Casey’s Corner – Round 12

Photo credit: GameFace NZ

The Week That Was 

Tipping off R11 the Saints hosted the Jets, who haven't won in Wellington since 2013, but will have to wait at least another year after taking a 32 point drubbing behind another torrid shooting performance from deep, Ben Ayre dropping 35 (5 triples) and Izayah Le'afa 21 (5 triples) while Tohi Smith=Milner dropped his first double-double of the week. The Jets sputtering despite a spirited 30 point outing from James Moors, now firmly in a chase for the wooden spoon.

In Smith-Milner's second double-double of the week, he powered his was to 28 points and 16 rebounds while making a strong interior pairing with Taane Samuel (22pts on 9-12fg) as the Saints swept the season series against Taranaki while leapfrogging them for 3rd spot on the ladder. The teams have are square on 4 losses along with Franklin, who would have felt fortunate to get out of Palmerston North with a win and 5th spot on the ladder after a tighter than projected 7 point win. Sam Timmins leading the way on the interior while Luther Muhammad continued his impressive season with a smooth 26 point, 8 rebound, 8assist performance. With the Saints hosting the Bulls to end the upcoming round 12 possibly the game of the week.

The team that looses that game will be closer to the group chasing the 6th spot where Nelson, Otago and Hawke's Bay all sit with 6 wins and 8 losses. The Whai were knocked out that group in a home loss to Nelson, where their offense once again failed to ignite with just 73 points. The Giants fired by Dan Fotu's 6th 20 point game of the year as they stake a temporary claim to the 6th spot on the ladder due to points percentage, but with a huge game upcoming with the Hawks looming in Round 12.  

The Hawk's were able to hold their placing in the group chasing that 6th spot by splitting a South Island double, a squeaker of win against the Sharks behind Josh Roberts clutch free throws and loss to Nuggets, where they looked like a team playing their fourth game in 10 days. For Otago, the win represents a return to early season form for the team as well as imports Ben Henshall (31pts, 8rbs, 5ast) and Kimani Lawrence (26pts, 7rbs) in slide halting home performance that keeps them in the post-season conversation. 

The bulk of post-season conversation in the last round was focused on the '23 finals rematch of the Rams and Tuatara and if it was a preview of this year's final dance. With a game of that quality we can only hope so, as Canterbury's come from behind 86-83 point road win was  spurred by great defense and Taylor Britt's 25 point 6 assist performance, highlighted by by scoring the last 4 points with deadly mid-range accuracy. The Rams bench an unsung hero on the day, scoring 22pts at 50%fg while the Tuatara reserves managed 9 in just under 25 minutes of court time. With 5 rounds left to play both teams have the inside track for a top two spot, but the rosters across the league set to be impacted by the upcoming international window for the Tall Blacks (perhaps none more than the Tuatara who will lose 3 starters in Reuben Te Rangi, Corey Webster and Tom Vodanovich) things are far from settled. 

Worth Mentioning

Luther Muhammad - Second in the league at 24.8ppg with a 2.2 assist to turnover ratio his smooth play has been the key to Franklins scoring all season long but what is interesting is how he's doing it, with just .6 made 3's per game on 2 attempts his mid-range game is a throw back to a different time. Combining with Sam Timmins the Bulls pick and roll activity has been key to their fortunes and will be key to their post-season hopes.

Tohi Smith-Milner - Another huge week for Tohi, as he averaged 24.5ppg, 13.5rbs,2.5 asts, 1.5stls, and 1blk over two huge wins for the Saints that kept them within sight of a top two regular season finish. This season he's shooting 60% from two and 40% from three and averaging 19.2ppg on just 13 shots per game. His rare ability to supply floor stretching shooting and paint protecting D will be key to Wellingtons hopes to hang their next banner.

Josh Roberts - Roberts has gamely fought all season long as the lone big in the middle for the Hawks, despite giving up height and weight to the majority of opponents. He's able to do this successfully thanks to top-level athleticism. His 11.9 ppg combines with a league leading 12.6rpg has been excellent but his win saving performance against the Sharks? 14points (on 83%fg), 12rebounds and 4 blocks and the game winning free throws? Yeah, that's worth a mention...

