In the first edition of Casey's Corner, Casey previews the 2022 Sal's NBL season for all 10 teams, providing insight into their rosters and how he believes they'll fare this season.
Auckland Tuatara | Coach - Aaron Young | 2021 – 4th (as Huskies)
The Auckland team are back to build off a bumper inaugural season (formerly known as Huskies, the club was bought by the Tuatara ABL baseball franchise) which saw the team make a surprising trip to the postseason. A talented frontcourt (that may be the biggest in the league with fresh out of college Dan Fotu, Tall Blacks and Australian NBL veteran Rob Loe, and the returning fan favourite US import Chris Johnson), will be difficult to match on a nightly basis. The postseason will be squarely in their sights with veteran talent leading the way, but the development and improvement of the wider squad (led by Dontae Russo-Nance and Taki Fahrensohn) will determine the extent of their ceiling.
Gamechanger: Dan Fotu
Welcome back to the next gen 42. Following in the footsteps of older brother Isaac, and older sister Ella, Dan’s acclimation to his role on both ends of the court may determine the ceiling of this Tuatara squad. His frame and skill set will be difficult to contain on the best of nights
Rising Star: Dontae Russo-Nance
A revelation upon his NBL arrival, improvements on the defensive end will ensure greater opportunity to shine a light on his advanced offensive skill set. While he has already performed beyond his years, expect an advance in all areas of his game
Prediction: PLAYOFFS LOCK
With a well put together roster and a coach whose stock is rising every year, the Tuatara have every chance of being there come the pointy end of the 2022 season.
EnviroNZ Franklin Bulls | Coach - Morgan Maskell | 2021 – 8th
The first full season of Bulls basketball in 2021 started with a bang but struggled to keep pace following injuries to key personnel. The bull-horn was sounded for a revamped roster for the upcoming season, and reinforcements came in bunches with an intriguing mix of touted veterans (Corey Webster and Leon Henry) and promising youth coming back to the region (Anzac Rissetto, Josh Ledger, Kane Bennett-Keil). The talent is unquestioned, but the Bulls will only stampede through the league with their fully kiwi roster if Coach Morgan Maskell’s run-and-gun offense is executed with precision and confidence from the opening tip.
Gamechanger: Isaac Davidson
As a rookie in 2021, injuries to teammates thrust the entire offensive load upon his shoulders, in his sophomore season he’ll be looking to take advantage of his fundamental skill set as a secondary option which should better suit his game.
Rising Star: Jayden Bezzant
He’ll be looking to build upon a solid rookie season offensively where a consistency of top level performance was elusive. If he can find the right balance between facilitating for his talented teammates and finding his own shot, then opposing defences will be in for some long nights.
Prediction: PLAYOFFS CHANCE
Managing this versatile roster will be a challenge for rookie coach Maskell given the mix of unbridled youth and unbridled veterans, but if things come together quickly for this potent offensive group, we could see some big scores racked up on a nightly basis.
Taranaki Steelformers Airs |Coach - Trent Adam | 2021 – 10th
Expectations are high with the arrival of Pero Cameron to the program to help build a foundational culture in Taranaki. Teething issues for a young squad a year ago should pay dividends this year in the win column, along with the nice addition of Richie Rodger from the Nuggets. Ball security will be key for a team that will be looking to defend its home court to reward a faithful fan base.
Gamechanger: Tai Wynyard
In the best shape of his professional career look for an improved endurance to catapult his production to the next level and allow him to lay claim to being the league’s most powerful interior player.
Rising Star: Carlin Davison
Topflight athleticism caught the leagues attention in his first season but his grasp of concepts was just as impressive. Improvements to his fundamentals on both sides of the ball will determine his impact on dubs.
Prediction: OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
I expect the Airs to climb off the bottom of the ladder in 2022, but will it be enough to claw into the Top 6 spots and play postseason ball? A team full of youthful exuberance will need to combine beyond their years if the Airs are to have a chance.
Taylor Hawke’s Bay Hawks | Coach - Mick Downer | 2021 – 2nd
On the precipice of a championship only to have it ripped from their grasp in the waning moments of the 2021 Grand Final, the Hawks have enlisted an all-kiwi line-up to fly to greater heights in 2022. New General Manager and Head Coach Mick Downer has been entrusted to tweak the firepower of Ethan Rusbatch and Derone Raukawa and hone the defensive prowess of Hyrum Harris and Jarrod Kenny to see the Hawks soar away from the competition. A handful of former Rams have followed Downer up to the Bay to help make this a reality.
