Photo credit: Giles Stepney
Parity across the league was once again proven as three of the six teams to make the Final 6 in 2022 currently take up the bottom three rungs on the ladder with a solitary win between them. But fans of the Airs, Saints and Giants don’t need to fret, as the pack is still being tightly contested with just the defending champion Otago Nuggets still in possession of an unblemished record. With wins hard to come by it’s no surprise we were treated to a triple overtime between the Hawks and Rams to kick off the week, the longest game in over a decade, where neither team deserved to be hung with a loss. But deserve has nothing to do with it in sport, so a Rams squad left exhausted yet victorious after the longest Sal’s NBL game in over a decade (if memory serves there was a quad OT game in 2012). Finding enough in the tank to defeat a less than full strength Bulls team highlighted their depth and the weekend may prove to be the springboard they needed to keep themselves at the top of the league moving forward.
Looking to grab the rung for themselves are the Otago Nuggets, who looked as impressive defensively as their championship run during a 15-0 start gave them a 31-11 first quarter lead they never relinquished in the home opener for the Airs. With their offence starting to click just as well as the defence, the Nugs have the look of a team playing with confidence all while looking sublime in the powder blue road unis. Chasing the two teams at the top the Auckland Tuatara displayed both their strengths and their weaknesses while splitting a road double. When healthy they are as strong as any team in the league, but no team may depend on a player more than the Tuatara depend on Rob Loe, who bounced back from a missed game to keep the Saints on the bottom rung. Surprisingly struggling to start the year, the winless Saints and Giants will now try to claw their way off the bottom rung, but both teams need to start their work swiftly as chasing down wins this season will prove a difficult task with more teams than ever putting their hand up for the postseason.
Triple OT!!! - The game of the round and the season could have gone either way down the stretch (or stretches) as Hyrum Harris and Jordan Ngatai both topped 50 minutes played but it was the Rams down the stretch led by Walter Brown, with 20 points and 17 rebounds, who capitalised on on a Tai Wynyard three, to bring the rams home with great play down the stretch. Tip of the cap to two exhausted teams that we will expect to see battling down the stretch for league supremacy
First home opening win in over a decade! - The Jets are planting their flag on ‘For Real’ island after a wire to wire win where all three imports played over 36 minutes. But as good as Danny Pippen, Mustapha Heron and Javion Blake continue to prove to be, it will be the Jets bench that will decide how high the jets can fly most weeks. With Liam Judd providing 12 points and Pafe Momoisea 15 points, they had just enough scoring to combine with their physical defence to give the home fans something to cheer about in their home debut. With play like that the support will only get stronger.
Todd Withers - A defensive gem that sparkles game in and out, Withers' offence took the spotlight against the Airs with a 31-point performance featuring 7-of-12 from deep. If he can continue to shoot a high percentage from deep, driving lanes will widen while opening opportunities on the glass for a team with size and skill littered throughout its lineup.
Walter Brown - A solid start to the season exploded with even greater potential as he was supremely influential in the Rams sweep of the road double with two double double’s of his own. The 19 year old is playing with uber efficiency (70% effective Field Goal percentage) but it is his ability to impact the game without having his number called which is most impressive for a player his age. If he can continue his red hot form the depth of the Rams will be a test for all comers as the season moves towards its business end.
Night n’ Day Otago Nuggets (3-0) vs. NBS Nelson Giants (0-3) - Thursday April 27th, 7pm
The opposite rungs of the ladder come together as the winless Giants hope to find some answers that will lead to a win. Still taking care of the ball (12% Turnover%) a lack of punch is highlighted by being last in the comp in assist and offensive rebound percentage. This inability to create easy buckets is allowing teams to concentrate efforts at the point of attack making scoring in the half court difficult. The addition of Kavion Pippen should help on the interior, but they will need some inroads on the defensive end against a Nuggets team that has yet to be tested this season.
Withers is the tip of the spear defensively but the offence looks to run through JaQuori McLaughlin in the half court coming off screens and using a shifty handle to find space off the screen. Turnovers will be tough to manufacture with two teams who turn the ball over less than the rest so look for this game to depend on extra possessions off the glass, with the Nuggets' third offensive rebounding percentage (29.8%) giving them a leg up on the Giants (last at 14.4%).
Matchup to Watch: JaQuori McLaughlin vs. Avery Woodson
Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams (3-1) vs. Southland Sharks (2-1) - Friday April 28th, 7pm
The Rams continue to win games without finding the highest gear their offence is capable of achieving, making them a scary proposition as the season goes along. Using a bruising and athletic frontline to manufacture points off the glass (2nd in offensive rebounding % at 31.9%) and at the stripe (4th in free throw rate at 31.7%) they have been able to overpower opponents to the top scoring offence in the comp (with a lil help from 3 OT’s).
This strength will test the Sharks as they swim north, with Romaro Gill and Grant Anticevich the only bigs standing capable of slowing down the Rams frontcourt prowess. Jeremy Kendle continues to impress in all facets for Southland, but his defensive speed will be tested by Tevin Brown’s drives to the rim. If the Sharks can manufacture change of possession (2nd in steal rate 9.8%, 1st in block rate 14.4%) they can use their top two pace to challenge the Rams in the full court. But if this game can’t find a higher gear and eventually becomes a slog, look for the Rams to have the advantage, especially in the half court.
