The 2020 Sal’s NBL headed into uncharted territory. Due to the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic the seven participating teams in the Sal’s NBL headed to Auckland to stay in one central city location. The 56 ensuing games were played at Trusts Arena, Waitakere over 40 days before Fluid Recruitment Otago Nuggets were eventually crowned NBL champions, for the very first time, after a narrow 79-77 victory against the Manawatu Jets.
Before the competition commenced an inaugural NBL Draft took place with each team making 12 picks from a player pool that totaled over 400. The No1 pick was Jordan Ngatai who linked up with Jarrod Kenny at the Nuggets. The second pick went to the Steelformers Taranaki Mountainairs who selected Derone Rauwkawa whilst Property Brokers, See Me Media Manawatu Jets inked the eventual League MVP Tom Vodanovich. As expected Mika Vukona went to Mike Pero Nelson Giants but the Giants suffered the ill luck of having the Tall Blacks captain sidelined for most of the competition after having to undergo an appendix operation.
The Giants and the Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams were the teams worst hit by injuries. The Rams lost their No1 pick Jack Salt before arriving in Auckland and an injury also removed their third pick Joe Cook-Green. Further injuries affected both teams although the Rams did benefit from the mid-season acquisition of Reuben Te Rangi. The other two teams were the new Auckland franchises, EnviroNZ Franklin Bulls and Auckland Huskies. The Bulls picked Dominique Kelman-Poto and Sam Timmins as their top two selections whilst the Huskies went for Izayah Mauriahoohoo-Le’afa and Tohi Smith-Milner.
The Taranaki Mountainairs had the distinction of winning the opening game of the season not only screened live on Sky Tv but also in the USA on ESPN. Viewers outside of New Zealand and the USA were able to watch games by subscribing to the NZNBLpass.com. Having every game televised live was a first for the NBL as was the unprecedented interest from overseas.
The regular season saw form fluctuate but the overall evenness of the competition was highlighted by the fact that the regular season champions Otago Nuggets lost 5 of their 14 games whilst bottom placed Giants won 4 games and of their 10 losses 5 were by less than ten points.
In the semi-finals the Jets beat the Airs 105-95 with the Nuggets proving too good for the Rams winning 97-79.
A near capacity crowd witnessed Otago, returning to the NBL for the first time since 2014, claim it’s first ever title with a 79-77 win in a terrific contest that remained undecided until the final possession – Jordan Hunt was named Grand Final MVP.
7 teams contested the 2020 NBL Showdown (regular season standings): Otago Nuggets, Manawatu Jets, Auckland Huskies, Taranaki Mountainairs, Franklin Bulls, Nelson Giants & Canterbury Rams.
Otago Nuggets (79) defeated Manawatu Jets (77) (Referees: Tim Brown, Melony Wealleans & Marty Davison)