Gamechanger: Jack Salt
A powerful presence for the Rams last season, he’s the most prominent to follow his coach up north and will be depended on by the all-kiwi line-up to provide the bulk of the work up front. He’ll be up to the task, provided his body co-operates.
Rising Star: Jordan Hunt
Coming off a finals MVP in the 2020 Sal’s NBL Showdown, Hunt at times struggled with the physical load of being the lone true big on the roster a season ago. With some “Salty” help up front the reduced spotlight of opposing defences should allow ample opportunity to showcase his refined skill set.
Prediction: CHAMPIONSHIP CHALLENGER
This success hungry franchise has fallen agonisingly short in the last two full seasons, both times to the Saints. The difference I see in this Hawks squad is that they now run eight deep instead of six. I expect them to be there come finals time with their ambition to win it all.
Property Brokers Manawatu Jets | Coach - Natu Taufale | 2021 - 9th
A new era begins for the Jets in 2022. A forward-thinking new ownership group and an incoming coach intent on fostering a winning culture on-and-off the court may mean the Jets faithful have to “trust the process” this year. Their team will likely be dependent on their yet-to-be-announced imports, while their squad will be a popular one at home with a host of local prospects getting their first look at NBL action.
Gamechanger: Shane Temara
The bouncy big man had a shortened season due to injury but will look to reinject his energy and enthusiasm into the Jets season. With the departure of some scoring prowess, an opportunity for a greater role may present itself. When he’s on form, he’s a tough man to stop.
Rising Star: Pafe Momoisea
A surprising and promising signing for the Jets in the offseason, the former Nugget arrived in the Manawatu to build on promising flashes shown a season ago, Momoisea is hoping for increased opportunity and responsibility that will help him capitalise on his physical gifts.
Prediction: OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
While this may disappoint long suffering Jets fans, I see plenty of reasons for optimism in their team’s future. The process of organisational change can be a slow one, but stick with them as I think they’re headed in the right direction.
Wellington Saints | Coach - Guy Molloy | 2021 – 1st
The Saints went marching to another title in 2021 and will be looking to reload on the fly with returning starters Jordan Ngatai, Taane Samuel, and Kenneth Tuffin, while welcoming home Tom Vodanovich. But no offseason signing will have as much of a say on the Saints season as new Head Coach Guy Molloy who, fresh off of a WNBL championship in Australia, replaces Zico Coronel. Will it be enough when every other team in the competition is lining you up in their sights?
Gamechanger: Tom Vodanovich
Headed home to the Capital, Tommy V’s blend of interior power and perimeter skill will bolster the defending champs repeat hopes for a Saints team that hates settling for second.
Rising Star: Johnny Helu
Always aggressive off the bench for the Southland Sharks, Helu will be looking to bridle that aggression to get the most of promising instincts and athleticism now he’s suiting up for his hometown team.
Prediction: CHAMPIONSHIP CHALLENGER
Surprise, surprise! The Saints enter 2022 with another formidable team, this time with an added element: homegrown players. This roster is packed with Wellingtonians, which means TSB Arena will be popping even more so this season. All the franchise will care about is bringing another banner to the League’s most successful club.
Mike Pero Nelson Giants | Coach - Mike Fitchett | 2021 – 7th
The consensus in 2021 was that the plucky Giants were one “big man” away from being a playoff team. This year they’ve brought back their brigade of ever popular and talented locals, while looking further afield for some kiwi talent in the form of 6-foot-10 Jordan Schwalger from the Gold Coast. Number one on the priority list for Nelson will be improving last year’s leaky defence, while relying on their imports to be their primary scorers.
Gamechanger: Trey Mourning
The name of the Giants import will turn a few heads this year, especially when Trey’s full name, Alonzo Mourning III, is spoken. But a well known Dad won’t be on the American’s mind as he looks to lift his reputation and the Giants title hopes in 2022. The 6-foot-9 forward will look to combine with Schwalger and veteran captain Sam Dempster to help the Giants lock down the bigger teams.
