Justin Nelson’s Burning Questions – Round 2

Photo credit: @roshysportfolio

Are the Jets a legit Final 6 contender?

You better believe it! Last week we talked about not writing the Jets off after their double loss on the Southern Swing. Now, after another trip south and a 90-86 win against the Rams, it seems everyone is ready to take a seat in business class as the Jets prepare to take off. The inclusion of imports Mustapha Heron and Javion Blake delivered a dream result for the green army, and together with Daniel Pippen II, the Jets' trio of imports look like causing headaches for opposition teams all season long.

I’ll let everyone else work out which seat they want, but I’m happy to put my feet up in seat 1A and enjoy all the fun and action coming my way this season. Perhaps a red wine before take-off would be a nice touch too … can you look after that for me Coach Taufale?

The Saints and Giants have both dropped their opening two home games – how will this impact their Final 6 chances?

A reminder we are two rounds into the season and both the Saints and Giants have another 16 games each to make amends from early losses - in other words, it’s (very) early days. But questions do need to be asked.

In the case of the Saints there are a few worrying signs, especially at the defensive end where they are leaking points inside the paint, and also down the stretch in games where they are being overrun. Over the first three quarters of their games against the Hawks and Bulls the Saints are +7 points, however their fourth quarter return is -27 points. Import Aussie Kyle Adnam will make an enormous difference when he returns, while a decision on the future of injured import James Southerland appears to be nearing.

Nobody should write the Saints off, their dash to the Final 6 last season is evidence of this. For the Giants, their two losses (Tuatara, Bulls) have been disappointing, but not unexpected. This is a team that fully came together just a week out from the season starting due to the late arrival of imports, and we are still yet to see newly signed big man Kavion Pippen. The next few weeks will provide us with a better guide as to how the Giants will go this season, but losing at home is never helpful. One thing Saints and Giants fans can take comfort in is the closeness of the League is always prone to delivering wins (and losses) both at home and away.

Who is the best big man in the Sal’s NBL?

Granted, we’re only two rounds into the season, so this is definitely a fluid question. So far, we have enjoyed watching Tyrell Harrison, Rob Loe, Anzac Rissetto, Tai Wynyard, Jordan Hunt and Sam Timmins command an inside presence and they are probably the standout centres right now. Although a little smaller, Daniel Pippen II is playing the centre position for the Jets and his opening three games have been all class, he is so fun to watch.

For me, it’s Harrison. Three consecutive double-doubles to start the season, an absolute menace for any opposition player embarking on getting to the basket, and his value and importance to the Bulls is enormous (and how good were the Bulls in Round 2). And let’s not forget he is only 23 years old. I love the way he does the one-percenters as well, always prepared to chase a loose ball and set up a teammate. Loe, Rissetto, Wynyard, Hunt, Pippen and Timmins have all been high level as well, so it’s a good debate and a close call. And from this week we’ll get our first look at Kavion Pippen for the Giants, a big body who could soon enter the conversation. It’s a good topic to revisit mid-season.

Is Sunday night basketball working?

Has to be a resounding “yes”, doesn’t it? The Rams and Airs game in the opening round was played in front of a full house, while the Nuggets and Sharks game (bigger stadium) was played in front of another huge crowd. The scenes at the end of the game in Dunedin were quite incredible as kids and families immediately packed the court and swamped the players for photos and autographs. At one stage post-game Casey Frank had to literally pull Todd Withers away from a sea of fans just to do a quick interview.

Played at the friendly time of 6pm, the ‘Sunday Sesh’, as the League has affectionately called it, is delivering the goods. It’s a family-friendly time for those who can attend, and it’s the perfect time for those at home looking for some family R&R on the couch. All round, even after just two weeks, I’m happy to label it a success – Sunday night’s a great night for hoops.

Were the Airs the big winners, and losers, of Round 2?

Anyone who saw the Taranaki Airs play on Friday night against the Auckland Tuatara would have left feeling disappointed – put simply, the Airs were awful. Let’s not even try and sugar-coat it, last year’s minor season premiers dished up a dog’s breakfast, and they know it. Poor shooting, questionable defending and a string of errors handed the Tuatara what can only be termed as a ‘walk in the park’ victory, 80-55. It was a humiliating loss and no doubt left Airs fans wondering if a return to the lower rungs of the ladder was on the cards in 2023. However, to the credit of the players and coaching staff (take a bow Trent Adam), the turnaround in just 24 hours was remarkable.

Up against the heroes of Round 1, the Hawke’s Bay Hawks, playing in Hawke’s Bay and having travelled the same day as the game, off the back of Friday’s shemozzle, the Airs looked a completely different team. Hungry and desperate, the Airs were dialled up and seemingly not prepared to be humiliated two nights in a row – they showed character, guts and determination. In a seesawing battle the Airs held sway for the most part, and then of course we all saw the dramatic finish and how it unfolded. And they did it without Marcel Jones (calf injury) and Anthony Hilliard (yet to arrive). I like watching the Airs play when they have a chip on their shoulder, when they play mean and angry, it’s fun to commentate those games.

As it was, like many in New Zealand and no doubt around the world, I was glued to the screen and riding every bump with Andrew Mulligan and Brook Ruscoe taking us on the best rollercoaster a basketball fan could hope for. From losers to winners, awful to awesome, villains to heroes, the Airs gave us a great ride in Round 2.


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