Casey’s Corner: Round 5

Photo credit: Shuttersport Nelson

The Round That Was

Round 4 tipped off with our first 2024 sighting of the Giants planned starting 5, as Theo Awkuba joined to showcase a the full strength starting 5 to instant results against the Jets.  A huge 2nd quarter (32-15) effectively putting the game out of reach, especially with Troy Baxter Jr.'s minutes limited due to injury.  Pg Kobe Langley dicing up the defense to a league season high 15 assists as a more balanced Nelson lineup looked instantly comfortable with each other while keeping a top 6 spot in sight with the win. 

The top of the table clash in Pukekohe took a hit with the loss of Tai Webster to suspension, but the depth of the Bulls would have made life difficult for Otago even if the Nuggets were at full strength. All 5 Franklin starters hit double figures enroute to 105 points, but it was the defense that did the job as the Nugs were held to 39% shooting overall and 16% from three. With Jamaal Brantley and Sam Timmins controlling the glass to the tune of an 18 rebound advantage (51-33) the Bulls were able to dominate the paint and take sole possession of the top of the ladder at 4-0. 

Southland is well and firmly at the other end of said ladder after a two loss road trip, with a lightly contested loss To Auckland that featured the lowest team point total of the year (54) followed up by a slightly better, but ultimately futile, effort in a 15 point loss to the Whai that brings them to 0-6 on the year. Tauranga will be happy to get a win while playing less than efficiently (41% fg's, 20 turnovers) while the Tuatara looked more than comfortable as Corey Webster, Rob Loe and Tom Vodanovich all scored 23 in what amounted to be little more than a training run. 

Canterbury looked powerful with a full contingent of import talent as they cruised to victory in Hawke's Bay behind a huge 35 point haul by Lachlan Olbrich.  The offense flew through Olbrich and M.J. Walker as Rams controlled the game from the outset. The Hawks reliance on their starters evident once again as they claimed just 4 points off the bench, compared to 25 for the visitors as they grow closer to full strength.  

To cap off the round the Saints and Airs went back and forth over a feisty 3 quarters of basketball, but the Saints defense came to the forefront down the stretch as they held the Airs to 15 points in the final ten minutes. That defensive effort held the Airs to 8 points over the first 6:43 of the 4th quarter and translated to 21 points offensively to put the game to sleep. Izayah Le'afa exploded offensively early before finishing with 27pts, 5rb, 4ast, 4stl to lead all scorers and was well supported by Lat Mayen (19pts) and Malik Benlevi (13 pts off the bench). Flynn Cameron had 17 at the half before finishing with 22 due to excellent defensive pressure applied by Ben Ayre among others. Winning the battle in the middle was key to the win, as Tohi Smith-Milner chipped in 11pts but his real contribution was slowing down Sam Froling (22pts, 12rb) long enough for the double team to come in the fourth quarter. 

Worth Mentioning 

Hyrum Harris Doing Everything- Have I mentioned Hyrum Harris? Well I have t0 mention him again after his 23pt 14rb 8ast 5stl 1blk performance. His all around play has acted as a fulcrum on both sides of the ball and the team is starting to gain momentum, next up, his former team the Hawk's for an Anzac day clash.

Kobe Langley Dishing- The Giants are on a roll, well a mini-roll, and have thrust themselves back into the Final 6 chase and much of the turn in form coming from the energy brought with Langley. Dishing out 15 assists while dropping 13 points and swiping 5 steals was impressive, but the lob catch on the break was what you'd leave that game remembering.

Lachlan Olbrich- Sometimes there is no place like being on the court when you're experiencing difficulties in other aspects of your life. After a few weeks away from he team to spend time with his family during a difficult time, Lachy Olbrich came back and filled a hole in the paint for the Rams, dropping 35pts on 12-18 shooting and 9-10 from the free throw line, while grabbing 7 rb, 4ast and 2 blks for his best game of the season so far. This type of production in from the big fella lifts the Rams into contender status.

Aidan Tonge - While the return of Olbrich and the arrival of K.J. Buffin the Rams were sure to bolstered on the front line despite missing Max Darling. What may have been overlooked on the interior was that Tonge was also missing due to 3x3 national team duties.  His presence off the bench helped stifle the Hawks as he dropped 12 points onf 6-6 shooting while snaggin 6 boards in 24 minutes, and with Max Darling still dealing with injury that's worth a mention.

