Photo credit: Richard Spranger
As we eye the middle point of the season and look around the league we can see a bit more turbulence then one would expect on the rosters of the top teams in the Sal’s NBL. The Canterbury Rams bid farewell to Tai Wynyard and Jared Wilson-Frame with three quarters of dominant basketball and a reminder of the depth and physicality that they brought to the table for the first seven games of the season. Sitting on the second rung of the ladder they have set themselves up for a stretch run that will inevitably be a bit bumpier than the first six rounds of the season. Wynyard was arguably the most dominant interior presence in the league this season, serving as the backline for defensive efforts while carrying massive gravity in the post on offence. While eyeing the Nuggets on the top rung, the Rams focus may shift to holding position as they look for a replacement on the interior, but with Wilson-Frame departing they will have the option to find an import to make up the skill deficit, making the task a reasonable one.
The Auckland Tuatara and Franklin Bulls sit equal on eight points in de-facto third position and the room to make additions if required. The Lizards (apparently Dinosaurs but that doesn't roll off the tongue as smoothly) and Bulls also share the ability to upgrade their talent pool with open import slots, but the question is will that spot get filled? A player needs to play five games to gain eligibility for the postseason so the clock is ticking, but quality is certain to be favoured over quantity and the need to find a culture fit with just as much importance at this point on the calendar. The Tuatara have encountered a few hurdles in their pursuit of Kruz-Perrott Hunt, opening the possibility of strengthening their roster at a different position of need, while the Bulls' frontcourt depth will return with Tyrell Harrison, but an influx of talent never hurt when chasing a spot in the postseason. But talent from overseas isn’t the only way to bolster a squad top level competitions across the world are ending their seasons soon, could any Tall Black hopefuls be enticed to stay tuned up for the World Cup while chasing a title on their home shores? Clubs and fans across the country will be watching with a keen eye in hopes of just that.
Nuggets Shooting Touch - JaQuori McLaughlin led the way with 31 on 47% shooting while dishing out eight assists in his best performance of the season, it's the shooting from deep by the starting unit that keeps this flame burning. The five managed 44% shooting from deep against the Wellington Saints, making themselves near impossible to defend in the half-court when stretched to every corner of the perimeter. Robbie Coman’s 66% led the way but the 10 makes by Todd Withers and McLaughlin did the bulk of the damage. That efficiency and volume from deep (34% (2nd in the league) 45% 3-point rate (3rd)) stretches the court opening lanes for drives and offensive boards, making the Edgar Centre a fortress.
Strong Guard Play - Speaking of JaQuori McLaughlin (19.1 PPG, 7.3 APG) he is one amongst a calvary of point guard talent in the Sal’s NBL this season. Jeremy Kendle (25.7 PPG, 7.3 APG), Jarrad Weeks (23.1 PPG, 5.9 APG), Javion Blake (22.2 PPG, 5.6 APG), Kyle Adnam (16.33 PPG, 8.3 APG) and Avery Woodson (21.6 PPG, 3.9 APG) are just a few of the names of the multi-threat floor generals across the league. The talent at the position will drive teams home down the stretch and the winners of these individual matchups will mean the point guard position may have the most impact of any on the floor when it comes to post season appearances.
Night n’ Day Otago Nuggets (7-0) vs. Auckland Tuatara (4-3) - Thursday, 7pm
The second championship rematch between the two in as many weeks, but this time in what is becoming the toughest venue to sneak a win out of in the competition. The Tuatara gave away possession in the first match up, doubling the turnovers of the Nugs 24-12 and nullifying a huge advantage on the glass (50-34). That possession advantage led to 14 more shots including dagger threes down the stretch that completed a 28-18 final quarter.
The Nuggies have been able to overcome slow starts and reliance on the three ball has ensured that no lead is safe when Otago is trailing. But the variance at play with the long ball means that consistency in other aspects of the game need to be top notch to keep winning, and the Nuggets can count on their top tier defence (98.7 defensive rating) and sheer size on the interior to wear down opponents who lack depth, which is the case for Auckland, especially in the first of a double header.
Matchup to Watch: JaQuori McLaughin vs. Jarrad Weeks
Steelformers Taranaki Airs (2-5) vs. Franklin Bulls (4-3) - Friday, 7pm
Taranaki welcomed Anthony Hilliard and his prowess from deep, and while the threat shifted the defence, the comfort level wasn’t yet where it needed to be and both he and the Airs failed to fire. The up and down nature of their performances this season may have Trent Adam pulling his hair out (I’m sure it was full at the start of the year) but the offence can still perform at the highest of levels when they find freedom of movement. But space will be at a premium as the Bulls come to town, riding Jamaal Brantley’s (25 PTS, 8 REB) season best performance that was especially impressive on the defensive end where he helped set the tone with his physicality and commitment on the defensive end.