Rising Star: Nic Trathen
Explosive drives to the basket have always been on the menu, but look for an added level of responsibility this year to test his ability to create for himself and his teammates. Always up to the task as instant offense off the bench, his growth as a creator could unlock a higher level of success for the Giants.
Prediction: PLAYOFF CHANCE
The Giants could be the biggest benefactors of the playoffs expanding to six teams from four. If coach Fitchett can improve the defensive side of the ball, and strikes gold again with his imports, then the Giants will be knocking on the door of the playoffs.
Canterbury Rams | Coach - Judd Flavell | 2021 – 5th
The Rams will be hoping new coach Judd Flavell will be the key to unlocking an elusive finals run. Leading the way will be a talented defensive backcourt in Taylor Britt and Sunday Dech while the return of Mike Karena will be a boon for the interior. Will the change in direction at the helm get the Rams to the top of the mountain?
Gamechanger: Max Darling
Difficult to contain in the post or off the bounce, Darling will be looking to show off the full extent of his capabilities as a multifaceted scorer and defender. Arriving late once his season in Romania comes to an end, Darling will be a welcome injection to the Rams when he gets home. Look out rest of league.
Rising Star: Taylor Britt
He’s been rising for a while now, but we’ve seen little of Britt in recent years as the Perth Wildcats utilised him only in trainings. Now back home and roaring to go for a full season, the Rams captain and Christchurch local will be expected to show his wares in 2022.
Prediction: PLAYOFF LOCK
The Rams have a nice squad, and a professional organisation behind them, they should be in the playoffs in 2022. Judd Flavell has a long, impressive career behind him despite his youthful appearance, and he’ll see bringing success to the Rams as the next chapter. The loud Cowles Stadium will see some winning basketball this season.
Night 'n Day Otago Nuggets | Coach - Brent Matehaere | 2021 – 6th
The Nuggets are looking to build on a promising season where despite defensive lapses making consistent success in the victory column elusive, they barely missed out on a playoffs spot. Sam Timmins returns to build on his excellent 2021 as the focal point in the paint. But Coach Brent Matahaere hopes imports Tahjere McCall, Keith Williams and Todd Withers will provide the baseline for a defensively stout group.
Gamechanger: Tahjere McCall
I had Timmins in this slot until McCall finished his ANBL season for the Cairns Taipans with a 40-point, 10-assist outburst. If the American brings that form to the Sal’s NBL then we’ll have an MVP candidate on our hands from the tip.
Rising Star: Nikau McCullough
The combo guard is looking for his move down south from the Jets and into the point guard position as the key to unlocking his potential. He’ll look to combine his defensive prowess with the opportunity to hold the reigns of the offence playing more of the point. He's balled out in the limited pre-season.
Prediction: PLAYOFF CHANCE
The Nuggets will need to stay injury free to realise their dreams in 2022. An impressive starting line-up of the three imports, McCullough and Timmins may be as formidable as any team this year, but there is a significant drop-off in experience from there to the bulk of the bench mob.
Southland Sharks | Coach - Rob Beveridge | 2021 – 3rd
The Sharks will be chasing post-season success once again led by Dom Kelman-Poto who led the Orange army to a finals berth in 2021. To get over the hump they have added the tall timber that they missed a season ago in 7-foot-2 2021 Saints import Romaro Gill, hoping the interior tag team will open up space for drives and trey bombs for the wings, led by Brayden Inger, Alonzo Burton, and Mojave King. At full strength this will be a lanky line up that will cause havoc in the passing lanes under Bevo’s tutelage.
Gamechanger: Mojave King
Following an Australian NBL season where the minutes didn’t match the expectation coming in, King will look enjoy a season with the opportunity for added responsibility. If he is swimming at full speed it will make keeping pace with Sharks offence the most difficult of tasks on a night to night basis for opposing teams.
Rising Star: Dru-Leo Leusogi-Ape
Making the move down south to build on a season of spectacular (if sporadic) play in Taranaki, with the hope he can further develop his professional aspirations under the watchful eye of the league’s most experienced coach.
Prediction: PLAYOFF LOCK
The Sharks should be back in the finals in 2022. An exciting roster headlined by ANBL talent in King and Inger, with experienced locals in Burton and DKP, will be bolstered by Gill who I expect to be utilised better in Southland than he was in Wellington. On top of that, Rob Beveridge knows how to get the best of his side.