Top Five Most Anticipated Imports of 2024

Photo credit: Giles Stepney

New recruit Maia Williamson may be the youngest member of the Sal’s NBL Sky Sports commentary team, but she has been grinding the tape in the offseason to ensure she is prepared for her inaugural season on the mic.

To give you an insight into what to expect from her this season, she’s pulled together a scout of the five imports (currently rostered) that she is most excited about watching and calling in the upcoming year.

Tip off for the 2024 Sal’s NBL season is Wednesday March 27th when the defending champion Canterbury Rams host the Nelson Giants at Cowles Stadium in Christchurch.

5: Lat Mayen – Mills Albert Wellington Saints

At No. 5 I have Lat Mayen, who has just finished up his second season with the Cairns Taipans while playing a decent role securing averages of 7 PPG, 3.6 RPG at 51% shooting. He spent his 2023 Aussie NBL 1 season with the Bendigo Braves, averaging 19.9 PPG and 8.1 RPG showing an ability to find a higher level of production when given the opportunity. Based on his growth these last few years, I am certain that Mayen will continue on a sharp upward trajectory as he’s stepped up to his role off the bench with Cairns, and this experience will be transferable to the Sal’s NBL in terms of the level of physicality, similarity in style of play and the ability to perform in a competitive and professional environment. The fluidity he has at his size (6-foot-9) along with his shooting will be a major upside in the NBL as not every team has a player on their roster that can match Mayen’s height AND speed AND agility.

He brings a different edge that should be difficult to match game in game out and I’m pumped to see what he can do. I mean.... we all saw that game winner against the Illawarra Hawks awhile back right!

4: Ben Henshall – Night n’ Day Otago Nuggets

Number 4 is without a doubt Ben Henshall. This young buck is extremely talented. To gain an import spot on a competitive Sal’s NBL team at 19 is both impressive and rare (has it ever happened before?). He is currently in his debut Aussie NBL season with the Perth Wildcats and he has not been out of place when given opportunity, such as his first taste of playing time when he exploded for 24 points vs. South-East Melbourne. Henshall captained his 2023 BA Centre of Excellence NBL1 East (Australia) team to a 20-2 finish while averaging 18 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 5 APG and 1.8 SPG. Additionally, his 2023 U20 Western Australia team won the Aussie National Champs while he was awarded MVP honours so there is no doubt that he can seriously hoop.

It’s an interesting move using an import spot on a young gun, but I don’t think it’s a bad one. It’s clear that Henshall has proven his ability to get to the rim and score at will and will be effective coming off on-ball screens and can make, and execute, excellent decisions under pressure. He has shown he can compete against an elevated level of physicality and talent - for example, scoring 16 points against NBA G-League Team Ignite. His ceiling is super high and I’m excited to see what he brings to the Sal’s NBL this year.

3: Mustapha Heron – Property Brokers Manawatū Jets

HE’S BAACKKKKK! My No. 3 pick is Mustapha Heron, who had an electric season in 2023 with the Manawatū Jets - 21.3 PPG, 4.9 RPG and 2.1 APG on 41.6 3PT%. It is not often American imports come back for round two in the NBL, so it is exciting to see the return of someone who can be dominant at times. I expect Heron will have eyes on both the MVP prize, and a post-season appearance (which would be the first in long time for the Jets).

With his varied professional experience internationally (including stints in Hungary, Qatar, Iceland and a season in the G-League) he has a head start of in comparison to some of the guards he will come up against in 2024. Heron’s hot shooting was a serious issue for Jets' opposition last year and his top-level athleticism at the guard position allowed him to get to the rim with ease. It will be interesting to see what learnings from the 2023 season manifest themselves in his game, and how other teams will decide to adjust their defense to his unique skill set.

2: LaGerald Vick— Southland Sharks

My No. 2 most exciting import is LaGerald Vick. Among an impressive resume the statistics that stood out most were from his senior year at Kansas State, where he averaged 14 PPG while shooting 45% from 3pt land! To shoot that high of a percentage at a big time D1 school is an impressive feat - one that makes me very hopeful about his level of production in 2024. He has played professionally in Colombia, Mexico, Uruguay and Venezuela so he brings plenty of experience as a playmaker and shot creator at an professional standard of pressure and physicality.

Vick being a flamethrower provides a challenge for opposition coaches this season, with lots of things to be considered - screen coverages, help in rotation defence and 1-on-1 matchups at the forefront. If he can bring that hot hand to the Sal’s NBL I think he’ll prove himself extremely difficult to guard while lifting the postseason chances for the Sharks.

1: Sam Froling – Steelformers Taranaki Airs

At #1, we have Sam ‘Big Smoove’ Froling. Froling is currently having an electric ANBL season with the Illawarra Hawks who just qualified for the postseason, averaging 14.8 PPG and 7.8 RPG on 56% shooting. Since signing with the Illawarra in 2019 has followed an upward trajectory in his game that has put him on the fringe of all ANBL teams and Boomers selection. Froling is very effective playing out of the high post, short corner and on the dribble drive, while also able to make good decisions finding shooters on the perimeter. He moves very well for a man of his size which has been a huge advantage for him in the ANBL against less mobile defenders but has the size to play a classic post-game as well.

He has spent the last two seasons co-captaining Illawarra, indicating he will bring leadership and poise to go along with his on-court talent. The Sal’s and Australian NBL’s are compatible when it comes to style of play which should give Froling an upper hand in terms of the adjustments that most import bigs need to make when they hit New Zealand shores for the first time. While I am curious to see how he sizes up against bigs of the local and import variety, he should have no trouble slotting into the Airs lineup to dominate low post play. This is an absolute steal of a pickup that should drive the Airs return to the Final 6!


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