Casey’s Corner: Season Preview

Night ‘n Day Otago Nuggets | Coach - Brent Matehaere | 2022, 10-8 regular season | 2022 Champions

Overview: The Otago Nuggets come off a championship run for the ages where the cream rose to the top at the exact right part of the season and all the promise of their talent was delivered in a beautiful title winning week. Todd Withers and Sam Timmins will again anchor a fearsome interior defense but their potency on offense will need to strengthen to reach last season’s heights. The bench mob will again be led by Josh Aitcheson and last year got solid if intermittent contributions from Jack Andrew, Darcy Knox and Matt Bardsley. Their efforts are vital but new imports JaQuori McLaughlin and Michael Harris will need to carry a heavy load if the bench isn’t able to lift its production from a season ago.

Gamechanger: Todd Withers - Unlucky to miss out on the balloting for last season’s Defensive Player of the Year, he took out his frustration on opponents in the finals, dominating on the defensive end. An improved percentage from three this year will change the geometry of the court and make Otago a matchup nightmare for forwards across the league.

Rising Star: Jack Andrew - A consistent contributor in limited minutes a season ago, Andrew would expect to have a greater impact coming off a season developing with the Perth Wildcats. His size, strength and athleticism should allow big line ups with Timmins to take shape and offer stout rebounding.

Key Loss: Nikau McCullough - His shot making was timely and his defense superb in the Nuggies championship run led to an opportunity in the NBL with Perth. Coming off that experience he should be well placed to have a larger effect on games.

Prediction: In the mix for the Final 6

Auckland Tuatara | Coach - Aaron Young | 2022, 10-8 regular season| Runner-up

Overview: Rob Loe is back to lead a team full of new faces that will hope a revamped roster will be able to deliver the championship hardware that just slipped out of the Lizards grasp after a  Final 6 run to the title game. Reuben Te Rangi returns to the Sal's NBL for the first time since the 2020 showdown and will be eager to show off an offensive game that seldom gets unleashed when playing with the S.E. Melbourne Phoenix. Jarrad Weeks and Cam Gliddon are welcomed back to the Sal’s NBL as well (2018 and 2019 respectively) with the veterans  forming a Tuatara quartet  that will do the bulk of the heavy lifting. Rookie Kruz Perrott-Hunt will round out a starting five and is an intriguing prospect for a team who will be keen on finding out who will step up from an unproven bench to contribute in the 2023 chase for the postseason.

Gamechanger: Reuben Te Rangi - Welcoming the talented Tall Black is huge for Auckland, and his top end two-way production will lift the baseline of expectations. If he is able to play at his best offensively with his blend of power and shooting then an upper echelon finish will be in the making.

Rising Star: Kruz Perrott-Hunt - Coming off a stellar 4-year career at South Dakota State where he twice topped 40% from 3-point range. His two-way play this season will be key for Tuatara finals hopes but his production may well outpace his experience considerably.

Key Loss: Chris Johnson - Of all the players to not return to Auckland this year Chris Johnson may be felt the most deeply. HIs dominance inside and partnership with Loe made their frontcourt talent the deepest in the league, now depth may be Auckland's biggest question mark.

Prediction: Top-4 title contender

NBS Nelson Giants | Coach - Mike Fitchett | 2022, 12-6 regular season | Semi-finalist

Overview: Nelson’s ability to keep a desired Alex McNaught allows the Giants to enjoy a continuity in local talent that few teams around the league can lay claim to. Sam Dempster will hope to replicate a career best year while the return of Tysxun Aiolupotea and Tom Ingham will bolster a perimeter attack that last season often depended on a stout defence to create scoring opportunities. The Giants biggest question mark was the imports as multiple deals have unexpectedly fell through. But that could be a blessing in disguise if the right fit is found in the end. If the Giants are able to hold the fort until the cavalry arrives they could be in great stead to leap back into the Final 6, but early season growing pains will have to be navigated quickly.

Gamechanger: Tom Ingham - A determined scorer whose outside shooting and clever shotmaking was missed following a pre-season knee injury. How quickly he is able to regain top form will be key for a team that starts the season at less than full strength.

Rising Star: Alex McNaught - After multiple seasons of getting limited minutes in a backup role, Alex is poised to receive the keys to the bus and start driving. His defensive abilities are ample and his impact on that end will grow with minutes, but the ability to find offensive consistency, especially from three, will greatly impact winning for the Giants.

Key Loss: Jarrod West - The Defensive Player of the Year set a tone at the point of attack game after game last season. Mitigating his departure will be the emergence of Alex McNaught’s defensive game offering opportunity to bolster other areas of the roster.

