Thoughts on Ariel Hukporti, Josh Bannan, and Rocco Zikarsky in the 2023 NBL Blitz Game Between Melbourne and Brisbane

September 18th, 2023

By Alan Lu

Recently, Melbourne United played against Brisbane in a September 16th, NBL Blitz game, so I decided to watch this game with thanks to YouTube via National Basketball League.  This featured several NBA draft prospects, such as Melbourne’s Ariel Hukporti, who has returned from a season-ending Achilles tendon injury last year, and Brisbane featured Rocco Zikarsky, who is a 2025 draft prospect, and former Montana big man, Josh Bannan, who played well as a junior in college basketball last year before signing on with Brisbane.  Here are my thoughts on how they fared, as well as how their games may translate to the NBA. Also, for those that are interested in the box score of this game, here is the link.

Melbourne’s 7-0 center, Ariel Hukporti is a second round prospect for the 2024 draft.
(Photo: Kelly Defina/Getty Images, via Herald Sun)

Ariel Hukporti had his ups and downs in his team’s win over Brisbane.  He did a good job of passing and rebounding the basketball, and he showed off solid athletic gifts in this game, but he also struggled to make shots consistently, and he also made his fair share of defensive mistakes when he was on the floor. But considering that he didn’t play for most of last season, his play looked to be a step in the right direction for the upcoming season.

Hukporti generally excelled at scoring on hustle plays.  He was able to run the floor and get the ball in stride to score on a powerful, two-handed slam.  He also managed to score on a strong put back off of an offensive board while getting an extra free throw.  He also would get the ball on short rolls and draw free throws after hoisting up floaters. 

On the downside, he struggled to consistently score in the post, and he generally struggled to score in one-on-one situations.  On one good play, he was able to catch a lob to score on a powerful dunk, but he also would miss on contested jumpers other time.  He also tried to drive to the hoop off of an offensive board, but he ended missing on a contested shot around the basket. He didn’t really look to take many outside shots, and he did not attempt a three-pointer in this game.

He also showcased decent playmaking skills.  Hukporti is an unselfish player that would make the extra pass to get the ball to his teammates on dribble handoffs, which would allow him to notch assists.  He also was able to push the pace off of his team’s steal to show some ball handling skills in the open court.  Hukporti would also set solid screens to help his teammates get open driving lanes to take jump shots.  On the downside, he telegraphed a dribble handoff pass that ended up getting intercepted late in this game.

Plus, Hukporti did a very good job of rebounding the basketball.  He was able to haul in numerous boards on both ends of the floor.  On one play though, he didn’t box out his man, and he allowed an opponent to get an offensive rebound in his area.  Another time, he committed an aggressive, over the back foul when going for a defensive board.

Defensively, Hukporti looked to be about average.  For the positives, he would contest shots in the paint, especially when defending in the post to force misses.  He has good strength that allows him to hold position, and he also would sometimes contest outside shots to get stops for his team.  He also was able to jump on a loose ball that was poked to him to help his team get a steal, and he also jumped up to defend an inbounds pass to force a passing turnover another time.  However, he also had trouble defending quicker opponents off the dribble.  Sometimes he would make bad gambles, as he bit on a pump fake once, and also would commit reach-in fouls, which would lead him to commit fouls and allow scores.  Other times, he would be late on his rotations and allow his opponents to get open shots.

Overall, Ariel Hukporti had some good moments in his team’s win over Brisbane.  He will need to expand upon his skill set offensively and be a more disciplined defender in games, but his size, athleticism, and ability to produce in high level international leagues could enable him to be a second round pick in the 2024 draft, and Hukporti could be a capable backup center in the NBA similar to former New York Knicks’ center, Kyle O’Quinn.

Josh Bannan had a solid showing for Brisbane in his team’s loss to Melbourne.  He is a skilled big man that can make shots and pass the basketball, and he rebounded the ball very well in this game.

Bannan showed a satisfactory ability to score off the dribble.  He was able to score on a strong, left-handed drive to the hoop.  He also drove hard to his left off of a screen in transition and then pulled up to make a smooth, mid-range jumper.  He also was active in looking to score on hustle plays, and he was able to score on a put back off of an offensive rebound.  Sometimes though, he would struggle to get into a rhythm, and he was unable to make a three-pointer in this game.

