Casey’s Corner – Round 2

Photo credit: Stepney Sports

Round 1 of the 2024 Sal’s NBL tipped off and with the first 6 games of the season in the books and we finally got to see the new look teams in action. With a bit of talent to come the full picture isn’t quite crystal clear but there were certainly standout performances with a few teams playing like they were in mid-season form.

Particularly the Saints, who looked like a team that was rounding into finals form during a surprisingly lopsided victory against the Tuatara (110-80) as they nearly found 4 20 point scorers and would have if it not for a third quarter shoulder injury to Lat Mayen (who finished on 19).

The Rams were also impressive in their home debut, holding the Giants at arm’s length throughout the opening contest of the year despite only featuring one import in Lachlan Olbrich, another game that is a testament to the local depth the club has built

Joining the winners circle were the Whai, who controlled the Hawks throughout their historic first ever victory behind a blistering 1st quarter performance from Kruz Perrot-Hunt (23pts) and sharp shooting in the 4th from import Phill Carr (24pts,13rebs).

Elsewhere the contests provided a bit more drama, such as when Matt Bardsley hit an overtime forcing twisting layup that allowed the Nuggets to enjoy a victory in their home opener despite being down late. The Jets were hoping for some of those same late game heroics, but were unable to come out on top of an epic battle of the bigs between Sam Froling (29pts, 14 rebs) and Tyrell Harrison (16pts, 24 rebs) as the Airs import trio led the way to a hard fought road victory.

To cap off the round the Franklin Bulls eked out the closest victory of the round in a see-saw battle that saw the lead change hands 5 times in the final minute and a half before the final bucket of Luther Muhammad’s 34 points in 34 minutes game winning performance. 

Worth Mentioning

  • Rapid League
    • Young guns across the league had the opportunity to display their talents in front of good-sized crowds as the Sky Broadband Rapid League joined the men’s competition for the first time. A bevy of high scoring affairs were on display, but none higher than the 48 scored by the Nelson Giants in their home opener, showing off the depth of talent that basketball has been building over the past few years. Bench players from across the competition showed off their skills and the final tallies indicate we can expect high scoring fast paced games with highlights galore across the offering this year. 
  • Hyrum Harris 
    • Brilliant on both ends he acted as the engine for the offense and seemed to be everywhere at once while dropping 28pts, 11rebs, 5ast on 64% shooting, proving the glue guy can be a dominant offensive force as well.
  • Bigs Dominating
    • The quality of bigs across the league was a constant point of discussion coming into the 2023 season and the big fellas did not disappoint. While the epic matchup between Froling and Harrison may have been the best of the bunch there were  performances leaguewide that were right behind them. From the Max Darling/Lachllan Olbrich combo for the Rams (30pts, 18 boards between them), to Jack Andrew (Nuggets, 18pts, 16rebs) battling Callum Mcrae (Sharks, 12pts, 13 rebs) before ending with Sam Timmins of the Bulls big night (12pt, 17 reb, 3 blk, 3 stl). Bigs across the league performed at high levels and showed that teams who are unable to impose their will in the paint will find success much harder to come by in season 2024. 
  • Free Throws and the Lack of Making them
    • This was already brought up in Things we Learned, but def worth a highlighting again as teams across the league struggled to find their form from the stripe changing the outcomes of several games in the process. Any squad with real postseason aspirations has to find a way to make the easy things look easy, and this week free throws were anything but. In a crowed landscape which team is going to look back and rue poor shooting from the stripe that led to a Round 1 loss that kept them out of the Final 6:
      • Saints: 85% (23/27), Bulls: 76% (13/17), Jets: 69% (18/26, Airs: 65% (13/20), Giants: 62% (32/52), Rams: 61% (11/18), Tuatara: 57% (8/14), Whai: 56% (13/23), Hawks: 52% (11/21), Nuggets: 50% (12/24), Sharks:  50% (9/18)
  • Luther Muhammad
    • 34 points in 34 minutes fresh off the plane? Yeah, that’s worth a mention.

