Casey’s Corner Round 8

Photo credit: Roshysportfolio

The Week That Was

The Sal's NBL results from round 7 gave us some chalk where the expected winners came out on top of teams they expect to beat (re: Tuatara over Jets and Airs and Bulls over Sharks) but also gave the biggest upsets of the year where underdogs were able to come away with wins that have propelled teams into the Final 6 picture after being on the outs for the first half of the year (re: wins by the Giants, Hawks and Whai) while an early front runner looks like they need a second wind (re: Nuggets). As we approach the midway point of the season and the Trade Window deadline looming teams are making pushes to be included in the postseason party while for those outside the invite list parameters this could be the last chance to start making a realistic push to be included.

The roughest week belongs to Otago who came into the week looking like they had rediscovered themselves with a thrilling home win over the Giants only to be upset twice on the road while slumping to their 5th loss in 6 outings. While disappointing the loss to the Hawks came despite a solid effort that fell short in the 4th quarter of their second game of the round, but a subpar effort against a Whai squad down on size and talent is a head scratcher. Great effort by an understrength Whai, but I put the 69 points scored by the Nugs squarely on their own backs, and now the Nugs will be chasing the Final 6 from the outside looking in while dealing with the impending departure of Tai Webster also looming. 

In contrast to the flailing Nugs the Hawks will come into the round on an upswing after getting based after picking up their first win against a team that was above them on the ladder. But that is no longer as their 2nd win in 3 games has thrust Hawke's Bay into the Final 6 equation. The road has been choppy but valiant losses to Auckland and Wellington have given the Hawks starting 5 confidence in their ability to play with anyone. The pace and scoring has been sublime following the insertion of Isaiah Moore, but things will be a bit tougher this week with Keanu Rasmussen missing the round due to injury. 

The Giants can also consider themselves in the Finals mix after a gutsy road win in Wellington where they stormed through the 4th quarter with a 35 to 22 advantage to win by 9 to knock the Saints off the top perch while moving into a virtual 3 way tie for the 6th spot on the ladder (with the Hawks and Nuggets). The Saints are a vastly different machine on both ends without Hyrum Harris but this was a huge win nonetheless for the G-Men. The Dan's (Fotu and Grida) combined with Kobe Langley to score 77 points on 55% shooting while playing strong defense down the stretch. 

In games with teams headed in opposite directions the Tuatara dominated the Jets while the Bulls dispatched the Sharks in similar fashion. The teams hailing from the 09 area code continue to look like post season problems but easy tune ups against the Jets and Sharks were expected.

Taranaki got a taste of an easy run to finish the week when they returned to their home court for just the 3rd time this season to host the Sharks, but it was their trip down south that produced one of the candidates for game of the week as the Rams held home court again despite their leading scorer coming into the game, M.J. Walker, being held to zero points. A finally full strength Rams were able to hold off the Airs with great performances from freshly returned Max Darling (18pts, 9rbs) and uber efficient performances from Taylor Britt (10-13 fg's) and Lachlan Olbrich (7-11 fg's). Olbrich's 22pt 10rb was of particular interest as it came head to head against his fellow Illawarra Hawk's teammate Sam Froling. In the Aussie NBL Lachie acts as a backup, but in this matchup he was able to gain the upper hand  as Froling was unable to find his best form during a 13pt 10rb night. The Rams now tied in 2nd place (with the Saints and Bulls) at 6-2 and riding a 5 game winning streak. 

Worth Mentioning

Taylor Britt - His efficiency was mentioned above, but his timeliness was not. His points averaged has dropped to 16.4ppg as the team around him has come to strength but when his scoring was needed most in the second half against the Airs he found angles to keep the scoreboard ticking on his way to a team high 24pts. A key was finding his stroke from deep, hitting his first 3's since the teams last loss to the Bulls in round 2.

Corey Webster- C Webb's scoring is like a metronome, hitting 20 points 7 of 10 games this season while never scoring less than 18. But as impressive as his scoring is his passing has been fueling the Auckland offense. During the Tuatara 6 game winning streak he has crossed double digit assists 4 times, propelling him to lead the league in the category. When combined with decreasing turnovers (just 3 in the last 5 games) his league leading assist rate of 40%  has propelled the dino's offense to near peak efficiency. 

Isaiah Moore - After missing the first game of the season Moore has consistently proven his value to the Hawks with excellent playmaking and three level scoring being put forth at high rate of pace. His playmaking is key to keep the scoreboard ticking over. His assist rate of 30% (6th in comp) keeps his teammates involved while his 53% effective field goal percentage is proof of his solid shot selection despite a large shot diet. His floater game becomes a weapon when he gets to the paint/midrange and becomes a weapon when other options aren't working. He's also always on the court and available, playing less than 37 minutes just once in his 8 games. 