He also showcased satisfactory playmaking skills.  Bannan is an unselfish player that will make the extra pass to find the open man, and he can make timely passes out of the post as well as off the dribble to set up scores for his teammates.  He also would set solid off-ball screens, and he was able to bring the ball up amidst pressure before passing it off another time.  He did commit a couple of turnovers, though.  He threw a very long, inaccurate outlet pass that sailed out of bounds.  He also was called for shuffling his feet when posting up that led to a traveling violation, and would’ve missed the turnaround jumper if there was a no call.

He also did a tremendous job of rebounding the basketball.  Bannan was quite active at crashing the glass to haul in boards on both ends of the floor, and sometimes he would look to push the pace off of defensive boards.

Plus, he also played satisfactory defense.  He was able to stay with his man on a drive to block a shot to himself due to good positioning and timing.  He also rotated to make a timely poke to get the ball to a teammate to help his team get a steal.  On the downside, he would sometimes struggle to defend out on the perimeter, and on one play, he went under a screen and gave up too much space to a corner three-pointer, which led his team to give up the basket that time.

Overall, Josh Bannan is a skilled offensive player that showed a solid set of all-around skills, and he has shown that he could be an effective role player at the NBL level this season.  He doesn’t possess overwhelming athleticism and he will still need to prove that he can consistently knock down shots and defend upper-echelon opponents in games, but his ability to make plays, especially on the offensive end could enable him to compete for a roster spot in the NBA sometime down the road.

Rocco Zikarsky had some good moments in his team’s loss to Melbourne.  He is a very tall, young center that excelled as a finisher around the basket, and he also was able to make some plays to help shore up his team’s interior on both ends of the floor.  He also struggled a bit defensively, but Zikarsky was able to make some solid plays that could indicate that he could develop into being a rim protector at the NBA level someday.

Zikarsky did a very good job of using off-ball movement to sneak past defenders to get the ball to score around the basket.  He was able to score on a couple of powerful dunks, and he showed that he can ably score on rolls to the rim.  He also was able to use a subtle spin move to score on a smooth layup off the dribble.  On the downside, he struggled to consistently score out of the post.  Early on, he was able to move to the right elbow to score on a left-handed, bank shot off the glass.  However, he also would miss when attempting to score on low post plays, as he would have trouble finishing plays after using moves to get his shot off.  He also was showed the willingness to take threes, but he missed his lone three-point attempt from beyond the arc.

He also looked to show average at best playmaking skills.  Zikarsky would set screens to help his teammates get open driving lanes to get their shot off.  On the downside, when trying to post up once, he tried to make a move towards the hoop, but instead was called for traveling, and would’ve scored had that call not been made.

Also, Zikarsky didn’t grab many rebounds, but he was able to leap up to get a pair of defensive boards.  Defensively, he looked to be about average at best.  For the positives, he was at his best when defending in the paint.  He showed a knack for being able to rotate to block shots hard off of drives to help his team protect the paint.  He also defended a drive off of a put back, and forced the miss using his length and positioning that time.  However, he really struggled to guard outside shooters on switches or screen situations.  He would tend to sag too far off his man and give up open threes and mid-range jump shots, and other times he wouldn’t go out there to switch or contest outside shots. Sometimes he would make no attempt to defend out on the three-point line even when his opponent would be wide-open, which would lead his team to give up baskets.  Another time, he didn’t tell his teammate where the screen was, which led his teammate to get blindsided and to his team to allow a three-pointer on a pick-and-pop play.

Overall, Rocco Zikarsky is a very tall big man that will look to make plays in the paint to help his team shore up the interior, but he will need to expand upon his skill set offensively and improve his mobility, especially on the defensive end.  Right now, he projects to be a backup center at the NBA level akin to someone like Damian Jones, but in a best case scenario, Zikarsky could end up being a shot-blocking rim protector similar to Utah Jazz’s starting center, Walker Kessler. Zikarsky still has a ways to go as an overall prospect, but he could be a second round prospect for the 2025 draft.

All in all, those are my thoughts on how Hukporti, Bannan, and Zikarsky fared in this game.  Thanks for reading.

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