Casey’s Corner – Round 4

No lead has ever been less safe in the Sal’s NBL after a Sunday afternoon where favoured teams saw huge leads disappear over the last 15 minutes of their games. While the Bulls swamped and wore down the Tuatara, led by Jarrad Weeks (35 PTS), with great overall team effort in their 24 (24!!) point comeback, it was a superlative 25-point 4th quarter from Jeremy Kendle (30 PTS, 11 AST)  that helped the Sharks reel in the Hawks. While his effort may have been the most impressive performance of the week, it was far from the only individual highlight provided by a restricted player.

The Nuggets enjoyed the best game of the year from Michael Harris (31 PTS, 4 STL), who along with Todd Withers powered another powerful defensive performance while a lil further North Tai Wynyard dropped 27 on 84.6% shooting. The Jets enjoyed another powerful pair of performances from Danny Pippen (32 PTS) and Javion Blake (34 PTS) but it wasn’t enough as the Airs finally found some pace and a bit of freedom in the full court, led by Armon Fletcher’s 28 points.

In the loser leaves town match between winless squads, the Saints got off the schneid powered by 28 from Kyle Adnam and the additions of Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa and Isaiah Mucius, which drastically raises the talent level for the squad. Every team bar the Giants has found the winners circle, but even without a win they are just two wins outside of a Final 6 spot. As we round into the second third of the season the Rams and Nuggets look primed to claim the top of the ladder and build a gap between themselves and the rest of the competition, but as Round 4 can attest, that is easier planned then implemented.

Worth Mentioning

Otago’s defence - The Nuggets are coming off another suffocating performance where the opposition was unable to find any breathing space as they forced 21 turnovers that kept the Giants at arms length all evening. Second in the comp in scoring margin despite having the second lowest scoring offence comes down to a staunch D, allowing just 74.25 PPG, a plus-8 rebound margin and the 4th best field goal percentage defence with opponents shooting 43%. Todd Withers is leading the way but perimeter pressure and rebounding is a team endeavour that takes every player's commitment and great communication. Two areas for which the Nuggets have shown great strength in their early season sprint to the top of the table.

Jeremy Kendle - provided the performance of the week and maybe the season with 25 4th quarter points to power a Sharks comeback victory. The flare with which he played was captivating and a testament to the 35-year-old veterans ability as leader on court. His stats are a testament to the fountain of youth, as he leads the league in scoring (25.4 PPG) and assists (8.2 APG) while shooting 43% from three. While he certainly didn’t come back on his own (he was well supported by Grant Anticevich 27 PTS and 12 REB) the panache he demonstrated in his shot and play-making made the comeback that much more fun. Frozen rope assists and one legged Dirk-like threes were highlights that had me giddy and waiting with anticipation for the next round of action.

Round 5

Auckland Tuatara (3-2) vs. Night n’ Day Otago Nuggets (4-0) - Thursday May 4, 7pm

The Tuatara will still be stinging after giving up a 24-point lead to succumb in overtime as they were unable to overcome foul trouble to Reuben Te Rangi combined with 21% shooting from three (7-of-33) and getting smashed on the glass (61-47) with the majority of that coming in the second half. Rob Loe has been stellar on defence, leading the league in blocks (3.75) and 3rd in steals (2.25) which has provided the foundation for a harassing defence, second to only this week's opponents in the Nuggets.

With four players averaging 17 PPG or more in Cam Gliddon 17.0, Loe 18.2, Reuben Te-Rangi 20.8 and Jarrod Weeks 20.8, the scoring is spread but it is the lack of depth that would be concerning until Kruz Perrott-Hunt becomes available. With just four bench points collected on four total shots the starters are under immense pressure to perform. That won’t get any easier in a rematch of last season's title game against the Nuggets who roll in their top of the table defence to lock down another opponent.

The Nuggets have combined great rebound and tenacious wing defence led by Withers and anchored by Sam Timmins to remain undefeated, but this will be the first real test of the season. JaQuori McLaughlin is finding his feet offensively (18.3 PPG, 6 RPG, 6.3 APG) but the team is yet to find great efficiency on offense (last in 3pt fg% at 26%). This will be an arm wrestle between two talented defensive teams with the winner likely determined by the possession game, or whoever has the ball last.

Matchup to watch: Rob Loe vs. Sam Timmins

Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams (4-1) vs. Wellington Saints (1-3) - Friday May 5, 7pm

The Rams have been offering consistent performances finding balance between a bruising halfcourt presence and great skill and athleticism on the wing that finds freedom on the break. Tai Wynyard continues to dominate with his uber-efficient 27 points on 84.6% shooting, drawing a crowd and opening up space for teammates. Six double figure scorers featured in their win last round against the Sharks, with promising signs for a developing depth as contributions flowed off the bench with only one player playing more than 30 minutes.

The depth highlights the Rams unique combination of strength and speed, which will be well matched against a Saints team that is hoping to have found its own balance after claiming the first win of the year. With Tohi Smith-Milner they have the size to match up on the interior and imports Marlon Taylor and Isaiah Mucius to match up on the wing and put pressure on transition defence with their league best pace. Having finally found the winners circle the pressure will be on to stay there. Boxing out will be key to keep the Rams and their league topping 34.8% offensive rebounding percentage at bay. Combining effort on the glass with defence that doesn’t foul to keep the team with the second best free throw rate in the comp (31.2%) off the stripe will be key to the Saints finding success on their first road trip of the year.

