Justin Nelson’s Burning Questions – Round 11

Photo credit: Armstrong Photography

Are five games enough for a player to qualify for finals in the Sal’s NBL or should it be more?

This old chestnut. Up for debate I guess, and this will always be one where everyone has their own opinion, especially late in the season when you often see teams making roster changes to meet the five-game deadline with what money they have left to spend under the League’s salary system. I often hear people blame the League for the 5-game finals qualification rule (as being too little), but the truth is this is actually a decision made by the teams each season, not by the League. At the end of each season teams discuss this sort of stuff for the following season and they set the Finals qualification. As for whether or not five games is enough depends on who you’re talking to, and at what stage of the season, but always good to hear different views.  

Should there be more talk about the upcoming Tauihi season?

Put simply, damn well right there should be. I’m tipping there will be at least six WNBA drafted players in Tauihi this season (I already know of five), which when looking at global talent coming to play in a domestic national league in New Zealand (by comparison) is a fair bit ahead of anything you will see in the likes of domestic leagues for Football, Netball, Rugby or Cricket. The talent level of these players is extremely high, top shelf stuff.

I already know of two top-10 WNBA drafted players coming into Tauihi this season, and that is super elite. It’s taking a while for the media in NZ to work out just how good this is for basketball, sport in general and the fans, but I’m convinced it will eventually sink in when the journalists out there do a little bit of work and some research on these players.

Who has been the most improved player this season?

Last year, Sam Dempster (Giants) scooped up this award as a 30-plus-year-old following a remarkable season that helped lead his team to the Final 6. This season the task of finding the League’s Most Improved Player feels a bit tougher with contenders a bit harder to find. I think those in contention are Dan Fotu (Bulls) – though he only played three games for the Tuatara in 2022, Matthew Bardsley (Nuggets), Walter Brown (Rams), Kaia Isaac (Rams), Charlie Dalton (Tuatara), Alex McNaught (Giants) and Ben Hall (Sharks). I’ve also enjoyed seeing the improvement of Benji Freeman, Liam Judd, Tom Beattie and Robbie Coman.

Looking at that list I find it really hard to go past Dalton, or ‘The Shadow’ as I like to call him – the 18-year-old has gone from averaging 2.1 points at 30% and 1.1 rebounds in 8 minutes per game in 2022 to this season averaging 9.9 points at 49%, 4.5 rebounds (including 1.7 offensive rebounds) and 1.5 assists in just over 30 minutes per game as a starter in the League’s top team. Brown is right up there too given this season he has delivered 9.4 points at 48.5%, 5.6 rebounds (1.9 offensive), 2.1 assists and 1.2 blocks in just under 31 minutes per game compared with 7.2 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists in a tick over 23 minutes per game in 2022. McNaught also deserves to be in the mix given he has lifted from 5.5 points and 2.2 assists per game in 2022 to 8.5 points and 4.3 assists this season in less minutes per game (27.3 vs 26.7). Weighing all of that up, right now I’m on the Charlie Dalton train for Most Improved Player of the Year.

How can teams recruit players this late in the season and fit them under the salary system?

Not a week goes by when you don’t hear a rumour about player payments or how a team is sneakily adding a player outside the salary system. I know everyone loves a rumour, but some of the stuff that gets passed around is very fanciful. It’s a very natural talking point in any sports competition where a salary system with a hard cap exists. Of course, teams will push boundaries and look at ways in which they can take good care of their players, which they should do. Standard of living, transportation, meals while travelling to play, these are the sorts of creature comforts that make players welcome and comfortable. And, what I do know is every team in the Sal’s NBL is provided with full details of all player payments, from all teams, before and after the season, so to the League’s credit (and the teams) it is a very transparent system where full disclosure exists between teams.

It should also be noted that there are harsh penalties in place for any team found guilty of breaching the salary system, though of course the greatest penalty of all under any salary system is being found guilty and outed publicly to have cheated. To my knowledge just about every salary system in world sport has had a breach at some stage, so we shouldn’t be naïve enough to think a team may not overstep the mark, hopefully via an error as opposed to being on purpose. As to how teams fit players into their salary system late in the season – well let’s not conveniently forget that in most cases teams making additions are letting go of players in order to bring players in, thus using available dollars.

Will head-to-head play a part in deciding this year’s Final 6?

Yes, I think it absolutely will – maybe deciding sixth spot, and almost certainly deciding final places amongst the teams in the top six. As per last season, I also think there is every chance at least three teams in the Final 6 end on the same number of wins (we had four teams finish on 10 wins in 2022), which means a mini-ladder will need to be created and points for and against could easily come into play. For those teams who brush off talk about not dribbling out games and thinking some long-standing basketball tradition should be followed, I hope it doesn’t come back to bite you when it most matters.


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