Casey’s Corner – Round 9

Photo credit: Render Creative NZ

The Week That Was 

When we look back on the season a smattering of teams may look back on Round 8 as the tipping point of their season, where the balance was shifted and things started on an upward trajectory other shifted into the opposite path. 

The Tuatara took to the deep south for their last double header of the season on what will be their last trip outside of Auckland until Round 15 and promptly dispatched of their wins in a workmanlike if unimpressive fashion. Their victory against Otago never seemed in doubt despite the 9 point margin as the Nuggets were unable to find peak levels of execution on the offensive end as Tai Webster struggled from the field (1-8) on his way to his worst scoring game of the year (2pts) before leaving the team for an undisclosed amount of time. The Nuggets now firmly in a swoon having lost 6 of 7 games in the midst of inconsistent performances.

The Tuatara then caught a bit of a scare 3 days later as they entered the 4th quarter only up a deuce to Southland, the Sharks finally giving the home crowd something to cheer about and a wee bit of hope for 30long minutes before being snapped back to reality behind a barrage of Rob Loe triples and vintage Corey Webster offense during the 23 point victory. In the end, two wins are two wins and Auckland continues to perch on the top ladder. 

Similary Taranaki dispatched their opponent from the bottom of the ladder, but they grounded the Jets in much more convincing fashion as the Airs full strength lineup had it's choice of options in the halfcourt when they weren't performing an aerial display in transition. Sam Froling carving out space on the interior when slowed while the Cameron brothers (among others) displayed their skills in transition. The Airs continuing to gel as they look to regain a position in the upper echelon of the comp. On the plus side for the Jets James Moors has finally arrived and his presence inside will help Manawatu find some positional stability moving forward, especially if a new import is to debut this weekend as speculated. 

Franklin enjoyed mixed results as they dominated an understrength team, this time the Hawks without Keanu Rasmussen, behind Isaac Davidson's 30 point shooting display and Luther Muhammad's now routine mid-range dominance. Even with 33 points from Isaiah Moore and 25 from Jordan Ngatai the Hawks were hard pressed to match their pace of an opening quarter that saw them trail by just 2 before succumbing to the Bulls will. They would find the Saints to be missing a starter as well, with Izayah Le'afa out, but the return of Hyrum Harris helped to make up for his absence as Wellington gutted out a tight win. Both teams struggled to find their flow in a disrupted game that featured 45 combined free throws and the same number of fouls(maybe featured isn't the right word...). The Saints riding the two way effort of Ben Ayre, whose 30 points carried a load offensively that was shared by the interior scoring of Harris(17pts, 7rbs, 8ast, 4stls) and Taane Samuel (16pts on 6-9fg, 9rbs)  The Bulls again falling short against a team with top end talent, with all their wins coming either against teams beneath them on the ladder or teams that were missing considerable talent when defeated. 

One of those teams that was less than full strength against the Bulls haven't lost a game since that defeat as the Rams have now won 6 in a row and remain undefeated with Lachie Olbrich in the middle. Their victory against the Whai coming as the Rams dominated inside play to the tune of +16 on the boards and +14 in free throw attempts continuing their dominance of the interior, but well balanced on both sides of the ball on the perimeter as well. Their depth continuing to shine as 9 players saw the court for at least 9:58 (that would have sounded cooler if Tama Isaac had just played 2 seconds more).

Despite the 20 point defeat the Whai continued their turn towards improved play with just two imports in the loss then bounced back in with an impressive defensive performance while defeating the Nelson Giants on the road. After going down by a point with the score at 47-46 with 4:29 left in the third period the Whai would outscore the the G-Men to by a score of 13-2 behind 11 points between Phill Carr and Kruz Perott-Hunt while the team combined to hold the their opponents to just 11 points in the third quarter to take a 10 point lead heading into the final quarter. The big discrepancy on the score sheet coming from behind the arc, where the Whai's lack of fouling and solid perimeter D held the giants to 5 made three's on 28 attempts (@28%) while allowing the team that led the league in free throw rate to just 6-9 (66%) from the line. In contrast the Whai hit 11-26 3's (@42%) while doubling up the Giants at the line with 12 makes from 16 attempts (75%) to outscore Nelson 45 to 21 from those areas on their way to a 14 point win that may have saved the season.