Round 12 

Night 'n Day Otago Nuggets v Taranaki Steelformers Airs, Edgar Centre, Wednesday 7:30pm

The Nuggets used an improved performance against the Airs in round 10 to jog their muscle memory and recall what kind of team they were in the early parts of the year and have followed that up with back to back wins that have shaken off a 5 game losing streak and kept them firmly in the race for the top 6. Henshall and Lawrence looked back to their season best, but the play of Jack Andrew has been key, as he has averaged 13.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2 blocks per game over his last three while providing solid D.  That D will once again be paramount against an Airs team that will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing home loss.

When the Airs won the previous matchup, they gave up 52 points in the paint to the Nugs, while sending them to the line 28 times. That will need to be cleaned up to replicate the 10 point home win as they head South for the first of 2 games in the round. Carlin Davision and Sam Froling replicating their 27 points a piece from the last game v Otago would get the Airs most of the way there but an improvement on the 20% (5-25) from 3 in their last loss (or the 3-17 @ 17% last time vs the Nugs) might be of more import. 

This is a key game for both teams, as a loss knocking the Airs 

Stats That Matter:

Otago - 34% three point rate (8th in league), 27% offensive rebound rate (5th), 71% defensive rebound rate (9th)

Taranaki - 34% three point rate (7th), 35% free throw rate (1st), 32% offensive rebound rate (3rd)

Matchup to Watch: Ben Henshall v Flynn Cameron and Jack Andrew v Sam Froling

NBS Nelson Giants v Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams, Trafalgar Centre, Thursday 7:30pm

A lot has changed since these teams met in the opening game of the season when the single import Rams (Lachlan Olbrich) defeated the single import Giants (Dan Grida) but has enough changed for the inconsistent Nelson team to overcome the streaking Rams? 

Nelson would need to find improvement in form, but the base of the recipe is there with enough size (in Theo Akwuba and Dan Fotu) to neutralise the Rams interior attack and the defensive minded backcourt (Alex McNaught and Kobe Langley) to disrupt an offense that has been humming along across a 10 game win streak. But to make that happen they will need to find a greater level of efficiency on the offensive end.

The Rams may look to ignite the offense of M.J. Walker (having scored less than 10 in a game for just the second time this season) but otherwise would look to keep the train on the tracks. This is a team where all the pieces fit and the players understand what their roles are and dedicate themselves to filling them. The only statistical category where they lack is blocked shots (4% block rate, last in league) but that has yet to cause problems as they chase a 2nd consecutive title. 

Stats That Matter:

Nelson - 12% turnover rate (2nd best), 50% effective fg% (9th), 46% assist rate (9th)

Canterbury - 78% defensive rebound rate (1st), 33% offensive rebound rate (1st), 103 defensive rating (2nd)

Matchup to Watch: Kobe Langley v Taylor Britt and Theo Akwuba v Lachlan Olbrich

Southland Sharks v Taranaki Steelformers Airs, ILT Stadium Southland, Friday 7:30pm

The Sharks continue a home stand that came tantalisingly close to delivering the second win of the year in their last hit out. Cooper Robb has lifted the squad on both ends and given Callum McRae more room to operate. That room led to a near triple double (18pts, 10rbs, 8ast) at excellent efficiency (69%fg). Zo Burton and Brayden Inger looked to be in full form but late game execution will be vital to rejoining the winners circle.

That will be tough to do against an Airs squad that is sure to be defensively minded following a home loss to the Saints where they allowed 67% shooting from inside the arc. If the Airs can find a bit of space on the perimeter to lift a falling 3 point percentage they should have enough offensively to grab a W in the deep south, but if the offense falters once again they may find themselves in a much more difficult game than anticipated. 

 Stats That Matter:

Southland- 16.43 turnovers per game (last), 42% field goals (last), 76.43 points per game (10th)

Taranaki- 49% field goals (2nd), +5.08 rebounding margin (2nd), 93.46 points per game (3rd)

Matchup to Watch:  Cooper Robb v Mitch McCarron 

Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams v Property Brokers Manawatu Jets, Saturday 4pm

The Rams find themselves on homecourt for the 2nd leg of their round 12 double and will come into Cowles arena with a ton of confidence against a Jets team in a game that looks to be a mismatch on paper.

If the Jets can get Mustapha Heron and James Moors firing they have enough fire power to keep the scoreboard ticking over but finding stops is a different story for a team that is last in defense, giving up 97.86 points per game. 