Matchup to watch: Kyle Adnam vs. Tevin Brown

NBS Nelson Giants (0-5) vs. Steelformers Taranaki Airs (2-3) - Saturday May 6, 5pm

The Giants' search for answers returns to home not so sweet home, with the hope that a week of training will lead to a lift on the defensive side of the ball. Currently last in scoring defence (giving up 94.4 PPG), last in rebound margin (-6) and second last in field goal percentage defense (48%) as well as 3-point percentage defence (35%) points to a lack of connectedness and communication. Teams have found easy driving lanes to the rim and a lack of protection when they get to the paint (2nd last in blocked shots 2.4 per game) and making for a tough few weeks of watching video. The good news would be that the offence is reasonably efficient with a 52.6% effective field goal percentage, but finding a way to increase pace (2nd slowest in the comp) while creating shots for teammates (league worst assist percentage at 43.5% would put pressure on defences they haven’t yet created.

The Airs used an uptick in pace to find some freedom against the Jets in their first home win of the year, but need to find a way to speed up and still control possession (3rd worst turnover percentage 15%) to stay in the winners circle. Still short of Anthony Hilliard they need to keep consistent pressure on the glass, which can be provided by Anzac Rissetto and Marcel Jones (coming off a season best 10-point, 12-rebound performance) but will need a wider group effort to continue the trend. Look for a desperate effort from both teams who will understand that a victory will keep them within touch distance of the top 6 but a loss will make Finals hopes fade like the morning mist.

Matchup to watch: Avery Woodson vs. David Azore

Franklin Bulls (3-2) vs. Night n’ Day Otago Nuggets (4-0) - Saturday May 6, 7pm

The Bulls found a way to dig out of a 24-point hole on effort and grit, which was required due to a lack of efficiency from the field (42%) and the TAB stripe (50%). That effort was mostly realised on the glass, where the possession game was juiced by a 14-rebound advantage (propelled by 18 offensive boards) and 11 steals. The effort areas will have to stay high as a collective with Tyrell Harrison likely still recovering from injury, whose presence on both ends demands some stylistic changes with his departure. A grindy effort that controls possession and pace should allow the Bulls to keep the Nuggets from running rampant, a team who itself is a proponent of grit and grind.

The two top teams in steal percentage (Bulls 12.8%, Nugs 10.1%) meeting indicates control of the ball will be key, with perimeter looks offering a way to dissuade pressure (Nugs worst 3pfg% defence at 35%, Franklin 3rd worst at 34%) but both teams will find that tough to take advantage of given early season from from deep (Nugs last in 3-pfg% at 26%, Bulls 3rd last at 28%). All of which point to a grapple of a match where defence will reign supreme and double digit lead may become insurmountable.

Matchup to watch: Rickey McGill vs. JaQuori McLaughlin

Manawatū Jets (2-3) vs. Hawkes Bay Hawks (2-3) - Sunday May 7, 4pm

Hearts will be heavy in Manawatū, where the passing of Joe Frost and his lifetime of support for the game will be remembered long past the moment of silence given to reflect on his contributions to the sport locally and nationally, but heavy hearts often lead to inspired performances. The Jets brand has been tenacious d (holding opponents to 23% from three) combined with bruising effort on the glass (3rd best rebounding margin) with the offence carried by the game breaking abilities Mustapha Heron (20.67 PPG), Javion Blake (23.67 PPG) and Danny Pippen (24.6 PPG) but to find the winners circle with consistency the supporting crew has to find a way to improve on a sub 14 points per game average, just 10 points vs. the Airs) to give the import trio freedom of movement and the chance to find greater levels of efficiency.

The Hawks will welcome the respite of the road after dropping another heartbreaker on their home floor in a game where they seemed to fatigue down the stretch, with just six players seeing the court for more than 11 minutes. Early season trials such as they have experienced can make or break a team, but the Hawks will hope their veteran leadership and familiarity with each other can overcome the tribulations. A surprising lack of pace (last in the league) and poor defensive rebounding (67.1% defensive rebounding percentage, last in the league) has allowed teams to pull back leads that should have led to victories. Holding opponents to 43% from the field (second best in the league) shows the defence has merit, but improved execution down the stretch will be key to moving the Hawks from the middle of the pack to a title threat.

Matchup to watch: Danny Pippen II vs. Hyrum Harris

Southland Sharks (3-2) vs. Wellington Saints (1-3) - Sunday May 7, 6pm

Will there be a bit of feeling for Guy Molloy and his Sharks as they host the Saints? I would say yes, as there is always a bit of energy when you encounter a team that decided they were better off without you, but coaches don’t set screens or grab boards so it will be up to the Sharks players to keep the momentum from last weekend's miraculous come from behind win. While Jeremy Kendle deserved all the flowers he received it was the shot making of Ben Hall (12 PTS) and Grant Anticevich (27 PTS, 12 REB) that kept the Sharks close enough to pounce down the stretch. The most efficient shooting team in the league (57.2% effective field goal) would find an easier road if it weren’t paired with the second highest turnover percentage in the comp (15%). But with the ball in Kendle’s hands the right decision is normally made, as one would expect from the leading scorer and assist man in the comp.

The Saints will be coming to town with this knowledge as well as the tools in the kit to do something about it with Kyle Adnam to push the pace and Le’afa to put the clamps on when needed. The Saints also have the depth and players to play with greater pace which can be an issue for the Sharks who have been rolling with seven players. While the offence has been solid the d needs some work (2nd worst scoring defense at 93.5) but the same tools that will bolster the pace will come in handy defensively. With improved depth and better defence at the point of attack the Saint may be on their way to climbing back up the ladder.

Matchup to watch: Jeremy Kendle vs. Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa

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