Round 5

Auckland Tuatara v Franklin Bulls, Wednesday, Eventfinda Stadium 7:30

Top of the table franklin will look to continue their unblemished start to the season, but face their toughest test of the season as they hit the road for just the second time this year to face a near full strength Tuatara squad. Luther Muhammad (28.5pts, 6.3ast) comes in 2nd in the league in scoring and top 10 in assists for a squad boasting the 2nd highest O Rating(119) and best defensive rating (99) in the competition. The defense most impressive and driven by a league best steal rate and block rate (both 13%) that has kept opponents from finding any level of comfort. That will be a tougher task this week as Rob Loe, Corey Webster and co. welcome them north of the bridge. The Tuatara have been nearly as efficient from the field (54% Effective FG, 3rd) as the Bulls but they have been doing it with a greater amount of ball movement (55% assist percentage for Auckland, compared to 39% for Franklin). The Bulls can keep some space between themselves and the rest of the league with a win, but will their depth be able to overcome the frontline talent of the Tuatara on the road?

Stats that Matter: 

Franklin - 52.4% Field goal (1st in league), 7.3 made 3's pg (9th), 27% 3point rate (last) 

Auckland - 47.4% Field Goal (2nd), 9.5 made 3's pg (3rd), 39% 3point rate (5th)

Matchup to Watch - Corey Webster v Luther Muhammad, bonus Rob Loe v Sam Timmins

Night n' Day Otago Nuggets v Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams, Thursday, Edgar Centre, 2pm 

The Nugs return to their home court looking to shake off a poor road performance where the absence of Tai Webster was more than noticeable as the 3rd highest scoring offense (93.5ppg) in the comp only managed 71pts as they limped into their first loss of the season. With T Web back look for Ben Henshall to find more freedom of movement off the ball for an offense that has struggled a bit with turnovers (15% turnover percentage, 9th in league). But that has been tempered with great work on the glass as Kimani Lawrence and co. have grabbed 12.25 o-boards pg (1st) while scooping up a 75% defensive rebounding percentage (3rd). This will be tough to maintain against the Rams, even without powerful rebounding Max Darling (Concussion), who looked a much more powerful version of themselves with a full contingent of imports. M.J. Walker (29ppg) leads the league in scoring and Lachy Olbrich looks capable of dominating down low, but it will be their depth of talent that could make the difference, especially defensively. With a multitude of wing defenders (Taylor Britt, Walter Brown, Taki Fahrensohn and Kaia and Tama Isaac among others) they will to rotate defensive assignments and wear down an offense very dependent on it's starting lineup.

Stats that Matter: 

Otago- 33% Free throw rate (2nd), 15% Turnover rate (9th), 35% 3point rate (9th)

Canterbury- 28% opponent free throw rate (3rd highest), 2% block rate (last), 20% Offensive rebounding rate (2nd)

Matchup to Watch- Ben Henshall v M.J. Walker 

Mills Albert Wellington Saints v Taylor Hawke's Bay Hawks, Thursday, TSB Arena, 7:30pm

The Saints come back to their home court after a dominant 4th quarter against the Airs last round that featured their depth of talent on both ends of the court. As good as they are offensively it is the defensive effort that was most impressive as they flew around the court to take away the strengths of the Airs. Izayah Le'afa, Ben Ayre and Lat Mayen have the skill sets to harass ball handlers and terrorise passing lanes while Tohi Smith-Milner and Malik Benlevi patrol the back line.  Hyrum Harris does it all but doesn't need to do it alone  on either end with his multi-positional defense fitting right in on D while the shooting stretches the floor to the point of breaking when the Saints drive. The Hawks come to town after a tough loss where they were overpowered down low and struggled to find efficient offense with no starter shooting better than 45% from the field. This will be another tough test, but the quickness from the guard position with Isaiah Moore and Keanu Rasmussen could be an equaliser to the length of the Saints. Josh Roberts, Jordan Ngatai and Lucas Sutherland will need to band together to hold the fort down low to a greater degree then they have showed up to this point, but they are capable. This may just come down to three's, and if the Hawks can limit the Saints opportunities when finding a few of their own. 

Stats that Matter: 

Wellington - 50% 3point rate (1st), 36% 3point FG (2nd), 79% defensive rebounding rate (1st)

Hawke's Bay - 10% turnover percentage (1st), 71% defensive rebounding rate (9th), 24% Offensive rebounding rate (8th)

Matchup to Watch: Hyrum Harris v Jordan Ngatai

Tauranga Whai v Taranaki Steelformers Airs, Friday Mercury Baypark Arena, Friday, 7:30pm

The Whai look to continue their winning ways at home, but it will be a much more difficult task with a the Airs coming to town as they re-welcome Mitch McCarron after his collegiate hall of fame induction. The Airs were able to lean on Flynn Cameron and Sam Froling early but down the stretch missed McCarron's distribution skill and overall pg-nous.  On paper this is a mismatch for the Whai, who don't have the size required to guard Froling 1 on 1 in the post, but they would have seen how effective the double was implemented a week ago. This is a matchup between the two slowest paces in the league (Airs 10th, Whai 11th in pace) so look for halfcout execution to be of paramount importance. 

