MVP talk heating up for United star
Melbourne United Media
Heading into last Sunday’s much-anticipated Throwdown XXII clash between Melbourne United and the SEM Phoenix, all eyes were locked on the interior battle between Jo Lual-Acuil Jr and Alan Williams.
Williams, who had spoken openly about his desire to win the league’s MVP award, and go up against Lual-Acuil Jr, was stifled by United’s defence, registering a season low in points (14), rebounds (6) and plus/minus (-4) before fouling out.
Speaking on SEN yesterday, Head Coach Dean Vickerman said United’s defence executed their plan to shut down the Phoenix star, as well his teammate Mitch Creek, perfectly, while ‘JLA’ thrived when attacking Williams on offence.
“He (Williams) is a problem, he’s been getting to the foul-line a lot, him and Mitch Creek are close to leading the league in getting to the foul-line,” Vickerman said.
“Our strategy was to just collapse the whole key-way and bring our guards in and try and make it really difficult (for them).
“He’s still a great scorer and part of going against him is trying to get fouls on him, trying to have him sit down and I think Jo (Lual-Acuil Jr) did a good job of attacking him.”
On the other side, ‘JLA’ looked like he couldn’t be stopped, finishing with 26 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks.
After missing MU’s first five games, Lual-Acuil Jr’s return to the court has seen him produce unmatched performances. Among players to have played as many or more minutes as him, the United star averages the league’s highest Player Efficiency Rating (per SpacialJam).
His play has forced pundits, such as ESPN’s Peter Hooley and Olgun Uluc, to insert his name into MVP conversations.
“The star big man looked unstoppable at times in the Throwdown, but it was defensively where I saw him take another big step forward than when he was last in the NBL,” Hooley wrote.
“Yes, he's a known shot blocker, but his ability to alter shots without fouling was crucial for United's chance of winning also.
“Watching him on Sunday made me realize that there's potentially no reason he couldn't do all that and snag an MVP trophy along the way.”
These sentiments were echoed by Uluc.
“Lual-Acuil Jr has been, practically, unstoppable since he returned to the lineup for United, and there's absolutely enough time for him to put a portfolio of games together to legitimately enter the MVP debate,” Uluc elaborated.
“He's someone who makes a loud impact on both ends, draws multiple defenders, and is now at a point in his return - he missed the start of the season with a wrist injury - where he'll play bulk minutes with high usage.
“If United continues to win, and Lual-Acuil Jr continues to lead his team in usage, you'd bet on him turning that into immense production and being well and truly toward the top of the MVP conversation.”
Melbourne fans will get another chance to see JLA put on a show at home when United host the Sydney Kings on Sunday from 4pm at John Cain Arena.