Photo credit: Render Creative
It’s been about a month since we last broke down the Free Agency action and we are just one month away from the Westside Blitz, tipping off in Greymouth on the 12th of March, where fans will get the first inkling into how that talent on their favourite teams will be performing this year. Teams are still in various stages of construction, with all but a select few having a bit of building yet to come. Most teams have locked down their backups depth so we have a good idea of what talent Rapid League clashes are likely to highlight, but when it comes to the Sal’s NBL the picture isn’t that much clearer. Today we take a look at how teams have advanced since we last visited.
The Tuatara have been busy since we last visited them in agency, adding to their talented core of local players with…more talented local players. Reuben Te Rangi will look to shake of the doldrums of a disappointing South-East Melbourne ANBL season by backing up his tremendous efforts for Auckland in 2023 as they travelled to the title game. Corey Webster returning to his hometown is a coup, his late season addition to the Rams last year made their title run possible, as without his closing ability they may not have been able to cut down the nets. And the Tuatara also get the bonus of building their strength while making their competition a bit weaker, which is always a bonus. Josh Leger is a nice pick up, as he flashed promising signs with the Jets last year, and he will offer a strong presence on the glass while protecting the rim and focusing on a backup role that should settle some of the concerns about tempering his style to stay out of foul trouble. What may be most interesting is that the Tuatara, in their chase a third straight appearance in the Grand Final, is that they are tracking towards only one import in Cam Gliddon. Based on the current roster construction this indicates that they will head into the season without an American import on the roster.
The Giants have pulled together more of their local contingent with the inking of a local core or perimeter players. Tom Ingham came back in 2023 after suffering a knee injury and missing the entirety of the 2022 season and should look closer to full strength following a full off-season to get his lower body back to full strength to provide a wing scoring threat. Hayden Jones will play for the hometown Giants for another season before embarking on an NCAA career and he is expected to provide scoring punch well beyond his experience after starring in age group championships. He has the makings of a future star, but for the Giants to reach their goals he will need to make strides towards his potential despite still being in high school. Alex McNaught also returns, but not without having held off interest from suiters across the league, and he will anchor the point of attack defensively while offering a ball control guard that will set the table for scorers in the halfcourt. Other locals are expected to sign in the coming weeks (cough, cough Sam Dempster) but the heights of this squad will be determined by their import talent. Expect the G-men to collect players with size on the wing and down in the low post while possibly bolstering their backcourt with a talented PG (as they have done in recent years with Jarrod West and Avery Woodson).
The Sharks have continued to reshape their roster as they chase a postseason appearance amid a two-year hiatus and will look to do so with a revamped, if familiar, local cast. The return of Alonzo Burton was tougher work than in previous years, as his hometown Hawks had shown interest in bringing him back, but his knockdown perimeter shooting will be in Invercargill to stretch defences and open the interior for the bigs Callum McRae and Marcale Lotts while also stretching the driving lanes for LaGerald Vick. Veteran Josh Turner has been recruited at the point guard position to run the offence and the Sharks will be hoping he can come close to the production provided at that position a year ago (by Jeremy Kendle) while offering a better collection of results. With a recruitment programme that has focused on veteran talent, this will be a team that Coach Guy Molloy will expect a greater attention to detail while trying to improve upon the 2023 season. With the import recruiting finished the Sharks roster is nearly complete and looks to be a bigger more explosive team than a season ago.
The Rams continue to methodically go about their business, and that of course is the business of title defence. They continued the retaining of their young local core with the signing of Aiden Tonge, a bruising big with a soft touch, and he will look for greater opportunities to come off the bench while contributing in the Rapid League this season. But the youth movement isn’t focused on just Kiwi’s as 20-year-old Lachlan Olbrich has joined as the first import on the roster. His ANBL season started with a furry as he forced his way onto the long list of 2024 NBA draft prospects with his aggressive work on the offensive glass that combined with a court sense that stretched beyond his years. His mix of size and skill will be great addition to Judd Flavell’s squad, and that skill set will fit nicely as an anchor in the low post on both end so of the court. That young local core has gotten a bit younger with Olbrich’s addition, so look for the Cantabrians to recruit a veteran at the PG position that can offer leadership and a steady hand in the half court as a likely next addition.