Prediction: In the mix for the Final 6

Taranaki Steelformers Airs | Coach - Trent Adam | 2022, 12-6 regular season | Semi-finalist

Overview: After celebrating their first return to the postseason in a generation, the Airs were on the brink of an expected finals appearance when one of the most unlikely losses one could dream up took place. The disappointment would have lingered over an offseason spent wondering what could have been, but a reloaded Airs will do their best to make last season's regular season success an annual tradition.  With  Anthony Hilliard’s shooting prowess buttressed by the return of Richard Rodger in the backcourt and Scott Telfer and veteran Marcel Jones returning in the frontcourt the Airs will hope to keep the foundation for last season's improved results. New imports Armon Fletcher and David Azore will man the wings but it will be Quintin Bailey and Anzac Rissetto who will provide the bulk of activity in the paint and on the glass. If it all comes together another story book season could be on tap, hopefully this time with an ending to match.

Gamechanger: Anzac Rissetto - Productive and at times dominant in the paint in 2022, his production and impact on winning will increase if he is able to stay out of foul trouble which proved difficult a season ago. Just 22 years old this could be a breakout season statistically after averaging 10 points and 5 rebounds last year and that would be the minimum of expectations for the year.

Rising Star: Benji Freeman - The 19 year old showed great footwork and lightness of foot when given opportunity last year. Production should rise given the opportunity. Shifty moves with the ball in hand and an ability to finish at the rim could force his inclusion into more lineups.

Key Loss: Javonte Douglas - His versatility on both ends drove was a cheat code of last season’s Airs, but it may be his impact on the glass and ability to ignite the transition game after grabbing the defensive board will be the most important aspect to try to emulate this season.

Prediction: In the Mix For the Final 6

Wellington Saints | Coach - Troy McLean | 2022, 10-8 regular season | Final 6

Overview: A slow start seemed to be in the rearview mirror, but a log jam of talent at the forward position wasn’t enough to get the Saints past the Final 6. Tom Vodanovich, Taane Samuel and Kenneth Tuffin provide continuity for another Wellington team primed for the postseason. The local core is bolstered by the return of  Francis Wineera-Mulvihill, Nathaniel Salmon and Tohi Smith-Milner as the Saints look for a more even spread of activity from their wider squad. Driving the car will be Kyle Adnam, a smooth scoring guard whose distribution abilities will be key to running the offence on all cylinders. The Saints are a postseason regular, but to reach their own expectations a deep playoff run will require

Gamechanger: Tohi Smith-Milner - The sweet shooting centre is a difficult match up with his smooth shooting and strength down low was key to a Saints title in 2021. His ability to punish miscues from deep and in the paint will open up opportunities for his teammates to score as well.

Rising Star: Nathaniel Salmon - the Saints will be excited for the smooth and athletic forwards return to the region. The 19 year olds combination of size and skill promises a bright future and adds to the versatility of the forward pack while providing an insurance policy for unavailability through injury or foul trouble.

Key Loss: Xavier Cooks - the versatile forward rode a shelf full of MVP’s to an opportunity in the NBA. How does one player replace that? The answer is that one can’t on their own and the Saints will be hoping that many hands will make light work as the team will look to lift production as a unit.

Prediction: Top-4 Title Contender

Hawke’s Bay Hawks | Coach - Everard Bartlett | 2022, 10-8 regular season | Final 6

Overview: A talented kiwi contingent will again provide the framework for the Hawks and an offence where fast breaks will be plentiful for a team that was built to create transition opportunities. Derone Raukawa and Ethan Rustbatch will provide the scoring prowess from the perimeter and the versatility of Hyrum Harris should be well complemented by Jordan Hunt and recruits Jordan Ngatai and Denhym Brooke to form an athletic quartet of forwards. With GM/point guard Jarrod Kenny contributing stout D and a steady  hand off the bench the Final 6 will be the baseline of expectations. If the right talented import is added a goal worth chasing.

Gamechanger: Hyrum Harris - His game continues to grow and after a strong showing for the Adelaide 36ers his contribution will be measurable in every box score category and many areas that stats aren’t kept for. His ability to rebound and ignite breaks is another quiver in the fast break weaponry on offer and possibly the deadliest transition weapon in the league.

Rising Star: Jacob Murphy - While minutes may be in short supply this could be the year that Jacob Murphy enjoys more of an impact. Molded for the Hawk’s offensive philosophy, if he can find a hot hand from three early in the season a more substantial role could be on offer.

Key Loss: Jack Salt - Despite being injury plagued, the big man was a formidable force in the paint. Few teams were able to match his size and strength. The Hawks will have to lift the board work as a collective to ignite the transition game.

