Burning Questions: Behind the Mic Roundtable

Photo credit: Render Creative NZ

With a deep roster of Sky Sport commentators, you’d expect a few diverging opinions, or maybe not? This week we ask a sprinkling of this year’s crew from behind the mic for an opinion on which teams in the Sal’s NBL rate as their top pick of the competition based on current rosters when it comes to frontcourts and backcourts for the 2023 season.

Which team do you think will have the best backcourt this season?

Justin Nelson - Imports will no doubt play a part, but I’m going to go all-Kiwi and head to the Nuggets where Tai Webster and Dontae Russo-Nance will join forces. If these two playmakers find a way to complement each other, we will be in for a fun ride, especially at the offensive end.  And if I wanted to sprinkle a bit of Australia in there I could mention Ben Henshall who has come off a huge performance in his Boomers debut.

Maia Williamson - I can't go past the Auckland Tuatara. Having the duo of Corey Webster and Reuben Te Rangi in the backcourt is deadly. They are two seasoned veterans with plenty of experience dealing with international physicality, meaning they're well equipped to endure whatever back court pressure is applied to them throughout the Sal's NBL. 

Brook Ruscoe – I’m rolling with Taranaki where I expect Mitch McCarron to control traffic and have the team humming and he’ll be great at setting up Flynn Cameron in the half court and on the run in transition to find easy looks before the defense sets up in the half-court.

Andrew Mulligan - For me it’s a three-way tie between the backcourts that are already confirmed and that’s apologies to Ben Ayre and the Saints because anytime you have the Websters starting in the Sal’s NBL they are a lock. The Nuggets with Tai and Dontae Russo Nance, the Tuatara with Gliddon and Corey and then the Airs with Flynn Cameron and Mitch McCarron will be a really tough backcourt. Why are you making me choose this early. It’s really not fair.

Huw Beynon - Hard to look past the Tuatara - proven international performers in Corey Webster and Cam Gliddon. No true PG there though, and I'm writing this before most of the import guard class has been announced. Still, heaps of experience and scoring in that Tuatara backcourt. I also have eyes on the Nuggets with Dontae Russo-Nance and Tai Webster, two flyers with serious game, that's gonna be fun to watch. 

Casey Frank – It’s tough without seeing what the final import guards will look like but based on right now I’m going out on a limb with the Wellington Saints. On the local side I’ve loved what I’ve seen from Rangimarie Dougall-Mita in the 3x3 and expect him to have a jump in production but most of the damage will be done by the imports Ben Ayre and Lat Mayen. I expect we’ll see Ayre get to highlight his full repertoire as a scorer with the ball in hand but the partnership with Mayen is key (and I might be cheating a bit as he could be a 3 but oh well). Mayen’s size will be an outlier at the two and his shooting will stretch opposing defences, but it is his play on d where I really think he’ll make a mark as a lockdown defender who should thrive in passing lanes to find easy transition opportunities.

Which team will have the best frontcourt?

JN- Give me Rob Loe and Tom Vodanovich at the Tuatara every day of the week. They bring a mix of elegance and force, a feathery touch and exciting brutishness. What a pair! I also think Sam Timmins and Dom Kelman-Poto at the Bulls could turn some heads, while Callum McRae and Marcale Lotts at the Sharks might surprise a few people.

BR- Hard to go past the Tuatara! The MVP Rob Loe is back and with Tommy V returning to the Tuatara as well and I expect Reuben Te Rangi will play a bunch of 4 too which is one of the rate times that sizing down doesn’t hurt a team’s rotation at all.

MW- At the moment, I want to say Wellington Saints. Hyrum Harris is a well-renowned New Zealand beast, with height and strength that allows him to dominate. Lat Mayen stands at 6'9, but has the versatility to play on the wing, making him tough to guard and additionally opening space for Yuat Alok, 6'11, to go to work. A combination of these three will prove a difficult stretch to opposing line ups.

AM- Without a doubt it’s the Tuatara. Rob Loe was so good last season (obviously *eye roll emoji*) and then they add more muscle with Tom Vodanovich and Reuben Te Rangi. An import with Carlin Davison and Sam Froling will be dynamic and the Saints always swing for the fences so it’ll be interesting to see what happens with an import joining Hyrum Harris (who I love. Happy to state that here) and Lat Mayen.

HB- I like that a couple of kiwis in Hyrum Harris (Saints) and Dan Fotu (Giants), have found new homes where I think they'll flourish. But, while both those two are waiting for (likely) import front court partners, again I'm drawn to the Tuatara. Reigning MVP, Big Bobby Loe, with the Manimal Tom Vodanovich... that's scary for opposing teams. Both are as adept beyond the arc as they are in the paint. 

CF- I’m going to cheat a lil bit and use a bit of a crystal ball when I pick the Rams. Max Darling was a monster down the stretch of the championship run and after a season with the Breakers he’ll be in great form. Walter Brown should make another leap and his defense at small forward can be league best. Lachlan Olbrich will be a great add to that championship core with his offensive rebounding and outside-in offensive game, which should be a lift on what Galin Smith provided on that end during the stretch run. And with 3 import spots to fill there is sure to be some extra help coming in. Put some respect on the champs name! Honourable mention to the Stockyard where the Bulls would have been in the mix with a heathy Jordan Hunt.


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