Worth Mentioning

Phil Carr - In that possibly season saving win many players contributed but Phil Carr led the way. He scored a season high 25pts while shooting 75% from the field (his best efficiency since a season opening victory) while pulling down 12rbs (1 off his season high) and being perfect from the line. While not a blueprint centre (more of a shooting 4) he has taken to his task with fervor and his shooting from deep keeps defending bigs out of the paint. His ability to get to the line is key (4 times he hasn't hit the free throw line, all 4 losses for the Whai) but if he plays with high efficiency he may help the Whai reach the postseason in their inaugural year. 

Isaac Davidson - Franklin has proven to be a decent shooting team (3rd in league @ 34.5%) but the volume just isn't there against the highest scoring teams (a league worst 6.9 makes per game). But if Davidson can find the form he did in the first week of the last round that could all change. He had his best scoringgame since the 2020 showdown with 30 points @ 70%fg and a mighty impressive 7-9 from deep in a win against the Hawks. He did crash back in the loss against the Saints (3pts in 20min) but his skill from deep (as well as Ethan Rusbatch) could be one of the keys to Franklin unlocking their full offensive potential. 

Carlin Davison - Yes it was against a Jets team trying to find it's way to relevancy but Davison may have had the best game of his young career, delivering 25pts, 11rbs, 2stls, 2stls and 1blk while drawing a team high 7 fouls. The points are great, but the decisive cutting and movement off the ball is better. His athletic ability has delivered excellent rim protection while allowing him to play up (as when he starts at power forward) or down (guarding 1-3 in switches) adding vital positional versatility to an Airs team lacking in size (other than Froling). His play will be key to the Airs and any title hopes so, yeah, that's worth a mention. 

Round 9

Taranaki Steelformers Airs v Taylor Hawke's Bay Hawks, Wednesday 7:30pm, TSB Stadium 

The Airs continue their home stand and will look to continue to impose their will offensively after coming off their second best offensive performance of the year (134 Offensive rating v Jets) where they turned defense to offense with regularity. They do this without finding great pace (10th in league) by creating excellent looks in the half court, through Sam Froling post ups or Mitch McCarron/Flynn Cameron pick and rolls where their passing makes them tough to stop when executing. They welcome the Hawks, who will once again be without key cog Keanu Rasmussen but that shouldn't effect their push for pace early in the game, but it will take it's toll as the game goes along. Creating possession will be key, but how the Hawks do that with the 2nd lowest steal percentage and 3rd lowest offensive rebound rate will be the main questions that need answering. 

Stats that Matter: 

Taranaki - 55% effective field goal (2nd in league), 57% assist rate(3rd), 35% free throw rate (1st)

Hawke's Bay - 42% assist rate (last), 7% steal rate (10th), 24% offensive rebound rate (9th) 

Matchup to Watch: Mitch McCarron v Isaiah Moore 

Tauranga Whai v Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams, Thursday 7:30pm Mercury Baypark Arena

The Whai come off their best win of the season and will also be buoyed by the impending arrival of a much needed import with interior skills, but he is unlikely to arrive prior to a contest against the Rams whose strength on the inside has finished many a game. Just last round the Rams controlled this matchup over the middle two quarters, with all 5 starters eventually reaching double figures. The Whai played decently overall defending the 3 point arc well, but their lack of bulk inside led to a 16 rebound deficit while the Rams made twice as many free throws as the Whai attempted. If those areas can be cleaned up the Whai will give themselves a chance on their home court, but that is a big if. 