The Saints continue to meticulously piece together their roster and look to have the foundation for a long and athletic team. The signing of Yuat Alok was a surprise for many, as the big had fallen off the radar for many kiwi fans after he took the NCAA path. His size and athleticism will be a great addition to the Saints, and it looks like will be depended on to provide the bulk of minutes at the center position as the fulcrum of the interior defense. Lat Mayen has the looks of a perimeter star in the NBL, his combo of size, shooting and athleticism will offer a solution to problems on both sides of the court, and its always nice to announce a player the day after they hit a game winner! The Saints continue to show that retention of local talent will be a key cog of their strategy, as the return of Kawharu Hippolite bolsters the teams depth and strengthens its Rapid League chances. There are several names to come but the Saints have the look of a much-improved squad on the defensive end, with long switchy athletes at every position that will be a nightmare for opposition offenses to navigate.
A flurry of activity has the Nugs positioned for another run at the Final 6, albeit with a younger foundation then they have showcased in previous seasons. Darcy Knox will prove helpful once again, his combo of tough D and perimeter shooting will be able to soak up minutes when called upon throughout the season. Returning local Benji Freeman has shown flashes of brilliance over the past two years with the Airs, as his light feet and soft hands provide a skillset that surprises on first viewing but has been screaming out for greater opportunity. Based on current roster construction that opportunity could be coming his way. But the crown jewel of recent signings is Tai Webster. Brilliant in limited action in 2023 after joining the team with just enough games to qualify for the postseason his combo of lock down defense and slashing offense has been on full display for the Perth Wildcats as they climbed to the top of the ANBL standings. He will be a veteran leader on this young team and the only question on what his impact will be is how long he will be around the team after appearing in just 6 games a season ago. Overall, this is a young, talented but mostly unproven squad that will likely look for a bit of veteran nous in their two remaining import spots.
The Hawks continue their rebuild by signing a combination of promising local talent to pair with two thirds of their import roster. Young local guards Kobe Kara and Jackson Ball have signed following promising showings on the 3x3 circuit, and the pair will look to provide depth while taking advantage of the opportunity for playing time that comes their way. Isaiah Moore comes from the NCAA system by way of the G-League and will be the floor general for coach Sam Gruggen. His impressive university statistics (18.9 pts, 4.6 ast, 3.3 rb) indicate he will bring a combo of playmaking with a penchant for scoring. Josh Roberts has experienced intermittent activity in his time with the Cairns Taipans in the ANBL but his flashes of activity when trusted show a player whose size and athleticism will be well suited to the Sal’s NBL. With 4 out of 5 starters likely settled the Hawks have an import spot left to fill before scouring the market for local talent to fill out the roster. They have enough talent to compete but will need to find one or two more contributors to make a run at contending.
The Whai continue to methodically go about their business scooping up former Rosmini standout Jayden Boucher to bolster the depth on the wing. He follows Coach Matt Lacey to Tauranga who will be hoping to utilise his defensive skills while developing his all-around game. No team has less players currently inked to contracts, making for a busy few week of recruiting, but with 3 import spots to fill the final look of this squad is yet to be revealed.
The Bulls have slowed their pursuit of talent after splashing on the scene with a flurry of local signings. Questions remain about the recovery time needed for Jordan Hunt (following a lower leg injury playing in England) and those answers may impact how Franklin recruits their import positions. But with a talented foundation any additive talent will be a bonus for at team that already has the look of a competitor.
The bulk of the starting lineup will likely come from players currently signed so we have a good idea of the makeup of the squad. With an import spot left to fill this team can still add to the significant amount of talent on the roster, indicating a trip to the Final 6 is likely on the cards.
The Jets haven’t added to their roster since we last visited them but with 10 roster slots filled there is unlikely to be any pieces of significance added (unlikely but still possible) prior to tipping off the season. The combination of young Kiwi’s and import talent provide an unproven combination that will attempt to stride its way into the Final 6 as the Jets continue on their 5-year plan.