10 Things We Learned: Westside Blitz

Photo credit: Bill Phillips

The Westside Blitz has come and gone, and now all eyes are on Wednesday March 27 and the tip-off to the Sal's NBL season. In a new weekly article, Sky Sport commentator Justin Nelson looks at the 10 Things We Learned.

    1. The Next Generation has Arrived

    If you needed any further convincing that Sal’s NBL teams are investing heavily on talented youth, then surely the Westside Blitz confirmed it. The League’s salary system is ensuring a spread of the top end talent, while the introduction of Sky Broadband Rapid League will increase playing opportunity for Kiwi players, which means unearthing and developing young players  must now be a priority for teams. What we saw at the Blitz was a big step in this direction, which can only be a good thing for the future of the game, the league, the Tall Blacks, and fans. Get ready for a season filled with rising young stars.

    1. Change and Innovation Continue to Deliver Results

    The Sal’s NBL has delivered many changes over the last few years – the Showdown draft and playing bubble, player only timeouts, new commercial concepts like the foul line sponsorship, and incoming in season 2024 a trade window and Rapid League – last week’s Westside Blitz was another to add on the list. Though pre-season games and competitions aren’t new, this was all about taking the league on the road and developing a new fan base on the West Coast. Congratulations to organiser Kelvin Fisher on bringing his vision to life, a job well done where local communities, schools  and the wider region as whole were the big winners.

    1.  Could Max Darling Star in a New Role?

    Even though they have imports to come, the Canterbury Rams decided to bring Max Darling off the bench through the Blitz, and he dominated. Could this be a sign that Darling will lead the Rams' second unit this season? If so, look for Darling to be a dominant force in Rapid League and a strong leader amongst a quality group of young players. Darling will also play a massive role in the Sal’s NBL, but his inclusion with the second unit could be a master move. 

    1. Hard Work Set to Pay Off for Saints Dougall-Mita

    The rise of Rangimarie Dougall-Mita is real and it’s time for the Saints to carve out a bigger role for him this season. Coach Zico Coronel absolutely must give Dougall-Mita more than his average of 10 minutes per game last season. His form since the conclusion of 2023 has been top notch – he was a standout at the 2023 3X3 Cup (All-Star 4), and dominant at the Westside Blitz (21.5 points per game). Expect Dougall-Mita to be a frontrunner for Rapid League MVP, while also stepping into a genuine sixth-man role with the Saints. His time has arrived.

    1. Absence of Big Guns Leaves More Questions Than Answers

    Every team except for the Sharks were down at least one import at the Blitz, and some had none. The Tuatara went without any member of their star-studded starting five, the Giants were minus key players, the Jets had three imports missing, the Rams have a bit to add, the Airs will considerably strengthen up when Sam Froling, Elijah Minnie and Flynn Cameron arrive,  and the Saints still have  a starting backcourt to come in Ben Ayre and Izayah Le’afa– so what exactly can we take away from the 12 games played at the Blitz? In short, not much. The Blitz proved to be the perfect pre-season competition for a lot of young players, and though we did see the likes of Phill Jones Medal winner Dan Fotu (Giants), Lat Mayen (Saints) and Mitch McCarron (Airs) play some good minutes, the truth is there are so many top players still to come. Wins are wins, but the Blitz results may not be the most accurate guide to form for the upcoming season. 

    1. Hawks, Nuggets and Bulls Miss Out

    All but three teams attended the Blitz with the Hawks, Nuggets and Bulls opting not to play. With just two weeks until the season proper tips off, the valuable three games each team played on the West Coast will have delivered a heap of benefit to roster development as well as the scouting of opposition plays and players. The Sal’s NBL is so competitive that every added edge helps, but the Hawks, Nuggets and Bulls are now a step behind the rest. It would be surprising if the missing trio sat it out next time around. A decision that can only be judged as poor if there is a flow on effect to the early season results.

    1. Can the Sharks Return to the Final 6 in 2024?

    The Southland Sharks arrived at the Blitz with all three imports (unlike other teams) – LaGerald Vick, Marcale Lotts, Josh Turner – but as expected their minutes were managed delicately as coach Molloy looked to prepare his team for the tougher stuff ahead. The Sharks were minus Brayden Inger, but did have new centre, Callum McRae,  suit up to get acclimated to his teammates and what is expected of him from the coaching staff. Based on what we saw, this is very much an improved team and the chance to return to post season basketball after two off seasons is real. Swim with the Sharks at your own risk.

    1. Hayden Jones Set For a Big Role with Giants.

    While we got to see a glimpse of Hayden Jones last season with the Giants, get set to see a lot more of the young star this year. The wraps on ‘SOP’ (Son of Phill) are high and everything we saw at the Westside Blitz suggests his role with the Giants will be an important one. Playing big minutes in Rapid League are a given but, if the Blitz is any indication, we are likely to also see Jones carve out major minutes in the Sal’s NBL as well. Mark it down, he will be one of the most talked about young players in 2024.

    1. The Whai Will be Hungry For Scalps.

    The Whai did exactly what they needed to do at the Westside Blitz. This young team still has a couple of pieces to come, but we saw genuine hunger on display. First-time Sal’s NBL coach Matt Lacey wants his team to run, harass and play with confidence. First signs were positive and more than enough to suggest the Whai will catch a few teams napping during their inaugural season.   

    1. The Westside Blitz is Too Good to Give Up.

    The Blitz showed enough and delivered enough to provide the West Coast with a slew of reasons to not only bring the Sal's NBL back in 2025, but to own this event for years to come. No doubt the local government and businesses benefitted greatly from 120-plus players and staff spending five days in the region. Hotels and restaurants in particular will have been thankful for the additional business. Those benefits also extended to schools, community groups and tourist attractions with great images and stories shared across the media and social platforms. There is no reason why this event can’t continue and, importantly, become a staple event on the West Coast sporting calendar. The most consumed sport for under 35s in New Zealand is basketball, and through Kelvin Fisher the West Coast now has its own spot on the annual basketball calendar. My advice to the region – invest in it and don’t let it go!  


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