I think it will constitute the most games the NBL has ever had on FTA to my knowledge.
As for progressing the relationship with a bigger FTA network, that was always going to be hard once Fox Sports dropped off. And to be fair, Fox Sports doing that is a sign of a much bigger internal issue with Fox Sports moreso than it is the NBL.
Basically, the NBL needed a FTA channel to take a whole lot of games - 67 to be precise. And Channel Nine sure as hell was not going to be able to do it - and if it did, they'd be splattered over some back up channel, not in HD. For all we know Channel Nine may have been willing to expand their coverage, but 67 games was always going to be beyond their scope.
9Go vs SBS Viceland? I don't think there is too much difference between the two, but at least Viceland is in HD, and in sport, that matters.
A League has made a successful home on SBS before so I think the NBL can make it work.
All things considered I think the ESPN/SBS deal is a 20-30 percent upgrade on the Fox Sports and 9Go deal due to the fact that ESPN can cross-promote the leagues, all basketball fans pretty much watch ESPN, it has global reach, and as for SBS, it is in HD and there are going to be far more games on FTA.
Getting coverage on ESPN is no small feat. There are no other Australian shows on the channel. Larry has basically made ESPN do something they don't do, and that is take Australian content. The closest they come to doing that is the adds which tell you what time in Sydney a game will be broadcast. This indicates that despite not being a ratings winner, the NBL has impressed. ESPN didn't have to take it up. In fact, no one was obliged to. The fact that he has maintained All games Live in HD across two entirely new channels given the circumstances of his main broadcaster dropping out is something to admire.
What will be interesting to see is how coverage will change with ESPN. How different will the league 'look'? Who will replace some of the terrible Fox Sports footy commentators?