Round 8 

Taylor Hawke's Bay Hawks v Franklin Bulls, Rodney Greene Arena, Wednesday 7:30pm

The Hawks return to the nest as the attempt to maintain a .500 record and their tenuous grip on the 6th spot on the ladder and will have to do so without starting guard Keanu Rasmussen which will have a big effect on an offense that has topped a 100 points 3 times in 4 games (and had 96 in the fourth). Will they be able to play to that level with just 4 of their regular starting lineup? Probably not, but Lucas Sutherland and Jordan Ngatai will be able to pick up some slack as they have sacrificed a level of scoring on the wing as the talented back court of Rasmussen and Moore has lit up opposing defenses. Against the Bulls it may be tough to find the same freedom of movement in the full court as Franklin has the personnel to slow down transition opportunities for a team that feeds on them. Leading scorer in the league Luther Muhammad  (25ppg) will find opportunities in the mid range and it looks like Ethan Rusbatch has rediscovered his stroke after a couple of wayward games.  Sam Timmins (15.5ppg, 10.8rpg, 2.3blks) uses his size to control the paint as Jamaal Brantley acts as his enforcer for wayward drives. With a full strength team the Bulls should have too much for the Hawks, but if they don't control the pace the Hawks could make things difficult. 

Stats that Matter: 

Hawke's Bay -  83 pace (3rd in league), 11% turnover rate (1st), 42% assist rate (last) 

Franklin Bulls = 79 pace (9th in league), 44% assist rate (10th), 11% block rate (1st)

Matchup to Watch: Isaiah Moore v Luther Muhammad 

Night 'n Day Otago Nuggets v Auckland Tuatara, Edgar Centre, Thursday 7:30pm

The Nuggets return to their home court after a disastrous road trip that saw them drop 2 games and out of finals position. The loss to the Whai was particularly egregious as they put forth their worst shooting splits (39%fg, 16%3pfg, 47%ft) and put forth less than 70 points for the first time this year. When the Nugs are at their best they push the ball down the court with Tai Webster creating opportunities for Ben Henshall and Kimani Lawrence to score on the perimeter and the low block. But when the leagues 2nd fastest pace is tempered the half court offense can get gummy, especially if there is a rim protector to make things more difficult. That will be the case with Auckland and Rob Loe, whose length defensively combined with the strength of Tom Vodanovich will make paint scoring tough. But it is the Tuatara offense that will cause most of the problems, having scored at least 92 points in their last 6 games and topping 110 points 3 times during that stretch. This will take a collective effort from Otago to control the pace and the paint as losing the possession game or getting into a scoring contest will make grabbing a win at home against the top team on the ladder a difficult task. 

Stats that Matter: 

Otago - 33% 3point rate (10th), 72%(defensive rebound rate 8th), 58% free throws (last)

Auckland - 42% field goal percentage defense (2nd best), 35% 3point field goals (1st), 60% assist rate (1st)

Matchup to Watch: Tai Webster v Corey Webster

Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams v Tauranga Whai, Cowles Stadium, Friday 7:30pm

The Rams look to continue their 5 game winning streak as the Whai come to town in what will be a difficult challenge for the visitors. The Rams at full strength boast depth, size and shooting with a varied set of weapons that don't have to perform to the best of their abilities every time out to be capable of wins. The big problem for the Whai will be tempering the effect of the bigs, with Olbrich and Darling to impose a size and strength advantage for which Tauranga doesn't have any readily identifiable answers. The Rams defense has been solid, allowing the 4th fewest points in the league (83.88) which will make scoring even tougher for a Whai squad 2nd last in scoring (74.75).  But the Rams will need to do in from inside as their three point shooting (10th in league @ 29%) won't find the going any easier against the leagues best defenders in that category (27% 3pfg defense). But if the Whai can't improve on their 30% from deep that defensive prowess may be moot. 