Round 2 Preview

Southland Sharks (1-0) v Property Broker Manawatū Jets (0-1), Wednesday, 7:30pm

The Sharks will head back to Invercargill for their home opener bitterly disappointed in having let a road victory slip out of their hands in the first Southern Stoush of the season. The game seemed to be in hand leading by 5 with 1:38 remaining, but 50% from the free throw line,  giving up 19 offensive rebounds while also getting outrebounded by 16 on the road makes a win tough to come by. The Jets too will be ruing the missed opportunity to grab a victory in round 1, where they very nearly overcame the season ending injury to import pg Jasper Rentoy to place themselves in position to snake a home win against the preseason favourite Airs. The battle for paint supremacy between Callum Mcrae and Tyrell Harrison will determine much of this outcome, but down the stretch look for LeGerald Vick and Mustapha Heron to find the ball in their hands with the game on the line.

Stats that Matter: The Sharks gave up 19 offensive rebounds in round 1, while the Jets grabbed 18 o-boards. The team that imposes their will on the glass has the advantage.

Matchup to Watch: Callum Mcrae v Tyrell Harrison

Auckland Tuatara (0-1) v Taranaki Steelformers Airs (1-0), Thursday, 7:30pm

The Tuatara came into round 1 with a ton of confidence in their tweaked but very familiar line up... and consequently ran into a buzzsaw.  They had the look of a team that was dipping their toe in the pool for the first time to check the waters temperature while the Saints were swimming Olympic relays. Things got slightly on track in the second half but overall that was a performance to move on from. The Airs nervously secured a win on the road behind heavy influence from the import trio with Elijah Minnie (24pts) and Mitch McCarron (11pts, 11ast, 7 reb) joining Sam Froling in double figures. Featuring a mostly solid offense that at times looked as though the season had just started as they build their familiarity with one and other. This will be a good test for both teams whose starting lineups match up very well against each other. Many eyes will be on the bigs down low as last season's MVP Rob Loe matches up with this years preseason MVP favourite Sam Froling but the winning stroke is likely to come from the team that is able to find perimeter help for their star big. 

Stats that Matter: The Airs shot 6-21 from three while the Tuatara turned the ball over 17 times, the team that reverses their negative trend should will feel better about their chances.

Mathchup to Watch: Sam Froling v Rob Loe 

Night n’ Day Otago Nuggets (1-0) v Property Broker Manawatū Jets 0-1), Friday, 7:30pm

The Nuggets found a way to snatch victory from defeat in their first home win and will take heart that the closeness of the game was very much a product of their own mistakes as they turned the ball over 23 times and missed 12 free throws while shooting 50%.  While the efficiency was poor offensively the ability to grind out a win when not playing your best is a great skill. Jack Andrew was solid in his first game owning the post, but will need to shoot better than 8-23 from the field. The addition of Tai Webster should free up Ben Henshall on the perimeter on the second side while Kimani Lawrence will have a bit more space to operate.

The Jets almost pulled off the upset win at home, but will have to quickly bounce back from the loss of the game and the loss of Jasper Rentoy for the season. In his absence the half court offense fell to the ball creation skills of Mustapha Heron and the offensive rebounding of Tyrell Harris. In transition they found more freedom especially with Liam Judd (23) finding his career high in the season opener for the second year in a row, but the questions remains who will be pushing the pace as they look for a replacement for Rentoy's pace. 

Stats that Matter: Looking at the glass once again where round 1 found the Nuggets with 19 o-boards while the Jets scooped 18. The team that locks down the the defensive boards wins the game.

Matchup to Watch: Kimani Lawrence v Mustapha Heron

NBS Nelson Giants (0-2) v Mills Albert Wellington Saints (1-0), Saturday 4pm

Heartbreak for a Giants squad in the home opener sealed an 0-2 opening week that showed promise for a squad expecting the arrival of two import starters and the indominable Sam Dempster (out until at least round 4). Turnovers have uncharacteristically been a problem but an improved effort on the glass in their home loss was encouraging. Dan Fotu (18.5pts, 7reb) is the focal point in the paint and from the elbow but the G-men must find more than 10-40 (25%) from three to be a consistent threat offensively. 

But now the Saints come to town and no team looked in better form over round 1. The stats weren't overwhelming but their pace on both ends was more than impressive. The pace on offense was phenomenal, especially with Hyrum Harris was initiating sets while steamrolling from outside of halfcourt. Ben Ayre found form late as Tohi Smith-Milner was has excellent in his efficiency on the way to 22pts. Concern hovers over the shoulder of Lat Mayen, but the likely insertion of import Malik Benlevi and Izayah Le'afa's two-way presence will make up for the temporary loss of the wing.  

