Justin Nelson’s Burning Questions – Round 10

Photo credit: Roshy Sportfolio

Is the race to the Final 6 wide open again?

My word it is. As we’ve seen over the last couple of years with the Competitive Balance System and a move to a Final 6, it only takes one week of unexpected results and all of a sudden everything opens up again. With the Saints, Sharks and Hawks all losing in R10, along with the Giants, Jets and Airs all winning, the battle for fifth and sixth on the Sal’s NBL ladder is again wide open. What we can say with confidence right now is nine wins will get you into the Final 6, maybe even eight depending on head-to-head and mini-ladder outcomes.

Remember last season it took 10 wins to make it, so this year is a big shift. At the top end, I’m confident the Tuatara have stamped their ticket to The Trusts Arena in July, while I think the Rams, Nuggets and Bulls all need another win, which I’m sure they will each do.  

Who has been the best mid-season recruit so far?

We are still yet to see the Webster brothers in action, so let’s leave them out of the conversation. I’ll also leave Isaiah Mucius out of this one as he stepped into the Saints earlier in the season as a direct replacement for James Southerland (remember him). Callum McRae burst onto the scene in a big way last week for the Giants, and definitely deserves to be mentioned, it could well be a master move by Coach Fitchett and his hopes of making a late charge to the Final 6. The likes of Josh Cunningham (Sharks), Galin Smith (Rams) and Joe Lawson (Tuatara) all look good, but all three are still settling in.

For me, the best mid-season recruit comes out of the Taranaki Airs. Across two games, import Kendrick Ray has been extremely good, amassing averages of 27.5 points at 51.2%, 4.0 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 triples per game. If he keeps delivering those sorts of numbers the Airs could do the unthinkable, get on a winning run, and string enough wins together to make the playoffs.

Who is the best 6th man in the Sal’s NBL?

There currently isn’t an award for this – maybe something to look at in the future. Across the competition there are a few ‘super subs’ but there are two who stand out. The first is Troy Baxter Jr. (Rams), who is averaging 17.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 1.9 triples in under 24 minutes per game and is a vital member of Judd Flavell’s team. It’s fair to say in any other team Baxter Jr. is starting, yet for the moment he continues to come off the bench for the Rams, and while it’s working, why not.

The second is Derone Raukawa (Hawks) – the Kiwi point guard is playing a touch under 27 minutes per game and delivering averages of 17.5 points, 2.6 assists and 1.8 triples. Worth a mention, running in third, is Saints forward Taane Samuel who is often the first player of the bench and has averages of 11.7 points and 3.8 rebounds in under 22 minutes per game. Overall, for me, it’s Baxter Jr. out in front, followed by Raukawa and Samuel.

Are any other players (or coaches) still likely to be signed for the upcoming Australian NBL season?

The Sal’s NBL continues to be the number one ‘single’ League in the world to supply players to the Aussie NBL and is proving to be the perfect stepping-stone. I say single because some may say NBL1 across Australia’s state level is also a League, but it is actually five Leagues, not one. I think there could still be some Sal’s NBL players yet to be picked up and join the long list already signed.

I expect Carlin Davison (Airs) may pick up a development contract, plus it wouldn’t surprise me if ANBL teams are trying to convince Charlie Dalton (Tuatara) to take the professional path instead of the collegiate path. I have no doubt Callum McRae turned a few heads over the weekend as well. When it comes to imports, I wouldn’t be surprised if JaQuori McLaughlin and Kendrick Ray have made an impression and teams are keeping tabs on them.

Will Tai and Corey Webster qualify to play in the Sal’s NBL finals?

If Tai and Corey play five regular season games, then yes, they will qualify for the Final 6. The exact rule is 25 per cent of regular season games, rounded up if not a whole number. So, in season 2023, where each team plays 18 regular season games, 25 per cent equates to 4.5 games, therefore rounded up it equals 5 games. It’s worth noting a game is counted only if the player steps on the court and plays, they can’t just suit-up and sit on the bench (and not play).


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