Strong performances from Ariel Hukporti and Mantas Rubstavicius have led the way for the NBL's Next Stars contingent in Round 18.

5 Feb
By Dan Woods for

NBL24's class of Next Stars is looming as one of the top groups of emerging hoops talent anywhere in the world.

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Ariel Hukporti’s strong run of form against local rival South East Melbourne continued in Round 18, and the German center starred in the interior against an undermanned Phoenix side.

No Melbourne player played more than 23 minutes in the 16-point win, and every player who suited up saw at least six minutes of action for United against a Phoenix side missing five key pieces, including former NBA players Alan Williams ad Mitch Creek.

Hukporti was the second-most used player for Melbourne in the win, and added six points and 10 rebounds in just over 21 minutes of action.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Matthew Dellavedova ?? Ariel Hukporti, a lob match made in Melbourne ?<br><br>?? ESPN via Kayo<br>?? ESPN3 and app <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; NBL Next Stars (@NBLNextStars) <a href="">February 3, 2024</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

Mantas Rubstavicius helped inspire New Zealand to an unlikely win over the Perth Wildcats in Perth on the night of the jersey retirement of Wildcats legend and former six-time NBL Best Defensive Player Damian Martin.

Former Golden State Warrior Anthony Lamb was forced from the game in the first quarter with a lower leg injury, and Rubstavicius was one of a number of Breakers to step into the void left by the likely All-NBL nominee.

Rubstavicius scored 10 points on four of five shooting – including two from two from three as New Zealand strolled to an 11-point win.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Mantas cannot miss ? <br><br>The Lithuanian Next Star is a perfect 4-4 from the field ?<br><br>Catch the action live on ESPN via Kayo Freebies | 10 Peach &amp; 10 Play | Sky Sport in NZ ? <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; NBL Next Stars (@NBLNextStars) <a href="">February 4, 2024</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

Potential number one pick Alexandre Sarr saw just seven minutes of action in the clash.

AJ Johnson flashed another moment of his incredible athleticism and potential with a huge dunk against fellow Next Star Rocco Zikarsky and the Brisbane Bullets.

The jam is being heralded as potentially the dunk of the year, and came in front of a star-studded crowd that included UFC fighters Alex Volkonovski and Israel Adesanya.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Reach for the sky, and throw the hammer down ??<br><br>AJ Johnson just slammed home one of the dunks of the season ?<br><br>?? ESPN via Kayo<br>?? ESPN 3 and ESPN app <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; NBL Next Stars (@NBLNextStars) <a href="">February 3, 2024</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

He added a pair of boards in addition to his two points, in a game where Zikarasky added five points of his own.

Alex Toohey continued to start for the Kings, but only played 10 minutes as the reigning champions were put to the sword by the 36ers. He added a pair of points and a pair of boards.

Bobi Klintman has continued to battle back from the concussion that had previously kept him sidelined for the Taipans, and he played eight minutes in Cairns’ loss to Adelaide.

Trentyn Flowers registered a pair of DNPs in Adelaide’s Round 18 double-header, as he continues to try to force his way back into an in-form rotation following his return from a knee injury.

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