Preview: Westside Blitz

Photo credit: Shuttersport Nelson

The 2024 Sal's NBL season is almost upon us and to tip off the season in style the Blitz is Back! For the first time in a long time the majority of the NBL will come together to test themselves against top flight competition with a full preseason. But with rosters still coming together what can we expect from the 8 teams that will be battling it out for the inaugural trophy?

Casey Frank takes us through key personnel and expectations on the West Coast for teams as we come closer to tip off for the 2024 Sal's NBL season!

Steelformers Taranaki Airs

Key Players to Watch: Mitch McCarron, Carlin Davision, Derone Raukawa - McCarron will be directing traffic while figuring out how Coach Sam Mackinnon wants the ship to be steered. Carlin Davision will be a key defensively while taking the opportunity to shoulder more of the offensive load. Derone Raukawa may have signed late but could end up being a key cog coming off the bench and igniting the offense for what should be contender for the title. 

Key Players Missing: Sam Froling, Flynn Cameron 

What to look for: What will the offence look like? With a new coach on the sidelines what will this offence look like? With some of the key pieces yet to come this will be a chance for the wider squad to force their way into an early season rotation with quality two-way play. With what looks like six rotation players making the trip this should give us a sneak peak into how Mitch McCarron is going to run the ship and the type of play we can expect from the Airs over the course of the year. 

NBS Nelson Giants

Key Players to Watch: Alex McNaught, Dan Fotu, Hayden JonesMcNaughty will be there to run the offence and apply his trademark defensive pressure but will this be the year his perimeter shooting takes a leap? It will be the first look Giants faithful get at Dan Fotu's powerful inside game and what role it will carry in the half court for a team that has thirsted for a two-way presence on the low block. Most intriguing will be Hayden Jones, fresh off contributing with the Tall Blacks in the Asia Cup, will be looking to establish himself as a real option for coach Mike Fitchett in the upcoming season. 

Key Players Missing: Yet to be revealed Imports (outside Ernest Kerr)

What to look for: What role will the vets play? Sam Dempster and Tom Ingham have had defined roles in Nelson for years, but some changes to the roster and a youth movement coming through this will be the first look as to how will these stalwarts of Giants basketball be expected to contribute. Ernest Kerr is back and we know his quality, but his fit with Fotu will be intriguing. 

Property Brokers Manawatu Jets

Key Players to Watch: Liam Judd, Jackson Stent, Campbell Scott - Without an import contingent this will be a chance to shine for some young up and comers who want to gain coach Natu Taufale's attention. Liam Judd and Jackson Stent were both solid contributors a season ago and will be looking to stretch their capabilities on the offensive end but Campbell Scott may be most intriguing at the Blitz. His 3-point stroke is undeniable and a hot showing in the preseason may enable him to lay claim as the Jets first offensive option off the bench. 

Key Players Missing: Mustapha Heron, Troy Baxter Jr., Jasper Rentoy (imports)

What to look for: Have the young players made a leap? 2023 was a step in the right direction for the Jets and they have their eyes focused on taking another step as a franchise, but that will only come if a promising youth movement is ready to contribute on a more consistent basis than a year ago. Without key starters available who will step up and show they are ready to called upon when the 2024 season tips off? 

Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams

Key Players to Watch: Max Darling, Taki Fahrensohn, Kaia IsaacDarling improved over the course of the 2023 championship chase and was vital to securing the hardware but after a season with the Breakers will be ready to break out to all league level? Taki Fahrensohn has great two-way talent on the wing but how will it fit in Coach Judd Flavell's plans? Kaia Isaac has a good frame and emerging skillset, but is the 20 year old ready to carry the load when called on? 

Key Players Missing: Lachlan Olbrich, Walter Brown

What to look for: With some talent yet to come this will be a great look at who is ready to step up and grab a role in the Rams title defence. With Taylor Britt manning the point it will be a great opportunity for a bevy of young players to grab a role and show the coaching staff how they can contribute to winning if given more responsibility. This is a team that understood it's identity a year ago and will be looking to instill a similar mindset again. 

