Burning Questions: Mic Roundtable Season Predictions Part 2 – Award Winners

Photo credit: Render Creative NZ

The 2024 Sal's NBL season starts this week and with rosters across the league as  settled as they can get prior to tip off we can lock in and look to what we can expect from teams across the NBL this season. The 2024 Sky Sport commentary team has plenty of opinions about how things will turn out over the course of the year so we asked them to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) and share those opinions with all. After previously going through the teams and where they might land, today we take a look at the players and share who we think will claim the individual accolades come awards season. 

Question: Who will win the Youth Player of the Year award? 

Huw Beynon: Close to home for me this one... I will win the Youth Player award, yeah-nah. But seriously, I can see Hayden Jones (Nelson Giants) making a name for himself this season. He's going to miss a chunk of the season at the U18 World Cup, but the newly minted 17-year-old Tall Black will play a role for the NBS Nelson Giants in 2024 before embarking on wherever basketball takes him next (prediction: it will take him far). This kid can do it all, and he has the family's competitive gene too, meaning he won't shy away no matter of the experience of the man opposite him. Sit back and watch a star in the making.

Tom Abercrombie: I’ve gotta show some love to a couple of my Breakers D-Unit here. Carlin Davidson is so athletically gifted it’s ridiculous and I think he is poised to have a massive season with a strong Taranaki Airs side. Kaia Isaac has also been with the Breakers all of last season and I love his game, I think he will play a critical role in getting the Rams back to the top. I’m also really looking forward to seeing James Moors (Jets) on his return to NZ soil and how 3 years of college basketball under his belt has changed him as a player.

Justin Nelson: Ben Henshall (Otago Nuggets)

Phill Jones: Hayden Jones (slight bias here..)

Maia Williamson: Lachlan Olbrich (Canterbury Rams) is a serious contender. He is a high calibre decision making big, who functions well under the pressure and physicality of the ANBL at only 20. He'll be an integral part of the Rams offence.
If it can't be an import then Dontae-Russo Nance (Otago Nuggets) is the front runner for me. He has professional experience already across the ANBL and Sal's NBL, so his development is already on a sharp upward trajectory. In 2021, at the age of 16, he averaged 11.5ppg, 2.3rpg. 2.8apg and 1.6spg. He's shown he can operate at a high level in this league. 

Brook Ruscoe: Tough to pick from the youngins but out of  Hayden Jones, Dontae Russso-Nance and Carlin Davison (Taranaki Airs) it could just come down to who has the most playing time. Tough category with a crazy amount of young talent coming through. 

Taylah Johnson: Is last years winner (Walter Brown, Rams) or Aussies eligible? if so Brown, Ben Henshall (Otago Nuggets) and Lachlan Olbrich (Rams) are big threats but I'll keep it Kiwi and all new for the sake of conversation and say Kaia Isaac (Rams) or Dontae Russo-Nance (Nuggets) have the best chance to make a statement. 

Andrew Mulligan: Te Tuhi Lewis (Whai)

Casey Frank: Absolutely stacked category and all dependent on playing time but I'll say Carlin Davison (Airs). His impact defensively will be key and he has enough weapons around him that he should find some more freedom of movement on the offensive end this year. Kaia Isaac (Rams) and Hayden Jones (Giants) will get a look as well.

Miles Pearce: Not sure what the age cut off is but give me Max Darling (Rams) and Rangimarie Dougall-Mita (Saints) who put on a show at the blitz. There are a number of guys that could be up for the award. The big question is who is going to put their hand up and take it. 

Nick Bewley: Carlin Davidson. Something is in the air in Taranaki under a new ownership group, and I think Davidson could be a big time benefactor from the changes. We’ve seen glimpses of the 20 year old’s potential in the Sal’s NBL, and after a season on a Breakers development contract, and the addition of classy players around him from across the Tasman in Mitch McCarron and Sam Froling – I can see Davidson making a big jump. 

Question: Who will be Defensive player of the year?

Huw Beynon: Hyrum Harris (Wellington Saints) is a tough, tough defender. He's my pick, especially with Zico Coronel putting him where he needs to be.

Tom Abercrombie: In my mind this is Izayah Le’afa’s (Wellington Saints) to lose. When Zay is locked in on the defensive end he possesses all the tools to be elite at this end of the floor. He’ll pick his man up full court, play with physicality and happily switch onto bigs down low and hold his own. I’m expecting a massive season from Zay.

Justin Nelson: Hyrum Harris (Saints)

Phill Jones: Alex McNaught (Nelson Giants)

Maia Williamson: Izayah Le'afa (Saints) is the pick-pocket king in the Aussie NBL, imagine the disruption he'll cause in some of these Sal's NBL backcourts. His chances of winning this award are high!

Brooke Ruscoe: I'm clearly running on recency bias but Rob Loe (Auckland Tuatara) Took this down with ease last year so someone's gonna have to go out and snatch it from him to take this trophy home.

Taylah Johnson: Troy Baxter Jr. (Manawatū Jets) Crazy athlete, high level rim protection.

