What We Learned From Round 11

Photo credit: Blake Armstrong

Contenders of Pretenders?

It feels like the Taranaki Airs are still evolving as a team and labelling them a pretender might be a bit harsh, but the fact remains the Airs haven’t beaten a team above them on the ladder this season (Rams, Tuatara, Saints,). There was no better time to reverse that trend than last Saturday night when the Saints paid them a visit without Hyrum Harris (knee), a returning and underdone Lat Mayan (ankle), and a less than fully fit Malik Benlevi (calf), yet the Airs came up short. In recent times we have seen the Airs belt teams below them and display all the confidence you would expect from a frontrunner, but until they take down a fellow frontrunner it’s hard to know if Sam Mackinnon’s team is a genuine championship threat or not. 

Jets Miss Another Winning Opportunity

What a miserable old season it has been for the Jets. With just one win to show for their efforts, a poor experience with an import (Baxter Jnr), some injuries, the late arrival of other key players, and a number of narrow losses at home, the 2024 season feels like it has been a backward step for the Green Machine. The continued rise of Liam Judd, Lachlan Crate, Campbell Scott and Simon Lafaele does bring some future optimism, but in R11 we once again saw the Jets miss an opportunity to send a message to the competition by scoring an upset win against a top 6 team (the Bulls in this case). Some poor decisions and time management down the stretch hurt the Jets and there will surely be a number of teachable moments as a result. The Jets are yet to seem confident when it comes to taking advantage of player timeouts in particular. Another one that got away.

Britt Has Become The Ultimate Leader

Make no mistake, at 27 years of age Taylor Britt has become the ultimate team leader and looks more than capable of captaining the Canterbury Rams for another 5-10 years. The creative and speedy point guard carved up the Tuatara in R11, adding yet another notch to his belt amongst a season filled with highlights. Britt leads from the front and looks completely connected with coach Judd Flavell while his teammates follow him into battle with pride and passion. Not only is Britt the best captain in the Sal’s NBL right now,  he’s arguably also the best pure point guard. The Tall Blacks have a major assignment coming up, and Britt is a reserve, but has coach Pero Cameron left the most in-form Kiwi out of the team headed to the Olympic Qualifiers?

Mistakes Prove Costly For The Sharks Again

The Jets aren’t the only team enduring a tough season – say hello to the Southland Sharks! Since their inception back in 2010, have the Sharks ever lost 13 games in a season? What’s even more agonising is when you miss a chance to cause a big upset through mistakes, and that’s exactly what happened against the Hawks in R11. With a memorable and morale-boosting win in sight, the Sharks came up empty handed after they tripped up in the dying stages, particularly through turnovers and poor decisions. Again, just like with the Jets, mark this down as one that got away.

The Tuatara Have Found The Magic ‘Business’ Formula

It’s been happening for a number of weeks now, but Sunday afternoon’s game against the Rams was further proof the Auckland Tuatara are mastering the art of fan engagement and and what it takes to be successful in the entertainment business. For so long (decades?) Auckland has proven to be a tough market to crack when it comes to live sports entertainment as more than one basketball team has come and gone. Aucklanders can be fickle when supporting their sports teams, but they are equally and incredibly passionate, you just need to find the sweet spot and the Tuatara are doing that right now. The bumper crowds at Eventfinda Stadium this season have seen the Tuatara become a hot ticket for sports fans, especially amongst the North Shore community where basketball is so passionately followed. Great signs ahead for the rise and sustainability of the Tuatara.

Young Aussies Talk Of The Town

Has the Sal’s NBL ever had two dominant import players aged under 21 running around in the same season? Lachie Olbrich (Rams) and Ben Henshall (Nuggets) have taken the competition by storm this year, and both young guns look set for bigger roles in the Aussie NBL next season. Furthermore, both are often talked about as future NBA prospects. How good is it that we get to see them in action here in New Zealand. Pop quiz … who is the most recent Sal’s NBL player to score a gig in the NBA?  A clue – he’s an Aussie and he played for the Wellington Saints.

Final 6 Remains Wide Open

Right, who wants to play finals? While the top five looks settled, though the order could change, the battle for sixth position is red hot. In R11 the Nuggets and Giants stepped up, while the Whai (lost to the Giants) and Hawks (lost to the Nuggets) couldn’t fully capitalise and create a gap. The road home for all four teams isn’t easy, but neither should it be. Every game is, and should be, a battle. The Nuggets (Henshall) and Hawks (Ngatai) will be impacted by national team duties shortly. And maybe the Giants (Fotu) will need to be prepared to shuffle the deck chairs as well, while the Whai won’t have any such gaps to contend with. While the journey from here will be fascinating to watch, it might be R11 that we look back on as the moment the Nuggets and Giants took a step forward in the four-way duel.

The Three-Ball Rules In Wellington

Worth a mention – the Saints put up a staggering 50 three-point attempts against the Jets in R11, dropping 21 of them in a 122-88 victory. Amazingly, the 50 shots from deep came from a team total of 83 field-goal attempts, which clocks in at an incredible 60 per cent of shots taken. You can be well assured that the Saints will continue to live and die by the three-ball, which so far in 2024 if proving to be a successful formula.   

A New Rapid League High

Congratulations to Tobias Cameron who now holds the (world) record of scoring the most points in a Sky Broadband Rapid League game - 21 points! The new competition has been an instant hit in the men’s competition and each week serves a number of nail-biting finishes. Cameron’s 21 came within a team total of 45 as the Airs got home by 2 points against the Saints (43). So now we have a new top mark – let’s see if anyone can break the record over the coming five rounds!


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