Stats that Matter: Effective Field Goal Percentage, the Saints were tops in the league after Round 1 while @58% while the Giants were in the middle of the pack @48%.  The Giants must find a way to temper Wellington's efficiency while lifting their own to make this a ball game.

Matchup to Watch: Hyrum Harris v Dan Fotu

Whai (1-0) v Auckland Tuatara (0-1), Saturday 7:30pm

A dream start for the Whai on their home court as they ran away from an understrength Hawks side in the second half. Phil Carr showed off his pick and pop skill set that perfectly merged with the ball dominant play of the Whai's 3 guard lineup of Kruz Perrott-Hunt, Demarcus Holland and Jayden Bezzant.  But the Tuatara will be a different test altogether.  While Tom Vodanovich's return is still unconfirmed after getting married last round but the Tuatara will still be expected to lift on a poor opening round performance. The Whai will offer some of the same pace issues that Auckland struggled with against the Saints, but it remains to be seen if they will have 3rd import Vance Jackson Jr. to combat what will likely be a bounce back game for Rob Loe and the company. The Whai should also enjoy being fresh while the Tuatara will be running it back for the second time in 48 hours, not ideal for a team that struggled to get to up to pace in round 1. 

Stats that Matter: Turnovers, the Tuatara committed 17 in round 1 while the Whai coughed it up only 4 times, if that ratio stays the Whai have an excellent chance to start the year 2-0.

Matchup to Watch: Kruz Perrott-Hunt v Corey Webster

Franklin Bulls (1-0) v Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams (1-0), Sunday, 3pm

The Bulls and Rams both found victories against the Giants in round 1 and will carry the confidence of those results into the second round. The defending champs were able to overcome poor shooting from three (2-22) by dominating the glass (a twenty rebound advantage) enroute to 13 more2(p.  Taylor Britt (20pts, 8ast) was excellent guiding the Rams whose depth shone through despite being without 2 imports and Walter Brown, but the availability of Lachlan Olbrich is in question following his return to Australia to mourn the passing of his Father Greg. The Bulls should welcome back Dom Kelman-Poto from the 3x3 cup but are unlikely to see Issac Davidson return from Finland. As both teams were heavily dependent on the starting 5 with just 20 bench points shared between the two teams the difference may be an unsung heroes who have yet to raise their hands up and be noticed.  Controlling the glass will be key, but slowing down Luther Muhammed may be the most important factor for the Rams after the import arrived and made and instant impact with 34pts, 5ast on 50% shooting in his debut. 

Stats that Matter: Three point percentage Rams 2-22 (9%), Bulls 7-17(41%). Canterbury need to find better efficiency from deep while containing Franklin's sharpshooters to get a road win.

Matchup to Watch: Luther Muhammed v Taki Fahrensohn/Walter Brown

Taylor Hawke’s Bay Hawks (0-1) v Southland Sharks (0-1), Sunday 6:30pm

The Hawks took an undermanned squad to Tauranga and found themselves in the ball game until a 12 point 3rd quarter pushed the game out of their reach. They should find some relief on offense with Isaiah Moore inclusion into the lineup with the speedy guards skillset blending nicely with Keanu Rasmussen who picked up 23pts in the opener. Depth will be an issue for the Hawks until Jordan Ngatai's return from Finland, but with a full contingent of imports they should have enough to lift their play on the offensive end in their home opener. The Sharks first loss of the season will leave a bitter taste in the mouth, as a 5 point lead with 1:38 to play proved too little of a margin to seal a road win. Efficiency was a problem as only starter Callum Mcrae shot better than 40% from the field as the Sharks squad shot 34% (31-89) from the floor and 22% (8-36) from three. Double doubles from Mcrae (12pts, 13reb) and Marcale Lotts (14pts, 13reb, 5blk) almost got the Sharks over the line, but in the end they will likely rue the 9 misses from the free throw line most of all. 

Stats that Matter: Hawks shot 3-23 (13%)from three while the Sharks shot 8-36(22%), the team that creeps up their percentages will have a better chance to claim their first win of the year. 

Matchup to Watch: Lucas Sutherland v Marcale Lotts 


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