Casey Frank: I want to lean towards Hyrum or Izayah (both Saints) but i feel like their individual brilliance will be tempered playing with each other and Lat Mayen (Saints), so I'll go with Rob Loe (Tuatara) who finished first in blocks, first in rebounding and fifth in steals a year ago on the team that held opponents to the lowest scoring average in the league. I've got my eye on the next generation with Walter Brown (Rams) and Carlin Davison (Airs) as dark horses.

Andrew Mulligan: Rob Loe (Tuatara)

Miles Pearce: Alex McNaught (Giants), Le'afa and Carlin Davison all can put their stamp on the defensive end of the floor. The guy who won last year is back and you may find he has something to say about that though as Rob Loe controlled the glass and the game on his way to this award in '23. Can he go back to back or can someone take this award away from the former Tall Black?

Nick Bewley: Walter Brown (Rams) So versatile during the championship run, look for him to find another level on that end.

Question: Who will win the Stan Hill Trophy (Most Outstanding Kiwi Big F/C) ? 

Huw Beynon: Rob Loe, Hyrum Harris, and Tom Vodanovich the front-runners here, but I can see a big season coming from Dan Fotu (Nelson Giants) also.

Tom Abercrombie: Hyrum Harris. This guy has had a breakout year with the Perth Wildcats and despite being undersized has more than held his own as a 4/5 at the highest level. He should thrive under Zico and give opposition teams headaches in the open floor while stuffing the stat sheet like he always does.

Justin Nelson: Rob Loe (Auckland Tuatara)

Phill Jones: Dan Fotu (Giants)

Maia Williamson: Rob Loe is Running it back!

Brook Ruscoe: Rob Loe, I see him as the overall MVP and you can't win that one without being the best Kiwi big!

Taylah Johnson: Dan Fotu

Casey Frank: I've got Callum McRae (Sharks), Dan Fotu (Giants) and Sam Timmins (Bulls) as candidates but they have to do quite a bit of work to knock big Rob Loe off the mountain top so I'll give the incumbent the nod.

Andrew Mulligan: Rob Loe (Auckland Tuatara)

Miles Pearce: Take out the import bigs and you still have a list loaded with talent. Can Jack Andrew (Nuggets) step into a bigger role now that Sammy T (Bulls) has moved north? Will the Sharks play through Callum McRae? Does Hyrum Harris count as a big? This is a tough one to pick, even after the blitz, but Rob Loe was dominant last year and there are plenty of young guys ready to knock him off the throne in '24. 

Nick Bewley: Rob Loe (Auckalnd Tuatara)

Question: Who will win the John Macdonald Trophy for  the Most Outstanding Kiwi Guard? 

Huw Beynon: Tai Webster (Otago) will be primed here although big brother Corey Auckland) could have something to say about that!

Tom Abercrombie: Flynn Cameron (Airs) is ready to take the next step. He lacks nothing in the confidence department and should thrive with the added freedom and responsibility of being one of the go-to guys in Taranaki. We have seen glimpses this year when given the opportunity with a stacked Melbourne United and he will be ready to let loose in the Sal's NBL.

Justin Nelson: Tai Webster (Otago Nuggets)

Phill Jones: Alex McNaught (Nelson Giants)

Maia Williamson: Corey Webster (Auckland Tuatara) was an integral part of the Rams lineup late in the season last year, so if he can play at the same level, continuing on his momentum from the ANBL season, he'd be my pick.

Brook Ruscoe: Tai Webster (Otago Nuggets) - The ball will be in his hands a lot and his swagger is always on 100 which will help his squad without Sam Timmons gravity in the middle of the paint this year.

Taylah Johnson: Izayah Le'Afa (Wellington Saints)

Casey Frank: Flynn Cameron (Airs) has been impressive in a limited role with Melbourne United in ANBL and his time with the TB's was impressive but they may be too talented for him to shine. Kruz Perrot-Hunt (Whai) is a chance because I think the ball will live in his hands but I'll go with Tai Webster, his floor is so high with the way he impacts things defensively and I think the Nugs are going to have to lean on him in a major way. 

Miles Pearce: Le'afa, Webster (x2), Cameron (x2) McNaught, Ngatai (Hawks) and the list goes on. I think this will come down to who is in what role for their team and how high each athlete can push their squad up the ladder.

Nick Bewley: Tai Webster (Otago Nuggets)

Question: Who will win the Commissioners Cup for the Most Outstanding Big (F/C, import/Kiwi)? 

Huw Beynon: Sam Froling (Airs)for me here. Otherwise Loe, Hyrum Harris, and Tom Vodanovich (Tuatara) could be battling each other for it. 

Tom Abercrombie: Sam Froling (Airs). My MVP pick will be a focal point for the Airs night in and night out meaning plenty of touches and there may not be a big, bar Rob Loe, who can guard him one on one. He’s an animal on the boards as well, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 20/20 game from Sam at some pint during the season.

Justin Nelson: Sam Froling (Taranaki Airs)

Phill Jones: Dan Fotu (Nelson Giants)

Maia Williamson: Gotta go with Sam Froling!

Brook Ruscoe: Rob Loe - Hard to go passed the big dog and everything he achieved since returning to the Sal's NBL. 

