Casey’s Corner: Round 6

Photo credit: Masanori Udagawa/Photo Wellington

The Week That Was 

While double digit victories reigned supreme across round 5 often the drama on offer was more interesting then the final score line would indicate, but the again sometimes it was just a blow out. 

In our busiest week of the season 8 games were completed, with 5 teams taking part in double headers, that gave the round a bit of a moving weekend feel where winning big would move you up the ladder and start making the Final 6 look like a reality.

The week started with the sole unblemished team in the league heading just a bit further north to compete in the 09 derby, the Bulls were hopeful that they would be able to keep distance from themselves and the rest of the league and a tight first half had them right on track down 1. But a starting lineup that only featured Jamaal Brantley shooting better than 25% eventually succumbed the starting 5 of the Tuatara. a 32 free throw difference in attempts (41 for Auckland, 9 for Bulls) only sealed the deal.

From the most northern battle to a South Island clash on Anzac day as the Nuggets were hoping to bounce back from their sole loss of the season but were hosting the Rams who had other ideas.  The Nugs never got on track and once Tai Webster was ejected for kicking a sign it was all but over. The Rams, looking a much more powerful unit with a full collection of import talent, were led again by M.J. Walker and Lachie Olbrich who continued his dominant way. 

The most competitive game of the week came next, as the Saints welcomed a resurgent Hawks team to the Wellington waterfront. A talented Saints offense is normally difficult to keep up with, but the Hawks powerful offense kept them right in the game before Jordan Ngatai (20pts) and Keanu Rasmussen (24pts, 10rb) fouled out down the stretch to put things out of their grasp. The Saints win propelling them to sole possession of the top of the ladder for the day with every starter bar a hobbled Hyrum Harris scoring 20 pts or more to complete the Anzac day activity.

In their first game of the round the Whai would have been wary of hosting the Airs, as they had only managed 55 points the last time the teams had met. An improved offensive performance had them leading at the half before the Airs steadied to take control down the stretch to win by 15. While the Whai had improved they were unable to deal with the size of Sam Froling (24pts, 10rb) as the return of Mitch McCarron (from a collegiate Hall of Fame induction) showed how important his steady hand is on the offense.

The Tuatara would be the first to step on court for the second time, and it looked it as the Manawatu Jets nearly doubled them up in the opening quarter, taking a 32-17 lead. But panic was averted for Auckland fans when they scored the first 15 of the 2nd quarter to become the first team to reach 6 wins behind another balanced attack, this one led by Corey Webster (22pts, 5ast) and Cam Gliddon (20pts, 5ast). The Jets looking their best since the opening round but, with zero points off the bench, still struggling without the inclusion of a 3rd import and their final Kiwi big (James Moors) 

The Rams would head a lil further south to take on the Sharks for their second of the week, a one-sided affair where the final winner was never in doubt. All 5 starters hitting double figures and Lachie Olbrich becoming the second player to reach 20 rebounds despite battling with the size of Callum McRae, who finished with 15 of his own. The Sharks weren't helped by a 5 turnover performance by LeGerald Vick, who's listless performance had the franchise call time on their second import of the season. A replacement is yet to be named but with Alonzo Burton rejoining the team and Brayden Inger not far away the Sharks are hoping for a bit of addition by subtraction to come their way.

On the final day of the marathon round the Bulls were back in the Stockyard and an improved ration from the free throw line (this time 19 attempts to 16 in Franklin's favour) allowed them to overcome a Whai squad that seems to be improving. The sheer size of the opposition, this time Sam Timmins, was once again a deciding factor as the Whai battled but never truly threatened in the eventual 11 point loss. For the Bulls an improved ration from the stripe (this time 19 attempts for and 16 against) helped, but it was the perfection achieved when there (19-19 ft's) that sealed the deal. 

And in the final game of the round the Giants welcomed an Airs team that had shifted it's starting lineup, sending 4 Tall Blacks and an import to the bench. The battle of the bigs was of interest coming in, but fizzed out quickly as Theo Akwuba managed only 16 min (0pts, 3rb) against Sam Froling (21pts, 7rbs) before fouling out. Their second win of the week would propel them into the top 4, joined by fellow double header winners of the round  Auckland (3rd) and Canterbury (5th) in the top 5. 

As we come towards the middle of the season the cream is starting to rise to the top, but 9 teams are still within 1 win of a Final 6 placing while all 11 teams are still mathematically capable of reaching the postseason.  

Worth Mentioning

Lachie Olbrich Dominant Again - The big man backed up his huge return with more dominant play, averaging 22.5pts, 11.5rbs, 3.3ast, 1.3stls while shooting 60% from the field on the season. His skill set is more than his size as his ability to grab and go off the glass gives the Rams an extra dimension in transition for a team that has weathered a tough early stretch without their full team to find themselves in great stead for the remainder of the season.

