Seven-time NBL MVP Andrew Gaze believes Melbourne United should contend for the title in NBL24.

3 Aug
Dan Woods for

After a season of struggles in NBL23, Australian basketball great Andrew Gaze believes Melbourne United have elevated themselves as one of the teams to beat in the upcoming season.

United registered a seventh-place finish last season after struggling to cover the injuries of Shea Ili and Ariel Hukporti across the season.

The club parted ways with import Jordan Caroline part-way through the season and signed Marcus Lee – who was named the club’s Defensive Player of the Year – and battled back to miss out on the post-season on percentage alone.

Gaze says there’s no reason to not be optimistic about Melbourne’s title hopes.

“This is, again, a championship contending team in my view,” the seven-time NBL MVP said. “I think they’ve done exceptionally well in the off-season, you know they’re going to be tough as hell on the defensive end, and they’ve got a lot of scoring.

“There’s not too much you can look at and have a reason to be pessimistic. It’s all glass half full, optimism, as I look at this lineup.”

As United’s roster build stands, the only ounce of pessimism that can be drawn from their side is the injury to returning star centre Jo Lual-Acuil Jr.

The former MVP candidate is expected to be out until at least the November FIBA window as he recovers from wrist surgery.

Former South East Melbourne coach Simon Mitchell believes the loss of a player in Lual-Acuil Jr’s position is the easiest to cover at this point in the off-season, and the potential for added minutes will provide a strong platform for Next Star Ariel Hukporti to shine.

“I’m looking through, the centre spot – if you’re going to lose somebody – is probably the best spot to lose somebody at this stage of the season. There is availability there. If you’re looking for an Australian small forward, good luck. If you’re looking for an Australian power forward, good luck,” Mitchell said.

“The centre spot, getting a local in Rob Loe is a fantastic signing … that is the best of a solid bunch of replacement players and I like that signing a lot for Melbourne.

“I’m not sure how long Jo Lual-Acuil is out for. I know it’s a significant period and that’s a huge loss, but that opens up a great opportunity for Ariel Hukporti.

“Towards the back end of his first year at Melbourne United, he was becoming quite the weapon and something you had to plan around – his ability to catch the ball, finish above the rim, his shot-blocking ability, his robust athleticism, and he’s starting to develop – it may not be the prettiest jump shot – but a little seven-footer that, whilst it may not pass the eye test, you find yourself pulling out of the net.

“Let’s face it, even with the issues they had with injuries at other spots, if he was healthy and available that’s a huge bonus for them.”

Melbourne United’s NBL season will kick off against Mitchell’s former side – South East Melbourne – on Friday, September 28.

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