Justin Nelson’s Burning Questions – Round 6

Photo credit: Blake Armstrong

At 2-5 are the Saints in danger of missing the Final 6?

The expectation of success always comes hand in glove with the Saints. When you’ve won 12 titles everyone expects the next one is just around the corner, but right now just making the finals is going to be a battle. They have a 40% win-rate right now and at one stage last season they were 3-7 (30% win-rate), which is when they parted ways with Guy Molloy. The Saints were also at 2-5 last season before going on and finishing the regular season in fourth place. So, this isn’t new territory, but just like last season some serious work is needed at the defensive end where they currently give up 96 points per game.

There was no better evidence of their defensive disconnect than Darcy Knox dribbling the length of the floor last Saturday night and being ignored by every help defender. It was a telling sign that work is needed, and I would be very surprised if that piece of footage hasn’t been picked out by the Saints coaching staff for review. The upside is the Saints pack talent, loads of it, but they are yet to fully work out how to bring it all together. Their two wins are against the Sharks (6th) and Giants (8th), while the losses have been dealt by the Nuggets (1st), Rams (2nd), Tuatara (3rd), Bulls (4th) and Hawks (7th). Given the competitive balance of the competition there is plenty of time to turn it around, starting with the Sharks in a return bout this Sunday night.

How will the Rams replace Tai Wynyard?

Tough question, tougher task. The first step will be to approach the situation with an understanding that a like-for-like replacement is unlikely. Credit to the Rams organisation for supporting Tai in the opportunity presented to him. Rather than hold him to his contract, the Rams have been fully supportive of his move to China to earn big money in 3X3. This approach should deliver bigger results down the track when Wynyard returns home and undoubtedly will want to be a Rams player.

For now, though, the Rams need to find a ready-made big man who can come in and make an impact against the likes of Loe, Timmins, Rissetto and Harrison (when healthy). Expect an American import, which is most likely now with Jared Wilson-Frame also exiting this week, so there is space for a foreigner. Will it be enough to keep the Rams charging forward and how soon can a new player arrive? Put simply, the next move by the Rams will likely be the difference between silverware for the first time since 1992 … or not.

Which team has the best group of imports this season?

Given we are now six rounds in we have a better sample size to help answer this one. Based on what we have seen you can’t go past the Otago Nuggets trio of Michael Harris, JaQuori McLaughlin and Todd Withers. I have them ahead of the Blake/Heron/Pippen II combination at the Jets, plus the Airs, Saints, Giants and Sharks (in no particular order), while the Rams are headed for changes so we can’t include them until we see the results of those moves.

I like the Nuggets trio because not only do they stuff the stat sheet most nights, but they also bring their teammates into the game in a major way and value the role the locals play. This is the hallmark of clever recruiting and strong coaching. So, I have the Nuggets ahead of the pack when it comes to imports, probably not a hard decision given they are 7-0 right now. Also, worth noting the Hawks, Tuatara and Bulls don’t currently have a full quota of imports so they aren’t in the conversation..

How many wins will it take to make the Final 6 this season?

Last season a 10 win – 8 loss record was enough to get you into the Final 6, in fact it was enough to grab third place with the Nuggets, Saints, Tuatara and Hawks all ending on 10-8. Go back to 2021, the sixth placed team (despite it being a Final 4) was the Nuggets with a 9-9 record. Right now, the Sharks hold down sixth place with a 3-4 record, which has us placed to see 9-9 as maybe being enough to make it through. And, though highly unlikely, if the Nuggets (7-0) and Rams (6-1) keep winning, it is possible that a team could sneak into sixth with an 8-10 record. Again, unlikely, but not out of the question.  


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