Stats that Matter: 

Tauranga- 70% defensive rebound percentage (last), 23% offensive rebound percentage (10th), 22% free throw rate (10th)

Canterbury- 76% defensive rebound percentage (3rd), 34% offensive rebound percentage (1st), 13% turnover rate (3rd best)

Matchup to Watch: Jayden Bezzant v M.J. Walker

Auckland Tuatara v NBS Nelson Giants, Friday 7:30pm, EventFinda Stadium

A little over a month ago the Giants scored a huge win against the Tuatara on their home court which propelled them into the postseason hunt. To stay hunting they will need to find that form again, but this time on the road where they have come up with a win just twice this season. The good news is they didn't have Theo Akwuba in that game and his size will make defending Rob Loe an easier task, but to do that effectively he will need to avoid the foul trouble that has plagued him with regularity. The bad news is that the Tuatara have been playing much better basketball and are on their home court, where they have proved to be in a different class than their opposition. Corey Webster and Loe are atop the MVP rankings for a reason, as their control of the half court offense has been near impeccable. Tom Vodanovich's mix of power and shooting blends perfectly while Reuben Te Rangi has allowed his teammates to shine while sacrificing his offensive game. Cam Gliddon missed the last matchup between teams and his insertion changes the geometry of the court while adding an excellent help side defender and is 3rd in the league in steals (2.5 stlspg). Kobe Langely (3.8 stlspg) does lead the league in that category and his ball pressure can make a difference especially if he creates problems while guarding C Web, but it will likely take a team wide Herculean effort to get a repeat of results from their first meeting this year. 

Stats that Matter: 

Auckland- 42% field goal percentage defense (1st), 35% 3point field goal percentage (1st), +6 rebounding margin (2nd)

Nelson- 48% field goal percentage defense (7th), 29% 3point field goal percentage (10th), -6.7 rebounding margin (last)

Matchup to Watch: Rob Loe v Theo Akwuba bonus Corey Webster v Kobe Langley 

Southland Sharks v Night 'n Day Otago Nuggets, Saturday 4pm, ILT Stadium Southland

The 'Southern Stoush' has a little less lustre then in previous season due to the  current form 0f both teams but it will have no less meaning for teams that are desperate to rediscover (or discover in the case of the Sharks) their winning ways.  The Sharks have been playing better offense of late, with their last four games matching their best offensive ratings for the year, while not blowing the doors off anyone it is reason for optimism which has been in short supply. The return of Zo Burton to full strength has helped balance the court offensively with 4 out of his last 5 games finding him hit at least 3 triples with shooting over 43%. That shooting has opened up a bit more space on the interior for Marcale Lotts and Callum McRae which has bolstered their effectiveness. The Nuggets, while higher on the ladder, are in similar doldrums. They've lost 6 of 7 games and now bid adieu (at least temporarily) to Tai Webster. This will open an opportunity for the teenage backcourt of Ben Henshall and Dontae Russo-Nance to control more of the game and they have shown the ability to do that. Consistency will be key, both from the perimeter and from the interior where Kimani Lawrence's influence has remained steady while Jack Andrew has produced in spurts. 

Stats that Matter: 

Southland- 28% 3point field goal percentage (last), 34% 3point field goal percentage defense (9th), -4.73 turnover margin (10th) 

Otago- 33% 3point rate (10th), 71% defensive rebound percentage (8th), 25% offensive rebound percentage (9th), 

Matchup to Watch: Marcale Lotts v Kimani Lawrence 

Mills Albert Wellington Saints v Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams, Saturday 7:30pm, TSB Arena 

The Saints and Rams meet in what could be the match of the round with both teams boasting 7-2 records and top 3 positions on the ladder with the winner of this game gaining the inside track on a top 2 position and the chance to host a home semi-final. The Saints will look to speed up the Rams, looking for offensive chances in transition with cross-switches caused by their preferred pace of play but the defensive versatility of Rams will nullify this strategy somewhat. Both teams value the ball (top 3 in turnover percentage) but the Saints do a better job of forcing opposition turnovers. This will be tough against a Rams squad that boasts multiple ball handlers and Lachy Olbrich's ability to rebound and initiate offense from the centre position. If Izayah Le'afa has returned to the lineup the Saints d-pressure goes up a notch but his return is yet to be confirmed. If still absent the ability to create in the half court will fall on Ben Ayre (coming off a 30pt game) and Hyrum Harris, whose MVP campaign is in full effect every time he takes the court. K.J. Buffen's ability to slow his power forward counter part will be key, but with Max Darling coming off the bench he isn't the only solution that the Rams have to offer. This game very likely will come down to the final quarter and both teams will have undoubtedly have excellent strategies coming from their head coaches as Jud Flavell and Zico Coronel both with championship pedigrees are always well prepared. It remains to be seen if the pace of the Saints pay off down the stretch of the game but if they stay at the races fatigue may set in for the Rams second road game of the round. 