Carlin Davison's Big Leap - And I'm not writing about dunks off the backboard, even though that's pretty good too, rather his overall improvement. The stats are solid (14.5pts, 5.7rbs, 56%fg, 33% 3pfg) but his effect on the game is palpable. Still learning how to harness his raw athleticism he still has room to grow, but his impact defensively is palpable and his cutting without the ball is becoming a true weapon for the Airs. 

Sam Timmins The Free Throw Ace- Big Sam dominated inside against the Whai to bounce back from a subpar outing against the Tuatara, but as good as his 23pt, 11rb double-double was that isn't why he's here. The big man shot 46% from the line a season ago, at times affecting his ability to contribute to winning, but has lifted that to a respectable 74% in 2024 on the back of 9-9 performance to seal a 9 point win against the Whai! Since going 0-4 in the opener against the Giants Timmins is a extremely healthy 14-15 at 93%!! Show off that feathery touch big fella!!

Isaiah Moore - The uber quick pg has been a tough cover, but his 40 minute 35pt, 7ast, 5rb, 2stl performance against the Saints that featured some wicked old school runners and mid range bank shots that nearly got the Hawks over the line on the Saints? That is definitely worth a mention..

Round 6

Taylor Hawke's Bay Hawks v Tauranga Whai, Wednesday 7:30pm, Rodney Green Arena

The Hawks return to their homecourt after a solid but ultimately unsuccessful roadie down to Wellington. Their starting 5 is up to the task against any opponent in the comp and coach Sam Gruggen is beginning to develop trust in the bench (when he absolutely has to, but still its a form of trust). Rasmusssen and Moore are a fire pairing in the backcourt while Lucas Sutherland and Ngatai have great skillsets to complement their speedy backcourt pairing who take great care of the ball (11% turnover rate). Josh Roberts can struggle against the biggest teams, but that won't be an issue against the Whai who come to town having dropped all their road games so far. This is more of an issue with a questionable designation on Vance Jackson Jr who has been the most consistent scorer on the roster. Kurz Perrott-Hunt and Jayden Bezzant have the right combination of size and speed to act as foils for the Hawks backcourt but on the whole it will be tough for the Whai's 2nd worst offense in the league (75.7ppg) to keep pace with an ever improving Hawks side (91.4ppg)

Stats That Matter -

Hawke's Bay - 47%field goals (3rd in league), 60% free throws (last), 10.6 turnovers per game (2nd)

Tauranga - 41%fg (10th), 70% defensive rebound percentage (10th), 10.5 turnovers per game (1st)

Matchup To Watch - Isaiah Moore v Kruz Perrott-Hunt 

Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams v Night n' Day Otago Nuggets, Thursday 7:30pm Cowles Stadium 

The Rams host the Nugs in a return match from a week ago where the Nugs were unable to combat the physicalness with which the Cantab's played as they were outrebounded by 21 and gave up 50 points in the paint. They made up for that mismatch in possession by forcing 17 turnovers while only committing 8 but the damage was already done. They have similarly paced offenses (both averaging over 91ppg) but the Rams boast a +7.5 point differential where the Nuggets are in the red at -5.2ppg. They both do damage inside on the glass, but the team that is able to contain the backcourt scoring of their opponent while also keeping them from grabbing second chance points will have an edge.

Stats That Matter - 

Canterbury - 12.83 Offensive Boards per game (1st), 30% three point field goal percentage (10th), 76% defensive rebound percentage (3rd)

Otago - 11.60 Offensive Boards per game (2nd), 31% three point field goal percentage (9th), 71% defensive rebound percentage (9th)

Matchup To Watch - M.J. Walker v Tai Webster Bonus Lachie Olbrich v Jack Andrew

Southland Sharks v NBS Nelson Giants, Friday 7:30pm ILT Stadium Southland

The Sharks look to turn the page on a stinky start to the season having released their second import of the still developing season and are desperate to welcome Braydon Inger asap. The offense is still an issue but the hope is that there will be some more urgency shown on that end without Vick by a group that up to this point has played without much pace. Some of this is by design with McRae in post, but executing with quickness of movement around him would be of use. The Giants hit the road for the first time since the opening round and are in need of some wins to keep pace with the Top 6.  They can be a disciplined team on both ends of the floor when locked in, which will make this a tough task for the Sharks even on their home court. The Dan's (Grida & Fotu) play with great energy and it will be tough to contain Kobe Langley but a bounce back game from Theo Akwuba will be vital to putting this one away. 

