuine MVP candidate.
He is averaging 15.8 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists a game while shooting at 57 per cent from the field, 28 per cent from three-point territory and 64 per cent from the foul line.
With such a good inside and outside game for a big man who likes the physicality, and now with both the bulk and mobility to play with athleticism and strength, he is a standout in the SBL and would be more than capable of making an impact in the NBL.
Buccaneers coach Dayle Joseph certainly echoes that and believes any NBL club would be happy to have him on board given everything that he brings.
“I believe he is one of the best big men in the league,” Joseph said.
“If you were picking someone to pick to come and play on your team, he is a big guy who can defend anyone on the inside, he has proved this year with his fitness improvement that he can defend anyone on the outside.
“He can shoot the three as long as he doesn’t take a lot of shots from out there. I think he can go a long way and if someone was to give him an opportunity, I see no reason why he can’t play at the next level.”
Then there is Marshall Nelson who already is no stranger to the NBL having spent a season with the Illawarra Hawks as a development player two seasons ago and then as a fully contracted player this past season.
On the back of that NBL season, he has returned to the Perth Redbacks where he won a championship in 2017 and has taken his game to another level while being given the responsibility and opportunity to be the man on his team.
As a result, Nelson has also ensured he is a genuine MVP candidate proving himself not only a brilliant scorer and shooter, but someone who can play with great control and efficiency while also being able to handle the ball, defend solidly and play with great athleticism and speed.
Nelson is putting up some incredible numbers averaging 28.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists a game while shooting at 48 per cent from the floor, 44 per cent from three and 80 per cent from the charity stripe.
His season has included massive games of 42 points against the Warwick Senators, 42 points, six assists and five rebounds against East Perth, 38 points, eight boards and six assists against Willetton, and 37 points, nine rebounds and five assists against Cockburn as well.
Even this past Sunday in a win against the Buccaneers, he was superb with 41 points, 13 assists and five rebounds.
He has turned himself into quite the all-round player and Redbacks coach Nik Lackovic couldn’t be happier with the way he’s stepped up to bang down the door for another NBL opportunity.
“We understood this year that we would commit to giving some of these young guys a go and to starting the likes of Zac Gattorna every game. You ride the highs and lows with them and you are going to have inconsistencies but Marshall is one of these guys who has been unbelievable,” Lackovic said.
“He might have had a bit of a flat spot for a couple of weeks in terms of his efficiency but teams are good in this league, they are well coached and they make strategic plans. He has been a target of other teams but he has been able to work through that and it has been against some really good teams who give him different looks.
“I think, and everyone who I coach against gives me the same feedback, that he is an elite Australian talent and not only in the SBL, but across the country. He can just do things that other guys can’t do. He is physically capable of playing regularly in the NBL, he just needs to keep maturing and that’s what he is getting this year with us.
“We are putting responsibility on his shoulders as a leader and then it’s about him learning to figure things out from a basketball IQ standpoint. We are getting that out of him and everyone can make great plays, and some not so great plays, but that gap from his best to worst is closing for him.
“He is learning to play smarter too in certain situations like when he gets in foul trouble. He is just capable of making plays on the ball and off the ball. He is a deserved kid to be in the NBL because he is the first guy at practice, the first guy putting up extra rep and he’s putting in all the work.
“I’m really proud of him, he’s a great guy and I definitely think there is a role for him in the NBL and I think once he solidifies that role in a team, they’ll be thankful they gave him that chance and long-term, he’ll be a great prospect.”
Then there is Jerami Grace. Just his name brings great excitement as the son of Perth Wildcats and NBL legend Ricky and he does appear a player with tremendous potential already.
Having now finished his college career where he finished at Arkansas Tech, Grace has come back to Western Australia and with his dad a keen onlooker, has made an encouraging start to his SBL career with the Mandurah Magic.
He might be just four games into his senior basketball career, but there’s already great excitement surrounding him and the 6’3 guard has many of the traits of his father in terms of speed, ball handling and an ability to create shots for himself and teammates.
Grace looks to have a terrific future and Magic coach Aaron Trahair has been impressed with how he’s settled in.
“He is fitting in really well. Obviously we have a really young group here so that age dynamic I think has been good for him to help him fit in pretty easily. I’ve given him a bit of a green light in regards to just getting out there and playing, and showing what he can do,” Trahair said.
“He obviously has ambitions to try and play at the next level. It would be great for us to try and get him back for next season, but I’m pretty realistic in regards to that being a long way off and it depends on where he ends up. I’d like to think we are helping him get to that next step.
“He is having a few teething problems adjusting to the officiating and bits and pieces here in this league, which is a lot different to where he played his collegiate career. He’s had his ups and downs but overall I’ve been pretty happy with how he’s been going and he is certainly very talented. He’ll only get better the longer he’s been out here.”
Trahair, himself a veteran of 422 NBL games, sees no reason why Grace couldn’t make the jump to become an NBL player as early as this coming season.
“Talent-wise I think he’s definitely capable of playing at the next level but like anything it just comes down to how quickly he can pick up the game over here and getting that opportunity,” he said.
“He is a pretty smart kid and he’s getting better for us every week. It’s always funny that when they first come out in the first week they tend to go really well and then the second and third weeks they can sometimes come back to earth a little.
“Then after that they can surge ahead and that’s what I expect him to certainly do. He has a pretty bright future and he has a good head on his shoulders so I wish him all the best.”
As a championship winning teammate with Ricky Grace, Trahair has had to pinch himself about now coaching his son but he is keen to help him get to where he wants to in his career the best he can.
“It’s funny because he has a few little mannerisms and facial reactions that are a splitting image of the old man,” Trahair said.
“All it really shows me is that I’m just getting old and it’s a bit weird that I played with his old man for a few years early in my career, and now I’m coaching his son now.
“I remember him as a really young kid when I was playing with Rick so it’s a little bit weird but at the same time there’s been a fair bit of separation between then and now so in a lot of ways he’s just another player for me to coach who I’m trying to help the best I can.
“One thing is that he has a good sense of humour and he laughs at my jokes so I must be doing something right.”
By no means should they be the only players any NBL should consider. Certainly if Earnest Ross or Marcus Alipate were eligible to play as locals, they deserve a spot at the next level and Goldfields Giants’ David Humphries is worth a look as is his teammate Mayo Malek.
Cody Ellis would still have a lot to offer if provided another chance and the same for Jackson Hussey, Louis Timms or Caleb Davis.
And then in development roles, Majier Garang, Brody England, Julian Pesava, Aiden Murphy, Brayden Inger and Rowan Mackenzie shouldn’t be overlooked.