Stats that Matter: 

Tauranga - 48% effective field goal percentage (9th), 11% Turnover percentage (10th), 69% defensive rebounding rate (last)

Taranaki - 15% turnover rate (10th), 27% offensive rebounding rate (4th), 80 points per game allowed (1st)

Matchup to Watch: Kruz Perrott-Hunt v Flynn Cameron

Property Brokers Manawatu Jets v Auckland Tuatara, Saturday, Fly Palmy Arena, 4pm

The Jets will host the Tuatara as they return home and hope for the return of Troy Baxter Jr, who's health is vital to an realistic chance the Jets have to win. But this is a team that has crept up on Auckland in recent years, especially when seeing Auckland on the second half of a double header week as is the case here. Mustapha Heron is dependable for his contribution on both ends but who will step up in support? For the Tuatara an over reliance on the starting 5 could be worrisome, but as the season has moved along they have proved to have more trust in the bench mob than previous seasons. A key will be Rob Loe, if the Jets can slow down his effectiveness they have a chance, if not, it could be a long arvo in Palmy.

Stats that Matter: 

Manawatu- 43% assist percentage (10th), 6% steal percentage (last), 31% free throw rate (3rd)

Auckland- 41% field goal percentage defense (2nd), +4.83 rebounding margin (2nd), 18.83 assists per game (2nd) 

Matchup to Watch: Mustapha Heron v Reuben Te Rangi

Southland Sharks v Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams, ILT Stadium Southland, Saturday 7:30pm

The Sharks come home to the tank hoping a big of home cooking can come there way but the efforts on the road make that unlikely. Their offense is the least efficient in the league and that will only get more difficult against a Rams squad that will be looking to finish the week strong. On paper this looks to be a major mismatch, but the Sharks do have enough size to make things difficult for the Rams given the right motivations. The Rams will need to enter the game wary of a let down in their second game of the round, but if things go to plan they will likely roll out of town with another win on the ledger. 

Stats that Matter: 

Southland- 28% three point field goal percentage (last), 71.83 ppg scored (last), 93 ppg allowed (10th)

Canterbury- 40% opponents three point field goal percentage (last), 2% block percentage (last), 30% offensive rebounding rage (2nd) 

Matchup to Watch: Callum McRae v Lachy Olbrich

Franklin Bulls v Tauranga Whai, Franklin Pool and Leisure Centre, Sunday, 3pm

The Bulls find themselves back in the stockyard for their second game of the week as the Whai hit the road for their second fixture of the round. The depth of talent of the two rosters will be in favour of the Bulls, who are on the short list for deepest team in the league.  The Bulls are big down low with Timmins, Jamaal Brantley and DKP off the bench but they are also the best shooting team in the comp at 37% from deep, but the lowest three point rate (27%) in the league tempers that advantage. Possession will be key to the Whai chances, which bodes well for them with their second ranked turnover margin (+1.25) but this will be be affected by the Bulls best in league rebounding margin (+8.50 per game) compared the Whai's worst in league (-7.25 per game)

Stats that Matter: 

Tauranga - 69% defensive rebounding rate (last), 48% effective field goal percentage (9th), 11% turnover rate (2nd)

Franklin - 13% block rate (1st), 24% free throw rate (10th), 31% offensive rebounding rate (1st)

Matchup to Watch: Luther Muhammad v Kruz Perrott-Hunt

NBS Nelson Giants v Taranaki Steelformers Airs, Trafalgar Centre, Sunday 6:30pm

A busy round finishes with what could be the match up of the round as the resurgent giants host the Airs in Nelson.  Nelson is a different squad with af ull contingent of imports and the final piece of Theo Akwuba has allowed the roster to find positional stability and depth with the Dan's (Grida at SF and Fotu at PF) sliding to more natural positions and gaining depth with Sam Dempster and Tom Ingham coming off the pine. The speed of Kobe Langley against the strength of the McCarron will be an interesting battle, with the player who's able to impose their style of play on the game gaining an advantage for their team.  Alex McNaught will have his hands full trying to slow down Flynn Cameron but does have the strenght to make in difficult in the half court. The battle between Froling and Akwuba in the post will most likely determine who owns the paint, and the team that owns the paint in this matchup has a great chance to walk away with the game.

Stats that Matter: 

Nelson - 46% effective field goal percentage (10th), 15% turnover percentage (8th), 43% free throw rate (1st), 

Taranaki - 34% three point rate (10th), 10% steal percentage (5th), 27% offensive rebounding rate (4th) 

Matchup to Watch: Theo Akwuba v Sam Froling, bonus Kobe Langley v Mitch McCarron

Advance stats care of


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