Prediction: Top-4 title contender

Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams | Coach - Judd Flavell | 2022, 8-10 regular season | Missed Final 6

Overview: A late season swoon kept the Rams from the post season a year ago despite the solid efforts defensively from returnees Taylor Britt and Max Darling, who despite the emergence of Walter Brown found themselves last in defensive rebounds per game. Enter Tai Wynyard coming off his best professional season and looking to further add to his game by reuniting with a coach that goes back to his junior development and should understand his game. The athleticism of Troy Baxter Jnr and shooting of Tevin Brown will round out the minutes load while a young local core should find more opportunity to contribute this season. If everything falls into place a powerful half court unit that controls the paint with a strong defensive presence will be on hand making winter trips to Christchurch frosty indeed.

Gamechanger: Tai Wynyard - A physical presence whenever he steps on the court his soft touch and athleticism continue to impress as he looks to add to his offensive responsibilities and continue to expand his game.

Rising Star: Walter Brown - While he officially rose last year, still just 20 his game will grow with added responsibility and I would expect more consistent contributions as his opportunities increase.

Key Loss: Matthew Moyer - His rebounding and interior scoring kept the Rams in many games, but with the maturing and recruitment of talent in the frontcourt this is a load that the current talent on the squad should be able to carry.

Prediction: In the Mix for the Final 6

Franklin Bulls | Coach - Daniel Sokolovsky | 2022, 7-11 regular season | Missed Final 6

Overview: A choppy season where inconsistency was the thing that could be counted on most had the Bulls on the recruiting trail to add to the returning backcourt of Jayden Bezzant and Isaac Davidson. A reloaded front line will feature Dan Fotu, Dom-Kelman Poto and Tyrell Harrison with imports Jamaal Brantley and Rickey McGill all coming together to form a formidable squad of starting quality players. If the new faces can gel and injuries be avoided Franklin could be a hot pick finals challenger.

Gamechanger: Tyrell Harrison - Having grown into his body and his game since a stint with the Giants a few seasons ago he should be a force to be reckoned with. His defensive presence will vacuum up teammates' miscues and his soft touch and ability to finish with both hands will keep the scoreboard ticking over.

Rising Star: Dan Fotu - A lack of opportunity with the Breakers and injury woes in his rookie debut in the Sal’s NBL a season ago will make this year the first real chance to show the breadth his game is capable of. Quality shooting with solid footwork in the paint should make scoring at multiple levels consistent with impact on both ends of the court.

Key Loss: Corey Webster - The sweet scoring guard lifts the ceiling of every offence he’s been a part of, but the Bulls will look to spread the shots around while looking for a collective lift on the defensive end to temper the effects of his departure.

Prediction: Top-4 Title Contender

Southland Sharks | Coach - Guy Molloy | 2022, 6-12 regular season | Missed Final 6

Overview: A season where nothing seemed to go the Sharks way is left squarely in the past as the Sharks look to ride fresh perspectives in the coaching and playing group back to the heights with which the fans in the deep south are normally accustomed. The steady hand of Jeremy Kendle will look to take advantage of Romaro Gill’s size and Alonzo Burton threat from deep. Grant Anticevich will round out the import trio while the productiveness of Johnny Helu, Dru-Leo Leusogi-Ape and Brayden Inger will ultimately decide the level of this season’s ceiling. 

Gamechanger: Grant Anticevich - A limited contributor with the S.E. Melbourne Phoenix his ability to perform at import quality will be a determining factor in the Sharks hopes this season. His strong rebounding complimenting 3-point shooting that will need to hit the mark to open up space for teammates drives.

Rising Star: Dru-Leo Leusogi-Ape - On the cusp of a leap in his game at 21 years of age, this could be the season we enjoy a greater look at the abilities of the athletic wing. I’m looking for an added level of confidence to unlock 3-level scoring to springboard the young talent to greater opportunities.

Prediction: In the Mix for the Final 6

Property Brokers Jets | Coach - Natu Taufale | 2022, 5-13 regular season | Missed Final 6

Overview: Despite early season doldrums the Jets finished 2022 strong while offering their local core the chance to develop while setting the foundation for larger strides when the opportunity emerges. The Jets will be hoping 2023 gives that opportunity with a talented trio of imports Danny Pippen, Javion Blake and Mustapha Heron on hand from day 1 to keep the Jets from a cold start. If they are able to reach their two-way potential look for improved contributions from Pafe Momoisea, Klein Salmon and Josh Leger and focus on habits that lead to winning basketball to put pressure on the top of the table as the Jets chase a postseason berth.

Gamechanger: Danny Pippen - his scoring prowess will be key to unlocking the geometry of the court for the Jets this year if he is able to inflict his physicality and interior presence on opponents. If he is able to reach his ceiling and become the focal point of defensive gameplans the court should open for his teammates allowing for the load to be shared more evenly on the offensive end.

Rising Star: Josh Leger - Impactful on the defensive end when given minutes staying out of foul trouble will be key for his development and the overall outlook of the Jets. Rim protection should be a given, but harnessing his power and aggressive mindset down low will be the key to unlocking a larger role on a game to game basis.

Prediction: In the Mix for the Final 6


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