Stats That Matter:

Canterbury - 82.31 opponents points per game (2nd), +7.62 rebounding margin (1st), 

Manawatu - 16% turnover rate (10th), 6% steal rate (last), 70% defensive rebound percentage (last), 74% free throws (1st)

Matchup to Watch: Walter Brown v Mustapha Heron

Taylor Hawke's Bay Hawks v NBS Nelson Giants, Rodney Green Arena, Saturday 7pm

The Hawks welcome the Giants to the nest for a game that may end up deciding which of these two team gets to punch a post-season ticket. The Hawks will look to to use the week to rest up after playing 4 games in 10 days and looking low on energy in their loss to the Nuggets. Their depth is thin, but when firing the starting 5 can hoop with any team in the comp. Jordan Ngatai pushed the Hawks to victory with 29 points when Hawke's Bay pulled out a win in the previous matchup, but will need to rediscover that form after averaging just 8 points last round. Isaiah Moore league leading scoring will be a focal point for both teams with the Giants looking to find a way to slow down his offensive prowess (hint: nobody has been able to do that up to this point) whild the winner of the battle of the bigs (Josh Roberts v Theo Akwuba) may have the most determining factor on the outcome. 

Stats That Matter:

Hawke's Bay - 11% turnover rate (best), 43% assist rate (worst), 7% steal rate (10th)

Nelson - -5.71 rebounding margin (last), 28% 3 point % (last), 8.71 steals per game (2nd)

Matchup to Watch: Isaiah Moore v Kobe Langley

Auckland Tuatara v Tauranga Whai, Eventfinda Stadium, Sunday 3pm

Auckland will be looking to bounce back from last rounds streak breaking loss where a lack of second half offense sealed their fate, but it won't be as easy against the second time around against the Whai as it was in early season 20 point win in Tauranga. The Whai a more balanced team with Ira Lee and continue to be one of the more difficult teams in league to score against. The problem being their own struggle to put points on the board, currently languishing in last place at 76.36 points per game.  A return to form for Kruz Perrott-Hunt would be helpful in that department, especially after failing to top 3 points in 2 of his last 3 outings. That won't cut it against the Tuatara whose 95.80 points per game average sits 2nd in the league. Corey Webster and Rob Loe continue to be matchup nightmares but the recent exploits of Rueben Te Rangi and Cam Gliddon show the depth of options at hand. This could be the time to start shifting minutes to the bench in anticipation of the upcoming international window when the Tuatara will be missing 3 starters, but that will have to be of secondary importance to getting the win and putting the season back on track. 

Stats That Matter:

Auckland - 83 pace (3rd), 55% effective field goal % (3rd), 28% free throw rate (4th)

Tauranga - 75 pace (last), 49% effective field goal % (10th), 23% free throw rate (10th)

Matchup to Watch: Rob Loe v Ira Lee

Mills Albert Wellington Saints v Franklin Bulls, TSB Arena, Sunday 6:3pm

The round finishes with a game that could determine what tier these teams end up on when we get to the end of the season. The Saints found form with 2 wins on the trot following a 2 wins from 5 games patch that threatened to derail the season. Their pace is undeniable but the play of Tohi Smith-Milner, Taane Samuel and Malik Benlevi has begun to find footing during the extended absence of Hyrum Harris. The barrage of three point shots they are sure to fire will be difficult for the Bulls to overcome, and will take a supreme effort on the defensive end to slow down. The Bulls have that ability (currently 4th best scoring defense in the league) but a lack of pop from deep may hurt them, even if they continue their efficient form from inside the arc. A win here would be huge for a Bulls team that has just one win over top 4 teams this season, and even that victory came against a Rams team that was without the majority of its roster. If Franklin doesn't start winning games against the upper echelon talent they will lose their chance for a home game in the final six making a championship chase that much more difficult. 

Stats That Matter:

Wellington - 50% 3point rate (1st), 35% 3point fg (1st), 119 offensive rating (2nd)

Franklin - 25% 3point rate (last), 35% 3point fg (2nd), 118 offensive rating (3rd)

Matchup to Watch: Tohi Smith Milner v Sam Timmins and Izayah Le'afa v Luther Muhammad

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