Justin Nelson’s Burning Questions – Round 4

Photo credit: @roshysportfolio

Are the Nelson Giants out of the Final 6 race?

Sadly, yes they are. Sorry Giants fans, feel free to throw stones at me. You never like to write any team off with just a quarter of the season played, but when you factor in current form – five straight losses at an average of 10.8 points – and consider you will need 10 wins to make the Final 6 (based on 2022) – it leaves the Giants on fragile ground and needing 10 wins from their remaining 13 games. I just can’t see that happening.

Cast your eyes across the stats and the Giants are well down the rankings when it comes to points against, rebounding, assists, steals, blocks and turnovers. It points not only to a tough start to the season, but the path ahead looks even tougher unless there is a sharp turnaround. The next four games for the Giants are hardly easy – Airs (H), Sharks (A), Rams (A), Hawks (A) and given the margin for error is so narrow they would arguably need to win at least two, probably even three of these games to stay in Final 6 contention. Can they do it? Based on current form, I think not.

After four rounds, who is the best import in the Sal’s NBL this season?

Now that’s a really tough question. This year’s intake includes no less than 13 NBA G League players, plus a number of Australian NBL players. I’m certainly not game enough to debate if it’s the best-ever collective crop of imports, but it’s safe to say the level of talent is right up there – I’ll let you be the judge. So, who’s standing out thus far? I like Kyle Adnam (Saints) and JaQuori McLaughlin (Nuggets), while Jarrad Weeks (Tuatara) – who was incredible against the Bulls - and Cameron Gliddon (Tuatara) never disappoint. This year’s intake of import guards in particular is very good, including Armon Fletcher (Airs) who is on the up, and Mutsapha Heron (Jets) has also shown some solid form.

Then of course you have the Rams with three relatively even imports all capable of dropping big highlights, though I think they are all still figuring out their individual role on a very good team. Danny Pippen II (Jets) is a fierce competitor and is right up near the top of the list as a forward. But for me, based on what we’ve seen so far, three names stand out and I just can’t separate them … yet. I really like Javion Blake (Jets), Todd Withers (Nuggets) and Jeremy Kendle (Sharks). Blake missed the opening two games due to FIBA clearance issues, but since then, across three games, his per game averages are 23.7 points at 56.9% (including 71.9% inside the arc), 6.3 assists, 6.0 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 87.5% from the TAB stripe. Blake’s ability to get to the basket is leaving opponents stuck in concrete, he is incredibly dynamic and arguably the hardest player to stop one-on-one right now.

As for Withers – well he’s simply the best two-way player in the League. The Nuggets star is averaging 19.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 2.3 steals and 3.5 made threes per game. Not seen in his stats are his defence acts, the one-percenters, his ability to help his team force turnovers and the way in which he nullifies the opposition’s best players. Withers is next level defensively. How he wasn’t on the final list for Defensive Player of the Year last season is staggering. And then there’s Kendle, who is going at 25.4 points at 56.1% (and at 70% inside the arc), 5.4 rebounds, 8.2 rebounds, a steal and 3.6 made triples per game. Outstanding, as showcased by his 25 points, 5 triples and 4 assist in the last quarter against the Hawks last Sunday. So – on a small sample size (four rounds) – right now I have Javion Blake, Todd Withers and Jeremy Kendle topping my list and I’m unable to split them.

Is there such a thing as a certainty in the Sal’s NBL?

No way! This is an incredibly balanced competition, the best in New Zealand, and the fans love it. Each week we consistently see teams coming back and winning from double-digit deficits. Last Sunday’s double-header was evidence of this as the Sharks came from 19 points down to topple the Hawks by 8 points, while the Bulls came from 24 points down to beat the Tuatara by 5 points in overtime. We saw the Bulls blow an 11-point lead in the opening round when they went down in overtime to the Hawks, while the Saints were 10 points up late against the Bulls before losing at home. It’s been a great season and we’re only a month into it. Expect to see more of the unexpected as the weeks roll by.

Is homecourt advantage a thing of the past?

I’m starting to think so. The Saints dropped three in a row at home (basically unheard of) and the Hawks have also now lost three in a row on their home deck. The come-from-behind win by the Sharks on Sunday was the first time the southerners have won in Hawke’s Bay since 2017. The Giants and Bulls have already lost two at home, while the Jets, Nuggets, Sharks and Tuatara still hold a perfect home record.

These days the Sal’s NBL is super competitive, those years where teams would and could go unbeaten for an entire season are well behind us. Every team talks about building a fortress at home, but more and more we are seeing teams drop home games. Last season every team lost at least 3 games at home, while the average home court losses stood at 4.9 games – so given every team plays 9 home games per season, that means on average teams are losing more games at home than they are away from home. Based on those stats it’s hard to build a case for homecourt advantage still being a thing in the Sal’s NBL.

Which team had the best win in R4?

Every week we are treated to six games in the Sal’s NBL, and every week we are being served up some absolute rippers – the quality from game to game is increasing, as is the competitiveness. A special mention firstly to the Taranaki Airs for their win over the Manawatu Jets. Given where these two teams were at the completion of R3, no doubt most people expected a Jets win coming in – so well done Airs. And I definitely don’t want to take anything away from the Sharks and their incredible last quarter heroics against a Hawks team that needs to hurry up and get back on the road!

For me, the best win of R4 was at ‘The Stockyard’ where the Bulls came from 19pts down to beat the Tuatara (at full strength) in overtime. Excellent use of the SkyCity Player Timeout late in regulation time by the Bulls – what a great in-bound play and basket by Dan Fotu – and then just a gutsy OT period where the desperation of the Bulls across the court was on display. And let’s not forget they did all of this without Tyrell Harrison – impressive stuff.


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