Taylah Johnson: Troy Baxter Jr. (Manawatū Jets)

Casey Frank: Sam Froling. This dude is a problem. While the the talent pool for bigs has exploded this year I see Sam sitting slightly above the crowd. His interior power combined with swift footwork will make him and the Airs tough to slow down. Honourable mention to Rob Loe.

Andrew Mulligan: Rob Loe (Auckland Tuatara)

Miles Pearce: Like the MVP race this will be a tough one. If Sam Froling comes into the Sal's NBL like he finished the Aussie League it could be his award. That being said, there are so many good bigs that the battle down low is going to be a fun one every single game this year. 

Nick Bewley: Rob Loe (Auckland Tuatara)

Question: Who will win the Keith Carr Trophy for the Most Outstanding Guard (Kiwi/Import)? 

Huw Beynon: He's gonna need that big, beautiful hair to keep him warm down in Dunedin, but Tai Webster is always hot on the hardwood. Fresh off a good season with Perth, I expect the Tall Black to be an MVP candidate and up there with the best imports in the league.

Tom Abercrombie: My pick for the DPOY can also play some O. Izayah Le’afa is a bucket and combined with his prowess on the other end, expect him to take a big share of the offensive workload with the Saints too. Zico’s teams love to play up-tempo and shoot a lot of 3 balls, but I expect to see Zay thrive in this system.

Justin Nelson: Mustapha Heron (Manawatū Jets)

Phill Jones: Alex McNaught (Nelson Giants)

Maia Williamson: I'm in two minds about this one, and these both may be some uncommon takes, but either Isaiah Moore (Hawke's Bay) or Ben Ayre (Saints). Isaiah Moore is currently averaging 7ppg in G league, and Ben Ayre had a solid season with SE Melbourne, averaging 10ppg in 23mpg. Both are solid numbers to be averaging in high calibre leagues, making me think this will transfer to Sal's NBL.

Brook Ruscoe:  Tai Webster - The ball will be in his hands a lot and swaggers always on 100 which will help his squad with out Sam Timmons this year

Taylah Johnson: Tai Webster (Otago Nuggets)

Andrew Mulligan: Tai Webster (Otago Nuggets)

Casey Frank: He showed his talent last year, but with a stronger unit surrounding him and a game plan that tilts his way a bit more I'm looking for Mustapha Heron (Manawatū Jets) to grab this one. Elite size and athleticism at the position combined with a heavy work load should see him make a great run at it if the Jets can find some team success. Don't sleep on Mitch McCarron (Taranaki Airs) and what he can do, but he may be in more of the facilitator role this time around the league.

Miles Pearce:  While I am picking (hoping) a big man as the MVP, you cannot ignore the level of talent across the league at every position. Mustapha Heron was tough last year, the Webster brothers are both back in action and I am excited to see how Dontae Russo-Nance gets back into the swing of things after his rookie year in the ANBL. 

Nick Bewley: Mitch McCarron (Taranaki Airs) 

Question: Who will be named MVP of the 2024 Sal's NBL season? 

Huw Beynon: Big Bad Bobby Loe seems primed for a good crack at back-to-back gongs here, however he could be hindered by his own teammates! Could make a case for 4 or 5 of the Tuatara potentially winning this. So, I'm going to go with Sam Frohling at the Airs... if he evens makes it here and isn't snapped by an NBA franchise before the season starts!

Tom Abercrombie: The big fella Rob Loe was unstoppable last year and there’s no reason he can’t do it again. I’m putting my money on another big man though, Sam Froling from Taranaki. Sam is coming off a career year with the Illawarra Hawks and if he brings that same kind of form into the Sal's NBL he will be unstoppable.

Justin Nelson: Sam Froling (Taranaki Airs)

Phill Jones: Dan Fotu (Nelson Giants)

Maia Williamson: Considering his semi-final dominance in Australia before bowing out with the Illawarra Hawks (19 points then 26 points vs Melbourne United) Sam Froling is my pick. 

Brook Ruscoe: I've got Sam Froling and Tai Webster a close second equal but if I was a betting man i think Rob Loe could go back to back!

Taylah Johnson: Troy Baxter Jr. (Manawatū Jets)

Casey Frank: MVP quite often coincides with the win loss record so it will likely be a team in the top 4 which narrows it down a bit. Tough to move away from Rob Loe and what he did a season ago, but I've been so impressed with Sam Froling over the course of his season with the Illawarra Hawks that I'm going with big Samson. His inside outside game that can play bully ball or a more skilled brand will have him at the top of scouting reports as well as my preseason MVP ballot.

Andrew Mulligan:  Rob Loe (Auckland Tuatara)

Miles Pearce: I don't know who's going to win but I am going to favour the big guys on this one. I am looking forward to seeing Sam Froling, Rob Loe, Tyrell Harrison (Jets), Callum McRae (Sharks)Hyrum Harris, Lachlan Olbrich and the rest of the 4's and 5's take over. I hope the bigs can show out this year! 

Nick Bewley: Rob Loe (Auckland Tuatara) 


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