Maintaining possession by lessening the turnover rate (7th at 15%) while controlling the defensive glass (9th in defensive rebounding rate at 69.5%) is key to the Naki making a mid-season run, but that will take a more consistent commitment in the halfcourt then has been displayed up to this point. While upping the pace could even the field there as the Bulls (8th in pace) are less game then the Airs (2nd in pace) in the running game, this too is dependent on an improved level of execution defensively in the half court in a game where the rebound tally is likely to foretell the victor.
Matchup to Watch: David Azore vs. Rickey McGill
Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams (5-1) vs. Auckland Tuatara (4-3) - Saturday, 5pm
In the midst of a 5-game win streak, a Wynyard sized hole must be filled, but until a reasonable facsimile the Rams will play on,but with a bit less size to restrict the paint and all those who enter. Unfortunately for them, Rob Loe (18.3 PTS, 9.7 REB, 2.8 STL, 3.3 BLK) comes to town this week, and his elite two-way play has been a thorn in the side of every Tuatara opponent this year. If the Rams are able to contain his presence in the post and on the offensive glass without sending help or fouling they will be better for it. The transition game may be an option for the Tevin Brown and Rams, with the (possible) insertion of Troy Baxter Jr. into the starting lineup will lift the pace and rim attacking ability in transition, and attacks on the rim and trips to the free throw line are key to putting a thin Tuatara lineup to the test. Jarrad Weeks will have a response on the break with the conversion of easy opportunities key for two teams who have finished poorly at times.
Matchup to Watch: Walter Brown vs. Reuben Te Rangi
Manawatū Jets (3-4) vs. Southland Sharks (3-4) - Saturday, 7pm
A slow start took away a bit of momentum for the Jets, as a lack of rebounding prowess combined with foul trouble to allow the Bulls to find a 13-rebound advantage on the glass despite the second best defensive rebounding rate on the season. In their first matchup of the season the Sharks found few answers for the Jets attack from beyond the arc, as they were outscored by 21 from deep. The brilliance of Jeremy Kendle and Grant Anticevich was the answer, particularly around the paint where they found 58 points.
Recent form proves that the Jets still have a soft underbelly on the interior but the speed provided 23 assists on 32 baskets, but that was a squad driven solely by Danny Pippen II. With Mustapha Heron and Javion Blake offering a scoring threesome that is unmatched across the competition, the Sharks will need to pull something out of their sleeve to match the win earlier in the season but have the weapons to pull it off.
Matchup to Watch: Danny Pippen II vs. Grant Anticevich
Hawke’s Bay Hawks (3-5) vs. NBS Nelson Giants (2-6) - Sunday, 4pm
The Hawks' Round 6 started well and finished painfully, with the performances highlighting the strength of the versatile lineup but highlighting the inability to hit the three consistently (last in 3-point percentage, 4th in 3-point rate) despite ample opportunity. Those chances may not be as plentiful with Nelson’s 3rd best 3PTFG% defence. A solid performance and a step in the right direction quickly became a slip up and a return to the drawing board.
The Giants had reversed their own fortunes after a horrid start, but will be wondering if the anomaly against the Rams in their Round 6 loss was the first 30 minutes where they were truly dominated, or the final 10, where they clawed their way back into the game. The offence has improved (1st five games 84.6 PPG, 96 PPG last three games) along with the defence (93.4 PPG allowed 1st five games, 82.7 last three games) while displaying a greater familiarity with each other and the playbook. With both teams having played eight total games they are running out of time to make up ground on the teams above them in the standings the loser of this match may end up finding the Final 6 outside of their grasp at the end of the season.
Matchup to Watch: Avery Woodson vs. Derone Raukawa
Wellington Saints (2-5) vs. Southland Sharks (3-4) - Sunday, 6pm
Even against the top defensive team in the Sal’s NBL, the Saints' offence produced yet again in Round 6, but it was an inability to slow down the Nuggets, particularly in transition, that allowed a leaky 103 points on 40% shooting from deep. But that offence did produce 21 assists on 37 field goals and the last time they played the Sharks they managed 110 points while shooting 71% from inside the arc and 44% from outside of it while dishing out 29 assists.
The Sharks would point to their own success on offence (62% from two, 37% from three) as a pathway to an improved performance and result this time around, but that will be a tougher task on the road. Stiffer defence around the rim and will be required at the bare minimum. A barometer for this game will be Tohi Smith-Milner and his ability to replicate his 11-of-12 shooting performance from the initial tussle, high efficiency likely means another road loss for the Sharks.
Matchup to Watch: Tom Vodanovich vs. Grant Anticevich