With just a few hours before we tip-off the 2020 Sal's NBL Showdown Grand Final, let's take a look at the week's Fast Five - The Sal's NBL Take Aways!
The most condensed competition in NBL history resulted in 56 games being played in 40 days. The Sal’s NBL threw up many highlights not least the Otago Nuggets and Manawatu Jets having a chance to win their first ever NBL championship.
There were plenty of other talking points and facts to emerge over the 6-week span of NBL ’20.
1. Talent returning from US Colleges
The Sal’s NBL provided the opportunity for young players returning from basketball scholarships in the States to showcase the skills.
It wasn’t a surprise to see Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa play a starring role for the Auckland Huskies. Selected for the Tall Blacks as a 16-year old Mauriohooho-Le’afa has returned to these shores looking a highly accomplished guard and looks destined to have a long professional career. He was named to the 2020 Sal’s NBL All-Star 5 and joint-winner, alongside Jarrod Kenny, of the NBL Defensive Player of the Year Award.
Sam Timmins was another player capped as an international at a young age. The EnviroNZ Franklin Bulls centre didn’t have the same impact as Mauriohooho-Le’afa but he undoubtedly will be pushing for top honours again in the future.
Timmins and Mauriohooho-Le’afa have returned after 4-years at NCAA Division I universities but the likes of Jayden Bezzant (Jets), Quintin Bailey (Rams), Isaac Davidson (Bulls), Jordan Hunt and Kane Keil (both Nuggets) showed there is equal benefit from attending NAIA and NCAA Division II or Division III colleges. The quintet all had outstanding seasons for their respective teams.
2. The Next Wave
Some of the next wave of talent probably headed to the States were also able to strut their stuff. Nate Wilson (Huskies) and the Rams pair of Tom Webley and Ben Carlile-Smith were still at school this time last year but looked far from daunted playing in more senior company. Neither did Taine Murray (Huskies) and Akiva McBirney-Griffin (Nuggets) who are both back in the classroom this week alongside their Year 13 classmates.
3. Philippines Connection
At least 11 Kiwis were playing in the Philippines University Leagues in 2019 and Kenneth Tuffin demonstrated why he is a genuine collegiate star in that part of the world. The Airs swingman, who plays for Far Eastern University in Manilla and has a year left of his scholarship, also caught the eye of the international selectors as he was named to the Tall Blacks extended squad last week. Others to have played in the Philippines in recent times include Taane Samuel (Jets), Richie Rodger (Nuggets and Francis Mulvihill (Airs).
4. Veterans Shine
The ‘old dogs’ are far from finished. Mika Vukona (Giants), Jarrod Kenny (Nuggets), Marcel Jones (Airs), Leon Henry (Huskies) and Everard Bartlett (Bulls) have accumulated 74 seasons in the NBL and are heading to the north end of their thirties but the quintet showed they still have plenty to offer.
Jones was the leading rebounder in NBL ’20 averaging 13.3 rebounds per game and Henry (10.9rpg) was not far behind in third spot. Bartlett was in the top half dozen three-point shooters connecting from beyond the arc at a very healthy 44%.
Unfortunately for Vukona, and New Zealand basketball fans, the Nelson Giants veteran was struck down by appendicitis and only played five games. In the play-off game against the Rams last week he demonstrated how much the Giants had missed his on court presence. The Tall Blacks captain produced 14 points and 16 rebounds in 28 minutes in a typically wholehearted performance.
He may be touching 35-years young but Jarrod Kenny looks as fit as ever and he certainly hasn’t lost any of his basketball smarts.
He has orchestrated the Nuggets wonderful run through NBL ‘20 with skill, vision and composure that befits a player who debuted in the NBL in 2002.
5. Sticking with the Glue Guys
Every coach loves them – the guy who takes whatever minutes he is given, scrambles for every loose ball and plays whatever is in front of him no matter the situation.
We nominate the following as the All-Star Glue Guys.
Nuggets – Matt Bardsley
We’ve said it before but the 84th pick in the NBL Draft has done everything and more for Coach Matehaere, epitomising the team first attitude of the Nuggets squad.
Rams – Alex Talma
Alex Talma cast a forlorn figure on Tuesday night as his team took care of business against the Giants. The Rams leading rebounder suffered what appeared to be a season ending ankle injury and limped away from the game in a despondent mood. He missed the game on Wednesday but played through discomfort on Thursday in the interest of his team recording .
Giants – Tom Ingham
The Giants skipper gave his all for the cause. He played the most minutes, scored the most points and hauled in his fair share of rebounds.
Jets – Ashton McQueen
Like a good wine that gets better with age McQueen got better with every game. Bottle whatever he has because it’s way more potent than his 6.7 points and 2.6 rebounds per game suggests.
Airs – Shane Temara
One of the most athletic players in the NBL Temara provided the Airs with a bit of everything – 12.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and 1.3 assists per outing. You feel there is a lot more to come from the 24-year old.
Bulls - Nick Barrow
Wherever he has played in his 10-year NBL career Barrow has always been willing to do the ‘dirty work’ in the interests of the team. Box out, set screens, rebound, get the loose ball – not pretty but absolutely vital.
Huskies – Reuben Fitzgerald
A late replacement for the injured Rashid Al Kaleem, Fitzgerald went from averaging 14 minutes a game in his first 4 appearances to 26 minutes in his last four as he provided energy at both ends of the floor.