Stats That Matter - 

Southland - 70.86 points per game (last), -3.86 rebound margin (9th), 15.86 turnovers per game (last)

Nelson -84.33 points per game (9th), 69% defensive rebounding percentage (last), 14 turnovers per game (9th)

Matchup To Watch - Callum McRae v Theo Akwuba

 Taranaki Steelformers Airs v Franklin Bulls, Saturday 4pm TSB Stadium

A top four clash is next on the docket, with the Airs returning to New Plymouth for just the second time this season as the Bulls leave the Stockyard for their third road game of the year for a match between teams that enjoy some similarities.   They are 2 of the top 3 scoring defenses while also boasting the top field goal percentages in the league (both 50%) and top 4 3-point field goal percentages as well. With Timmins' and Jaamal Brantely to protect the paint it will be difficult for the Airs to find the freedom down low they usually enjoy and the Bulls might be on the short list of teams that are able to guard Froling with just one defender. if that proves to be the case the Bulls will feel confident, but if Froling does get loose look for the extra bodies to come which will open up the Bulls to long rotations against a team that is starting to build familiarity with each other and growing in confidence game by game. Mitch McCarron has been a steady hand guiding the offense, allowing the youth and athleticism the Airs enjoy on the wing to find great freedom of movement. With similar size and depth of talent on display this could be the round of the match.

Stats That Matter - 

Taranaki - 116 O-rating (2nd), 32% free throw rate (2nd), 27% O-rebounding rate (3rd)

Franklin - 115 O-rating (3rd), 23% free throw rate (10th), 29% O-rebounding rate (2nd)

Matchup To Watch - Sam Froling v Sam Timmins

Auckland Tuatara v Taylor Hawke's Bay Hawks, Saturday 7:30pm Eventfinda Stadium

The Hawks travel north for their second game of the round and will find a well rested Tuatara squad awaiting their arrival. This will be a match between two teams that are heavily reliant on the starters, although the Aucklanders have displayed more trust in their backups than the Hawks can claim. With the number 2 (Tuatara) and 3 (Hawks) offenses in the league this game has the ability to be an explosive spectacle between two high octane teams. The big question will be the defense, as the Tuatara are allowing nearly 14 less points per game with Rob Loe defending the rim and a bevy of wing defenders making life difficult for the ball handlers. The Hawks will need to find a way to win the possession game which won't be easy against a Tuatara squad second in the league in defensive rebounding rate (79%).

Stats That Matter - 

Auckland - 1.62 Assist to turnover rate (2nd), 60% assist rate (2nd), 81.63 points per game against (2nd)

Hawke's Bay - 1.43 assist to turnover rate (3rd), 42% assist rate (10th), 95 points per game against (last)

Matchup To Watch - Corey Webster v Isaiah Moore

Night n' Day Otago Nuggets v NBS Nelson Giants, Sunday 3pm Edgar Centre 

Both squads will be enjoying their second game of the round meaning fatigue could be a factor in their first matchup of the season but the likely return of Zaccheus Darko-Kelly from illness will give the Nugs an advantage in this area as they would have a slightly deeper bench even without him. Look for the Giants to put the defensive talents of Grida on Ben Henshall to see if they can't contain the 19 year olds offensive prowess, which would be a huge lift to a Giants squad that currently languishes in the bottom 3 of offense. But this game looks to be won or lost at the power forward position where two of the leagues best will be looking to enforce their superiority on the paint as Kimani Lawrence takes his interior scoring up against Dan Fotu. If one can get the other in early foul trouble it will make for a long night for that players squad.

Stats That Matter - 

Otago - 34% free throw rate (2nd), 35% 3-point rate (10th), 26% offensive rebounding rate (4th)

Nelson - 38% free throw rate (1st), 35% 3-point rate (9th), 69% defensive rebound rate (last) 

Matchup To Watch - Kimani Lawrence v Dan Fotu

Property Broker Manawatu Jets v Mill Albert Wellington Saints, Sunday 6:30pm

The good news is that the Jets are coming off perhaps their best quarter of the year, where they dropped 32 points in the opening quarter while limiting one of the best offenses int he comp to just 17. The bad news is that in the remaining 3 quarters of the game they scored just 47 to end up with an L. The Saints come to town with an injury question hanging over Hyrum Harris whose motor was running a few gears low with a heavily strapped knee in their Anzac day match a week ago. If forced to play without him there will be a knock on effect as his brand of hustle means even more to the team then his impressive stat line can convey, especially for a team that played just 6 players for more than 1 minute last time out. With the question of Harris' availability the Saints may look to use whatever salary was being saved for Yuot Alok on a player who is available now to bolster their current top of table positioning. Without Harris in the lineup look for Malik Benlevi to get more of an opportunity which will make a big Saints team even bigger. The Jets will hope to counter with the athleticism of Troy Baxter Jr. and Mustapha Heron, but until a third import can be secured those two will have to work overtime to get the Jets anywhere close to a victory.

Stats That Matter - 

Manawatu - 49% effective field goal percentage (9th),  15% turnover rate(9th), 43% assist rate(9th), 5% steal rate (last)

Wellington - 59% effective field goal percentage (2nd), 12% turnover rate(2nd), 63% assist rate(1st), 12% steal rate (2nd)

Matchup To Watch - Mustapha Heron v Lat Mayen


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