Mills Albert Wellington Saints 

Key Players to Watch: Rangimarie Dougall-Mita, Lat Mayen, Troy PlumtreeDougall-Mita looks ready to shine and will look to add to his reputation as a knock down shooter by showcasing a game that has been honed in the offseason including a top scorer showing at the 3x3 cup. Lat Mayen's length and defence are givens but what will his offensive role look like? Troy Plumtree is young at just 17, but the promising NCAA prospect is a solid athlete who has shown versatility to go with decent size who will be trying to prove that he is ahead of schedule and ready for a chance. 

Key Players Missing: Ben Ayre, Yuat Alok

What to look for: What will Zico's offence look like? A proponent of space and pace Coach Coronel has always pushed the envelope when it comes to offensive innovation. But with a unique mix of length and perimeter skill this will be an opportunity to experiment and possibly push the boundaries of what the Saints offense is capable of, and who doesn't want to see Zico in the role of Mad Scientist?

Southland Sharks

Key Players to Watch: Callum McRae, LaGerald Vick, Scott Telfer - With a full strength roster the Sharks and Coach Guy Molloy will be looking to make a statement that the speedbumps of the past two seasons are in the mirror and a return to the Final 6 is in the cards. A full contingent of imports is exciting, but perhaps none more so than Vick whose arrival has been teased for over a year now! I can't wait to see McRae and how the Sharks will use his unique mix of soft hands, quick feet and immense size, which will catch many an opposition unprepared. Scott Telfer has moved south and can fill a role for the Sharks as a hard nosed defender off the bench who also has the ability to keep the offense ticking over. 

Key Players Missing: None 

What to look for: How quickly will this team gel? They look like the most talented roster but will they be able to connect on the court? The extra time together on the West Coast will certainly pay dividends down the road but if they are able to hit the hardwood at speed during the Blitz the foundation may be set for the Sharks to surprise all comers in the early stages of the season. This extra time together may just be the key to fast Southland start that would set up the Sharks for a return to the Final 6.

Auckland Tuatara

Key Players to Watch: Josh Leger, Jackson Kiss, Jameer Reed - Without a veteran presence this is a great chance to see a bevy of developing players in action. Josh Leger was a starter for the Jets a year ago and has promise as a bruising back-up to Rob Loe. Jackson Kiss and Jameer Reed are both just 16 years of age but look to be at the forefront of the next generation of premiere basketball talent in New Zealand. Both are expected to pursue the NCAA path in the states so this is a great chance to see what the future may have in store 

Key Players Missing: Rob Loe, Rueben Te-Rangi, Cam Gliddon, Corey Webster, Tom Vodanavich 

One thing to look for: The Tuatara are on top of the list of most underdone teams at the Blitz with none of their projected starting lineup available for the pre-season tilts. But that may be a blessing in disguise for a team that knows who will play the majority of minutes but is looking to see which of the up and comers will be able to contribute on a regular basis. Which of the young contingent of players will be able to play beyond their experience and stake a claim to role when the season tips off. 


Key Players to Watch: Jayden Bezzant, Kruz Perrott-Hunt, Maxim Stephens, Phillip Carr - Bezzant and Perrott-Hunt look to be the driving force on the perimeter and this will be an excellent opportunity to see what that chemistry will look like when two players who excel with the ball in hand need to share the pill. Phillip Carr has solid Euro experience who looks to be a double-double threat but how coach Matt Lacey choose to utilise that skill set is still to be seen. Maxim Stephens is intriguing, after a stint in the American university system he was a late addition, possibly to temper the loss of Sam Mennenga, and if he performs above expectations at the Blitz he will look lock in a spot in the rotation. 

Key Players Missing: 

One thing to look for: What style will the Whai play? The birth of a new franchise is always an exciting time with so many decisions that will shape the future of the team, but most interesting to me is what will the basketball look like? With a roster of players of which few have any experience with each other there will be a learning curve, but that can be eased with a streamlined game plan. Will it be up-tempo with trey balls flying? Or a grindy half court affair that focuses on the defence? 


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