Stats that Matter: 

Wellington- 12% turnover percentage (2nd best), 61% assist percentage (1st), 11% steal percentage (2nd)

Canterbury- 13% turnover percentage ( 3rd best), 76% defensive rebounding rate (3rd), 34% offensive rebounding rate (1st)

Matchup to Watch: Hyrum Harris v K.J. Buffen bonus Tohi Smith-Milner v Lachy Olbrich

Property Brokers Manawatu Jets v Tauranga Whai, Sunday 3pm, Fly Palmy Arena

The Jets come back home with the hope that a new look lineup will deliver for their home fans. With James Moors and a the rumoured arrival of an import this could be the strongest Jets lineup featured since the opening game of the season. Will that talent engender more care of the ball? Hopefully as their 17% turnover rate will need to be improved upon against a Whai team that has been playing solid defense of late. The Jets play a solid pace and will look to speed up Tauranga, but if they are unable to do so Manawatu's halfcourt defensive rotations will be tested with the shooting options that the Whai can spread around the court. This game will serve as an opportunity for the Whai to stay in finals contention with a win, but a lost will be costly and perhaps keep them on the outside of the Final 6 looking in. For the Jets the finals are still a mathematical possibility but for a team still searching for a solid 40 minute two-way performance just playing a better brand of basketball might be appreciated just as much.

Stats that Matter

Manawatu- 50% effective field goal percentage (9th), 17% turnover percentage (10th), 44% assist rate (10th)

Tauranga- 49% effective field goal percentage (10th), 14% turnover percentage (8th), 22% free throw rate (10th)

Matchup to Watch: Mustapha Heron v Demarcus Holland

Franklin Bulls v NBS Nelson Giants, Sunday 6:30pm, Franklin Pool and Leisure Centre

The Bulls come back to their home court looking regain some mojo after suffering their first home loss of the season in a game where they found it difficult to get a rhythm going in a disjointed game that featured their equal 3rd lowest score of the year. The same can be said of the Giants in their home loss to the Whai as they scored their equal low score of the year in that game and will be playing their second game of the round in the 09 area code. With both teams looking to get back on track to keep touch with the teams just ahead of them (the Bulls chasing the Top of the ladder and the Giants chasing the 6th spot on the ladder) we should expect another gritty game with a heap of physicality. Sam Timmins should revel in that style of play, with his rebounding and shot blocking providing a good challenge for his counterpart Theo Akwuba. This matchup will be key for both teams and will require the bigs to do their best to stay out of foul trouble so they can exert their presence on the defensive end of the court. The paint will be of the utmost importance as neither team likes to fire it from deep with any great volume, making efficiency and ball control key to victory. Luther Muhammad has ever so slightly slipped to 2nd in the league in scoring (24.4) after fighting off a bought of illness but his ability to tick the scoreboard over may end up being Nelson's primary concern, especially considering he scored 34 off the plane in their first matchup of the year in round 1. Both teams are stronger than that initial clash, both in terms of depth and in confidence. Both teams turn the ball over around the same percentage of the time while also being close in terms of forcing steals. A key for the Giants will be getting back to the line, they were unable to do so last round but they are still 2nd in the league in free throw rate despite that. The Bulls lack of volume from 3 won't be as big of an issue as the Giants are only slightly better in that department but a big game from either teams sharpshooters would tilt the scales in their favour. 

Stats that Matter:

Franklin- 23% free throw rate (9th), 10% block rate (1st), 11% steal rate (1st)

Nelson- 33% free throw rate (2nd), 11% steal rate (3rd), 71% defensive rebounding rate (10th)

Matchup to Watch: Luther Muhammad v Alex McNaught bonus Sam Timmins v Theo Akwuba

Advance Statistics Courtesy of


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