Justin Nelson’s Burning Questions – Round 1

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Just how good was the opening round performance by the Hawks?

Simply … it was incredibly good, top shelf stuff and a start that Hawks fans could only dream of. Down 11 points with 3:39 left to play at The Stockyard you wouldn’t have blamed the Hawks for starting to look towards Saturday’s clash in Wellington, but this highly experienced unit had other ideas and with the help of a massive Ethan Rusbatch shot … who was left waaaaay open … the Hawks pushed the Bulls into overtime and calmly went on to win, while the Bulls snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Then came Saturday’s clash against their nemesis, a team they had only beaten once in their last 13 contests. If there is a bogey team for the Hawks then say hello to the Saints. In front of a packed stadium this contest had everything, including a steady flow of lead changes. Returning to his former digs, Jordan Ngatai torched the Saints to the tune of 30 points, while the Hawks – who still have power forward American Ira Lee to come – totally dominated the paint, claiming a 47-30 win on the boards and a 46-24 differential for points scored in the paint. The Saints will pick this one apart with precision and when they do they will see that their interior work at both ends of the floor was below par. A dream start for the Hawks? You betchya!

Any concerns for the Jets after two losses to start the season?

Absolutely … NOT. With Javion Blake and Mustapha Heron still to come, the Jets showed more than enough across the southern swing to suggest they will push for the Final 6 if they can stay fit and healthy. Despite holding up the ladder last season, the Jets showed plenty of glimpses in 2022 and caught a few teams napping, and let’s not forget they are the League’s youngest team. Danny Pippen II put on a show in Invercargill and Dunedin (he looks fun), Liam Judd is on the rise and appears to be an astute signing for Natu Taufale, Pafe Momoisea continues to evolve, and Tu Kaha Cooper looks set for a breakout season.

It will take a few weeks for all the pieces to settle, but don’t be surprised if you see the Jets go on a winning run through the middle of the season. If they can hold good form down the stretch, they will be amongst the pack chasing a Final 6 spot.

Have the Saints got it right with their selection of imports?

Way too early to call is the easy go-to answer here, and rightly so, but the Saints will be a little concerned this week that Kyle Adnam is carrying an upper-leg injury (abductor strain), Marlon Taylor was well shut down by the Hawks after an explosive opening quarter where he scored 12 points, and James Southerland looks to be carrying some sort of injury. What we do know is Adnam is a stud and once he shakes his injury he will be one of the very best imports in the competition, and guard Taylor showed enough in his opening burst to suggest he will settle in nicely – including a win in the opening jump (remember he’s a 190cm-ish guard).

The concern from the opening contest is Southerland, who played a touch under six minutes, missed his only shot and grabbed one rebound. The big American looked to be labouring and limited in his movement. All eyes will now be on the 12-time champions this Thursday night when they take on the Bulls in the capital as both teams chase their first win of the season, meaning one of them will remain winless come Friday morning.

Why are we seeing so many NBA G-League players come to the Sal’s NBL?

If you felt like we are seeing more and more NBA G-League players each year in the Sal’s NBL, you would be right. Increasingly, New Zealand is becoming a popular destination for players immediately off the back of the NBA G-League season. Some of the big names to watch this season include Tevin Brown (Rams), Armon Fletcher (Airs) and Mustapha Heron (Jets), but they are just a few of a growing list.

The timing of the Sal’s NBL fits perfectly with G-League players – they are coming in straight off the G-League season and looking to continue their development and drop big numbers in the hope of gaining future contracts back in the United States, or in Europe come September/October. The good news is the influx of G-League players, many of whom also have solid NBA Summer League experience, is helping to continually lift the standard of our own basketball across Aotearoa.

What was good, bad and ugly across the opening round of the season?

The good definitely lands at the feet of the Hawks, who travelled to take on two teams expected to figure prominently this season and they took care of business against both. The Hawks are packed with Kiwi experience, and it showed down the stretch against the Bulls and Saints when smart and calculated execution was needed at both ends of the floor. In particular the win against the Saints will have the Hawks walking a couple of feet taller this week, it was just their second win in their last 14 encounters with the League’s most successful franchise. With import power forward Ira Lee about to land, the Hawks are off to a flyer and will welcome more talent with open arms. Right up there with the Hawks in the good books were the crowds, which included three games being sold-out. Big applause for the fans, you continue to love the Sal’s NBL and continue to deliver an awesome atmosphere.

The bad is not unfamiliar territory for any team in any competition in week one – the shooting across the Sal’s NBL was rusty, at best. As the season settles the shooting will lift, it always does. The best (or worst) example of just how rusty the shooting was, came in Dunedin on Sunday where the Nuggets (32%) and Jets (34%) missed enough shots to help deliver 98 rebounds.

The ugly came in the form of injuries with a number of players hobbling off with niggles and soft tissue problems. Kyle Adnam was the biggest name to succumb to injury, the Saints stud playing just 56 seconds due to an abductor strain. Marcel Jones (Airs) was another who was planted to the bench after exiting in just under eight minutes against the Rams with a calf injury. Cramping was also an issue as players adapted to the rise in tempo of actual game play as opposed to pre-season games and training. Thankfully no serious injuries.


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