Justin Nelson’s Burning Questions – Round 7

Photo credit: Roshy Sportfolio

What’s going on with the Hawks?

Wow – what a fall it has been for the Hawks. After capturing two road wins to start the season in the opening round, the Hawks have mustered just one victory from their last seven games. Ouch! To make matters worse, four of their six losses have come at home and their ninth position on the ladder reflects a team in freefall. In fact, the Hawks are the only teams yet to win a game at home this season. A damning stat from Sunday’s loss to the Giants was 24 turnovers, which the visitors punished back the other way by converting those errors into 27 points. Frustratingly, in many of the losses, the Hawks have been in front, only to blow a lead and lose their way – and the game. Remembering this Hawks team is packed with international experience and are likely near the ceiling of the salary system (one would assume), but for some reason it’s just not working right now and unless there is a sharp turnaround it is difficult to see the Hawks heading to the Final 6.

One of the big questions around the Hawks this season, and last season for that matter, has been their decision to not go with a full quota of imports, instead backing a larger roster of Kiwi talent with Tall Blacks pedigree – such as Rusbatch, Harris, Hunt and Raukawa – to which you can add Ngatai this season. Commendable, but has it worked? In 2022 they complemented their local talent with one import, which they have done again this season, but is it enough? And if you thought things were tough now, the next five games for the Hawks are Nuggets (A), Sharks (A), Rams (A), Bulls (H), Giants (A). That’s a tough stretch.   

Who is the ‘energy player’ in each team?

Every team looks to a player to provide a spark, to bring a dose of infectious energy in the hope of it rubbing off on his teammates and helping the team to gain or re-gain momentum in a game. Sometimes it’s a key player, whereas sometimes it’s a role played by a player coming off the bench. Let’s have a crack at selecting one ‘energy player’ from each team.

Scott Telfer – over the years I’ve crowned Scott as ‘The Pest’ and the ‘Junkyard Dog’ – both fully in positive praise for the energy and tenacity he brings to the team. This guy just never backs down and will always bring a spark.

Dan Fotu – Dan’s the man for the Bulls. At both ends of the floor, the youngest of the Fotu hoopers brings energy in spades and you can see his teammates lift as a result. Special mention also to Jamaal Brantley who is just as effective at raising the energy levels when they are most needed.

Sam Dempster – no reason needed here. Sammy D is always the man coach Mike Fitchett turns to when a lift in energy is being called for.

Hyrum Harris – the elevated determination in Hyrum’s game is like a switch. When it’s flicked on you better get out of his way. I rate him the best player in the League when the call for energy comes, he just goes to another level.

Javion Blake – the Jets were probably the toughest to pick, but I’ll go with Blake due to his ability to up the tempo and bring the energy offensively. At his best Blake is near unstoppable, his drives to the basket are packed with energy, and the home crowd feeds off it.

Matthew Bardsley – I would be staggered if any of Matthew’s teammates disagreed. The ‘Slippery Eel’ is the best example of an energizer bunny across the Sal’s NBL – his energy is infectious and almost always results in others around him also lifting a level. Can I give an honourable mention to Robbie Coman – I love what this young guy is bringing to the Nuggets. Long live the ‘Headband Brothers’.

Troy Baxter Jnr – I was tossing up between Walter Brown and TBJ, but for me Brown is a little less in your face when it comes to a burst of energy, whereas TBJ is absolutely in your face. The mercurial leaper not only lifts his teammates with spectacular bursts of energy at both ends of the court, but he sends the fans into delirious raptures of excitement.

Jarrad Weeks – not really a difficult choice. Agent 97 might just be the most competitive player running around this season, he just never takes a backward step. And when the call comes to take it up a notch, somehow the ageing Aussie gets even more out of himself. Quite remarkable.

Kenneth Tuffin – we don’t call this guy ‘Killer KT’ for nothing. Tuffin will scrap, chase and dive for every loose ball, he’ll constantly do the little things that are needed when his team needs a lift. There isn’t a team in the competition who wouldn’t love KT on their roster.

Jeremy Kendle – again, no surprises here. We have already seen time and time again this season the explosive energy Kendle brings in the blink of an eye. When Kendle flicks on the energy switch, you just know something special is about to happen.

Does home court advantage exist these days?

At seven rounds into this season, we have enough of a sample size to determine home court advantage does not exist in the Sal’s NBL. And to be fair, it didn’t exist last season either with teams winning 4.9 games on average away from home compared with winning 4.1 games on average at home. This season, so far, teams are winning 1.9 games at home compared with 2.3 games away from home – so we are trending the same way as season 2022.

Have the Jets lost their mojo?

In a word – yes. Three losses in four games, including two in a row at home, has seen the Jets drop back down to 8th on the ladder. The danger signs in those home losses, to the Bulls and Sharks, has been more so at the defensive end where the Jets look completely out of sync at times. While we know the green machine can score quickly, especially with Heron and Blake up and going, there were visible cracks defensively against the Sharks in particular, with the team lacking cohesion and, dare we say it, commitment at times. With the Tuatara coming to town this week the pressure is well and truly on the Jets to re-group, re-focus and re-establish themselves as a band of brothers on the same page as each other.

How many wins will you need to make the Final 6?

It’s now looking almost certain that nine wins will get you into the Final 6, but – believe it or not – we could see a team scrape in with eight wins. Last season it took 10 wins to make the playoffs, and what a dramatic battle for positions that was. I expect a similar battle to unfold come round 15 this season, but based on how the ladder looks as we approach the halfway point of the season, we could see all 10 teams with a chance to make it at the death. So, this brings me to the most important factor every team needs to take into account right now – points differential. Every single basket counts. It’s not just about head-to-head with one another team, because you could find yourself locked in a three-way tie, or even four-way like last season – and that’s where, on a mini ladder, points for and points against could be a deciding factor. Any team and/or player dribbling out a game and not taking every opportunity to score in the dying seconds could well cost their team a spot in the Final 6. Will someone learn the lesson the hard way? Time will tell.


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