Matchup to Watch: Tevin Brown vs. Jeremy Kendle
Steelformers Taranaki Airs (1-3) vs. Property Brokers Manawatu Jets (2-2) - Saturday April 29th, 5pm
The Jets are back on the road and will be looking to continue their success with a bend but don’t break defence that has strangled the life out of the oppositions 3-point attack (opponents shooting 22% 3PTFG). Combined with the best rebounding in the league (2nd in defensive REB % at 77.8, 1st in offensive REB% at 33.1) they have ground down opponents while executing down the stretch to win two in a row. The import trio carries a heavy load, but a shared one which is indicated by a league leading 61.2% assist percentage highlighting how well this team is playing as a unit.
With Mustapha Heron (26 PPG) and Danny Pippen (22.8 PPG) in the top-5 of scoring and Javion Blake 4th in assists (6 PG) there are multiple options when it comes to scoring in the half court, but it’s the launching of the 3-ball that has been the great equaliser, with 52% of their shots coming from deep at a league leading 36%. The Airs have yet to find that flow as a team with little spacing offered by a lagging 3-point attack (last in makes and attempts with 29 threes off 69 attempts for 28%). If the Airs can’t find a way to connect from deep the game will turn into an arm wrestle on the interior where the Jets have excelled. The Airs will hope some pace will test the Jets (last in pace) but have yet to prove they are comfortable in a faster paced game themselves.
Matchup to Watch: Anzac Rissetto vs. Danny Pippen II
Wellington Saints (0-3) vs. NBS Nelson Giants (0-3) - Saturday April 29th, 7pm
A surprising battle of winless teams could have huge implications for the remainder of the season for both squads who are slowly watching postseason hopes fade after early season swoons. This will be the second road game for the Giants who will be concerned about a defence that is second worst in the league in both Field Goal percentage defence (47%) and 3-point field goal percentage defence (36%) made even worse with the lowest block rate in the league (2.6%). This lack of punch on the defence has been multiplied on the glass, where the league's second worst rebounding margin (-5.33) has neutralised the benefit of being careful with the ball, allowing extra possessions for opponents and piling more pressure on a shaky defensive foundation.
But the Giants will get no sympathy from the Saints, who after opening the season with three straight home losses are looking for an infusion of energy after another lackluster home defeat. Defence is an issue in the capital, where the worst field goal percentage in the league is allowing opponents to shoot 53% from the field and 33% from deep en route to a league worst 94.33 points allowed per game. Expect the Saints to try to build on their league best pace as Kyle Adnam looks ready to supercharge a potent offence to counter the lack of defensive pop. While still early in the season the loser of this game may very likely find themselves in a hole they can’t climb out of.
Matchup to Watch: Alex McNaught vs. Kyle Adnam
Hawke’s Bay Hawks (2-2) vs. Southland Sharks (2-1) - Sunday April 30th, 4pm
The Hawks have been through more tests then any team in this young season, having experienced four overtimes, the wrong side of a buzzer beater, and a come from behind fourth quarter win to get to their 4-4 record. Derone Raukawa has offered punch off the bench (16.75 PPG) but overall the offence has lagged with the second slowest pace in the league that boasts both the best field goal percentage in the comp (48%) and second worst 3-point field goal percentage at 27%.
The offensive numbers have been juiced by the extra periods, but this still seems to be a team in need of some balance, with the impending arrival of Ira Lee expected to draw attention to the paint and free up the shooters. If he is still yet to arrive, the defensive rebounding prowess of the Sharks (3rd best rate of 76.5%) will make creating extra possessions difficult. Controlling the defensive glass has allowed Southland to push the pace (2nd best) while boasting an efficient 55% effective field goal percentage (1st in league). This efficiency should be bolstered by the return of Brayden Inger, whose size and shooting should offer the Sharks more balance in the half court. The Hawks have yet to win on their home court while the Sharks haven’t won on the road, making this test particularly important for both squads looking for early season placement in the Top-4.
Matchup to Watch: Jordan Hunt vs. Grant Anticevich
Franklin Bulls (2-2) vs. Auckland Tuatara (3-1) - Sunday April 30th, 6pm
The Bulls will be hoping for a return to health for the starting frontcourt of Dan Fotu and Tyrell Harrison, as despite great effort without them results sputtered in the second half of their loss to a fatigued Rams side in last week's loss. Their effort on defence can carry them and create extra opportunities (league best steal percentage at 13%) but a lack of pace and middle of the pack efficiency combined with the second worst turnover rate (15%) has kept the Bulls from reaching the peak of their potential.
Against a patient Tuatara team turnovers will be difficult to manufacture (3rd best turnover rate) but easy opportunities are key for a team second in the league in block percentage (10.6%) behind the efforts of the league leader in blocks (Rob Loe 3.3 BPG). The perimeter skill of Jarrad Weeks, Cam Gliddon and Reuben Te Rangi is starting to look extremely comfortable on the offensive end while playing with a familiarity further along then the time on court together should allow. If the Bulls can pressure the Tuatara into uncharacteristic mistakes while finding some familiarity on offence the Battle of the Big Smoke will be one that you don’t want to miss.
Matchup to Watch: Tyrell Harrison vs. Rob Loe
Advanced stats courtesy of Spatial Jam.