Stats that Matter: 

Canterbury - 46 rebounds per game (1st), 34% offensive rebounding percentage (1st), 91.25 points per game (4th)

Tauranga - 36 rebounds per game (last), 24% offensive rebounding percentage (last), 74.75 points per game (10th)

Matchup to Watch: Taylor Britt v Kruz Perott-Hunt

Southland Sharks v Auckland Tuatara, ILT Stadium Southland, Saturday 3pm

The Sharks search for win number 1 continues against a team that is enjoying the longest winning streak in the league. On the plus side the Tuatara will be playing their 2nd game in less than 48hours and the veteran laden team may be a bit the worse for wear, especially considering the early start to lessen the recovery time. But that is about all that to tally in the plus column for the Sharks. Unlikely to be joined by their 3rd import this is a game that is about as big of a mismatch as you can find, as the Sharks average 24.3 points per game less than their opponents while shooting 9 percentage points worse (49% to 40%. But it's not just the scoring that is an issue as the Sharks have given up 49%. But hey, miracles happen sometimes so maybe there will be a small one at ILT Stadium on Saturday afternoon. 

Stats that Matter: 

Southland - 118 Offensive rating (1st), 78% defensive rebound rate (2nd), 56% Effective field goal percentage (1st) 

Auckland - 82  Offensive rating (last), 45% Effective field goal percentage (last), 17% Turnover rate (last) 

Matchup to Watch: Callum McRae v Rob Loe

Taranaki Steelformers Airs v Manawatu Jets, TSB Stadium, Saturday 7:30pm

Much like the previous match up of the week this is severely a mismatch on paper and very likely on the court. For the Jets a lackluster effort against the Tuatara has led to changes, with rumours that Troy Baxter Jr requested a trade that was unable to be facilitated and will likely be released on the back of the request. If that is indeed the case the Jets best hope will be some addition by subtraction, which worked so well for the Whai in their 1st game without their leading scorer on the season (Vance Jackson Jr).  So what can the Jets do? Taking better care of the ball would be a start and Quashawn Lane will hopefully help in that department once he gets acclimated to NZ and his new teammates.  But the interior will be a struggle with the dominant abilities of Sam Froling combining with the athleticism of Carlin Davison and Elijah Minnie. Even if Mitch McCarron ends up taking another week off to get his body up to scratch the Airs have the depth of talent to take this one walking away.

Stats that Matter: 

Taranaki - 56% effective field goal percentage (2nd), 14% turnover percentage (9th), 56% assist rate (3rd)

Manawatu - 50% effective field goal percentage (9th), 16% turnover percentage (10th), 44% assist rate (9th)

Matchup to Watch: Elijah Minnie v Mustapha Heron

Franklin Bulls v Mills Albert Wellington Saints, Franklin Pool and Leisure Centre, Sunday 12pm

The Bulls return to the Stockyard for an early afternoon tipoff in a game that has match of the round potential. This will be a clash of styles as the Saints bring a three happy fast paced offense to the Stockyard to match up with a more methodical offense that has the lowest three point rate in the league. The Bulls have the size and weapons to make life very difficult in the half court, particularly if Hyrum Harris is still unavailable as expected, but coming off their 2nd loss of the year Coach Zico Coronel will have the squad well drilled to bounce back. The Bulls won't be able to count on forcing turnovers to get the offense going as the Saints are one of the best in the league at taking care of the ball, but the Giants showed last week that if you take care of the ball and force your way to the line the Saints offensive exploits can be tempered. The Bulls have the bulk and length up front to make scoring in the paint but on the perimeter they must keep the Saints from finding freedom from beyond the arc while increasing their strike rate from distance at the same time. 

Stats that Matter: 

Franklin - 6.38 made 3's per game (last), 79 pace (9th), 12% steal rate (1st)

Wellington - 12.25 made 3's per game (1st), 86 pace (1st), 11% turnover rate (2nd best), 

Matchup to Watch: Sam Timmins v Tohi Smith-Milner Bonus: Luther Muhammad v Izayah Le'afa 

NBS Nelson Giants v Tauranga Whai, Trafalgar Centre, Sunday 6:30pm

The Giants will be in good spirts following their upset win on the road and their squad looks as though it is starting to gel after having a few weeks of a full strength roster. Dan Grida has been a two way force, if a bit prone to foul trouble, while Kobe Langley continues to prove his value as a two-way weapon.  Theo Akuwba has found it a bit of a struggle to consistently stay out of foul trouble himself when banging with the bigs across the league, but that shouldn't be as much of a problem against the undersized Whai squad. But the road team showed that it can junk things up against a potent offense in their most recent victory. And that will have to be the case again as their league 2nd worst offensive rating (103) comes up against a Giants squad that is beginning to fire on all cylinders.

Stats that Matter: 

Nelson- 36% free throw rate (1st), 70% defensive rebounding percentage (last), 21% offensive rebounding percentage (last)

Tauranga- 73 pace (last), 48% effective field goal percentage (10th), 23% free throw rate (9th)

Matchup to Watch: Dan Grida v Demarcus Holland


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