Justin Nelson’s Burning Questions – Round 9

Is the Final 6 out of reach for the Giants, Jets and Airs?

Sadly, it’s starting to look that way. Frustratingly, all three teams could easily step on court this week and deliver a win, they are all very capable, but being able to string wins together has been their biggest battle this season. Respectively, all three teams have a glaring issue that they are struggling to overcome. For the Giants, a slow 0-5 start to the season was always going to bite hard and right now it appears that bite is a deep one. I’m not prepared to fully write them off yet, but I’m teetering on the edge, just like they are.

At the Jets, as much as their trio of imports are always a threat, this is a team that rarely plays the full 40 minutes and it’s always a 5-minute lapse in almost every game that is doing the damage. The Jets can be up one minute and down by double digits just a couple of minutes later. One last chance for them this week, they must take down the Nuggets on Thursday night or it’s lights out and close the Final 6 door behind you. Meanwhile, the Airs just cannot put a full and healthy team on the floor. While it hasn’t helped that Anthony Hillard arrived late, you also need to consider the impact of missing the likes of Marcel Jones, Richie Rodger and Amon Fletcher to injuries, while Anzac Rissetto and Quintin Bailey were out of action last week. The Airs would need to win every game from here and I can’t see that happening.

Should we be worried about the Nuggets after three straight losses including a 37-point hiding to the Sharks?

I’m not worried, but my eyes are a certainly bit wider than they were a week ago. Firstly, the Sharks were very good on Monday night, so I don’t want to take anything away from their performance and after some solid preparation along with the inclusion of Josh Cunningham they took it all out on the Nuggets in a big way. What we should note is the absence of JaQuori McLaughlin (knee injury) – I won’t add Tai Webster to the conversation because he is yet to play. McLaughlin is right up there with the likes of Jeremy Kendle (Sharks), Kyle Adnam (Saints) and Jarrad Weeks (Tuatara) as a leading point guard– and I would argue each of those teams would be hurting too without their PG. However, I’m not sure McLaughlin saves the Nuggets completely from the Monday’s loss.

There were big defensive cracks against the Sharks, and a lot of indecision, and that was worrying. The Nuggets looked lost and confused. But the good news is they have very little time to think about it as the Jets (Thursday) and Saints (Friday) now await. If the Nuggets put in two more bad performances this week then I might be a lot more concerned, but right now I’m brushing the Sharks loss under the carpet and re-setting. That said, the inclusion of McLaughlin and/or Webster would be timely to help break this three-game losing streak.

Which team was the big winner out of the mid-season player moves?

Obviously too early to tell, and I know we have another big announcement on Hoop Heads this Wednesday night (8pm on Sky Sport 1) that might just blow all other announcements out of the water, so we’re not done just yet. But I do like the moves by the Nuggets (Tai Webster) and the Airs (Kendrick Ray) the most, they both look like solid additions. We need to give Galin Smith (Rams) another couple of weeks to settle in, and we are yet to see Joe Lawson (Tuatara). I also like what the Bulls have done with the additions of Jared Wilson-Frame and Matt Freeman, who are both already earning their keep. Let’s revisit this question in a few weeks.

Who is the best defensive player in the League?

Super tough question and of course there is an award for this – Defensive Player of the Year. Right now, I think it is a race in three and I can’t see that changing. For me, Rob Loe (Tuatara), Todd Withers (Nuggets) and Rickey McGill (Bulls) are locked in a three-way battle, and they are definitely the right three players to be talking about. I also like the sheer defensive competitiveness of Jarrad Weeks, Hyrum Harris and Walter Brown, but I have them a slight step behind the afore-mentioned trio.

We still have six rounds to go, and I expect one of Loe, Withers or McGill will rise above and claim the award. For me, I really like Withers, especially given the snub he got for this award last season, it was a huge blunder. If Todd Withers picks you up in a game you know damn well you are in for a tough night at the office. He doesn’t give anything away for free. He makes Scrooge look like a friendly guy.

Can the Hawks win at home this week against the Bulls?

The Hawks remain the only team yet to win at home this season and it has become a talking point, perhaps even a distraction (sorry about that). However, for a team that is desperately trying to stay in contention for a spot at the Final 6, and given they have five of their remaining six games at home, this Hawks team needs to stand up and deliver. There would be no better time to send a message to the competition than this week against the Bulls. This could be a season-defining game for the Hawks – if they can finally overcome their home-court hoodoo then I expect they might get on a run.

The Bulls of course will arrive in Hawke’s Bay as advertised – relentless in defence and ready for a scrap. I love what this Bulls team is doing, they are mean and gritty, they are junkyard dogs with a collective focus, and they seemingly have a chip on their shoulder. And its working. Therefore, what a scalp the Bulls would be for the Hawks. If I’m Everard Bartlett and his team, by now I would be sick of hearing people like me bang on about their winless streak at home – but of course only they can change that. Come on Hawks – time to deliver the goods. I want to change the conversation next week and start talking you up at home. We all do!


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