NBL23: Recruitment drive, imports to change league, players to watch, Aron Baynes, Robert Franks

Superstars have replaced Next Stars on mass as NBL teams open their cheque books in pursuit of a championship.

The salary cap has risen four per cent to $1.7 million and all 10 teams have loaded up in response, headed by former NBA champion Aron Baynes, who is set to have an Andrew Bogut-type influence on the Brisbane Bullets.

Australia’s domestic league is set for its closest season in recent memory, with every side undertaking an extensive recruitment drive in the hunt for a title.

The NBL has just one new Next Star signing this season, Breakers French forward Rayan Rupert, as most clubs scour the hoops globe for experienced campaigners.

Baynes, who won an NBA championship with the San Antonio Spurs in 2014, is the face of the NBL’s signing spree.

The veteran Boomers big man feared he may never walk again following a freakish accident during Australia’s Tokyo Olympic campaign.

Just over a year on, Baynes is fit, firing, and primed to revive his stellar career via an NBL stint with Brisbane.

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The Bullets have also signed former Miami Heat guard Tyler Johnson, who is tipped to form a potent back-court combination with Boomer Nathan Sobey.

Brisbane has gone all out in a bid to claim the franchise’s first championship since 2007, but they aren’t alone.

In the City of Churches, Adelaide has aggressively attacked the market in an attempt to climb up the ladder.

Key recruits Antonius Cleveland (Hawks) and Robert Franks (Bullets) have turned the 36ers into genuine contenders.

Defending champions, the Sydney Kings have lost a host of key stars, including reigning MVP Jaylen Adams.

Adams will be difficult to replace, but former Detroit Pistons guard Derrick Walton Jr has the skills to ensure the Kings are competitive again.

Both Melbourne teams, United and Phoenix, have signed experienced imports.

Former Milwaukee Bucks shooting guard Rayjon Tucker is primed to dominate for United with his athleticism and skill.

Across at the Phoenix, there are high hopes for ex-Phoenix and Brooklyn big man Alan Williams.

Every NBL team has added key pieces, so here is how your team has loaded up for the 2022/2023 NBL season.

Aron Baynes (Bullets)

Talk around the league strongly suggests that Baynes will be back in the NBA before we know it if he can maintain his form.

The veteran big man looked impressive during the pre-season Blitz in Darwin, displaying his size, physicality, and selfless play in front of multiple NBA scouts – including Cleveland, OKC and Washington.

Baynes was brilliant in his debut pre-season game for the Bullets, dropping 14 points and grabbing six rebounds in just 13 minutes on the floor.

The 35-year-old hadn’t played a professional game since the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, but you wouldn’t have known based on his seamless performance.

Baynes will also be a game-changer for Brisbane in the culture stakes, much like Bogut was at the Kings in 2018.

‘Baynsey’ was seen constantly coaching and supporting his new Bullets teammates throughout the pre-season Blitz.

Baynes has 576 games of NBA experience under his belt, and he won’t be afraid to share it with his new teammates.

“I’m all about trying to learn (about) myself and how I can make everyone around me better. I do that by expressing what I’ve learnt over the last short period, in experiencing some pretty negative things,” Baynes told SEN.

“I’m at a better mental place than ever before with my family and with myself, and I’m trying to bring that to the culture of Brisbane as well.”

Robert Franks (36ers)

Franks looked set to sign in Russia during the off-season, but the deal was knocked back due to his lingering ankle injury.

Thankfully, the ex-Bullet is now fit and focused on helping his new club Adelaide achieve success.

Franks is coming off an impressive maiden NBL season with Brisbane, averaging 18 points and 8 assists.

He recently told News Corp that he is focused on producing another big season with the 36ers in a bid to enhance his NBA prospects.

“The NBA is my goal, but it will come down to how I perform at Adelaide,” said Franks, who also had a pre-season NBA Summer League stint with the Boston Celtics.

Derrick Walton Jr (Kings)

This bloke is an assist machine.

The former Detroit Pistons guard led the G League in assists this year, and the Kings are optimistic for a repeat effort in the NBL.

Walton Jr, who has played 45 NBA games for the Heat, Clippers, and Pistons, still has one eye on a return to the world’s best league.

“If I do what I need to do in the NBL, then the rest will take care of itself, in terms of playing in the NBA again,” Walton Jr said.

Alan Williams (Phoenix)

Nicknamed the ‘Big Sauce,’ Williams brings a big game and reputation to the NBL.

The 203cm centre grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, playing his college ball at UC Santa Barbara, where he finished his career as the team’s all-time leading rebounder and second all-time leading scorer.

Williams finally got his NBA chance when he signed for his hometown team, the Phoenix Suns, on a 10-day contract in 2016. He landed a multi-year deal on the back of his strong play during that 10-day stint.

Rayjon Tucker (United)

The high-flying American certainly doesn’t lack confidence, declaring he is the NBL’s best new import.

In the past three seasons, Tucker has played 39 games for the Utah Jazz, Philadelphia 76ers, Denver Nuggets and most recently the Milwaukee Bucks.

Across his 61 career games in the G-League, he has used his athleticism and quick trigger from deep to average 21.3 points, six rebounds, and over three assists per game, while becoming the all-time leading scorer for the Wisconsin Herd.

Brady Manek (Wildcats)

Following an outstanding college career, the 23-year-old forward is primed for his first professional season with Perth.

After four impressive years of college basketball at the University of Oklahoma, Manek transferred to the University of North Carolina and played an essential role in UNC’s run to the 2022 NCAA championship game. After going undrafted in the 2022 NBA draft, he had a Summer League stint with the Charlotte Hornets.

Shannon Scott (Taipans)

The American guard brings international experience from playing in Germany, Greece, Lithuania, and Venezuela.

Scott has also played for the Long Island Nets regularly throughout his career.

The Georgia native has suited up for Brooklyn’s G League affiliate on three separate occasions, in 2017-18 (alongside Taipan Tahjere McCall) 2018-19 and in 2020-21.

Mangok Mathiang (Hawks)

Mathiang hasn’t played in the NBA since donning a Charlotte Hornets singlet in 2018, but he is ready to revive his career in Illawarra.

The Sudan-born big man has spent the past four years playing in Europe via stints in Italy, Turkey, and Slovenia.

During his time in Europe, he averaged a double double while playing for Vanoli Cremona in the LBA, and Bahceseshir Koleji in the EuroCup.

Rashard Kelly (JackJumpers)

The versatile power forward will provide Tasmania with valuable experience.

Kelly has played in Russia, Italy, Turkey, and France since going undrafted in the 2018 NBA Draft.

The 26-year-old American has averaged 11.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 38 games for Dijon, including a season-high 28 points against ASVEL Lyon-Villeurbanne earlier this year.

Jarrell Brantley (Breakers)

Watch for Brantley, who stands at 201 centimetres and weighs 113 kilos, to give the Breakers an imposing presence in the paint.

Breakers’ coach Mody Maor said the 26-year-old forward was his number one target to replace departing forward Finn Delany.

It’s easy to see why given Brantley’s NBA experience, which has seen him play 41 games for the Utah Jazz, including four playoff games from 2019 to 2021.

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Originally published as NBL23: How every NBL team has loaded up in the pursuit of a championship in season 2022/23

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