What We Learned From Round 8

Photo credit: RenderCreative NZ

Did You Hear The Thud?

We learned that a week is a long time in the Sal’s NBL and that even if  you are walking on cloud nine you could suddenly be returning to earth with an almighty thud. The Nelson Giants and coach Mike Fitchett celebrated one of their best wins in R7 when they grabbed a road victory in Wellington against the Saints, scoring 105 points in the process. Then, back at home a week later against a team on the backend of a road double, the Giants inexplicably managed just 69 points and lost to the Whai. There will be some soul-searching in Nelson this week as the players dust themselves off before travelling north to face the Tuatara and Bulls in a difficult 09 road double.

Bulls Aren’t There Yet

At 4-0 there was a touch of confidence amongst the Bulls camp, but a 3-3 split since has brought them back to the pack. Sunday’s loss to the Saints was a bruising battle and for the most part the Bulls were within a whisker of a win, but they just lacked the grunt of a Hyrum Harris, Taane Samuel or Tohi Smith-Milner when it most counted. Yes, star guard Luther Muhammad came in with a bout of illness, so others needed to step up. One notable problem area for the Bulls is the points they are leaking to opposition point guards. In R8 we saw Isaiah Moore (33 points) and Ben Ayre (30 points) score big against the Bulls, while in a recent loss to the Tuatara, Corey Webster had his way with 19 points and 11 assists, while Flynn Cameron and Mitch McCarron dominated when the Airs downed the Bulls. 

Hyrum’s The Man

Is there a single player more important to a team than Hyrum Harris is to the Saints? And, along with Corey Webster at the Tuatara, is there a player more capable of grabbing a game by the scruff of the neck? In a thrilling clash with the Bulls, the return of Harris to the Saints line-up was both timely (given the Saints were coming off a loss at home) and vital as the piece the visitors needed down the stretch in the previous week. With the game up for grabs Harris landed 8 points in the final quarter and literally threw himself at contest after contest all over the court. Saints fans would have been over the moon to see their star player back on court and and thriving as he led them to a win.

The Airs Are Fun

The Sal’s NBL is Rated E for Entertainment, Exciting, Energy, Epic, Everyone … plus so much more, and it’s hard to think of a team this season more Rated E than the Airs. A very lacklustre defensive effort by the Jets might have helped their cause, but the Airs put on a show against their neighbours on Saturday night and the home crowd loved it. Carlin Davison looked like he’d do something out of the ordinary every time he touched the ball, while both Flynn and Tobias Cameron were clearly enjoying the party. While the Airs are still a work in progress, it is very evident this is a team thoroughly enjoying playing basketball together. That unity should count for plenty at the business end of the season.

Positive Signs For Sharks

It’s never an easy situation when you know your team is going through its worst stretch in the history of the franchise, but there were plenty of promising signs from the Sharks against the Tuatara in R8. Though the organisation will be too kind and not talk negatively about the players it has released, the fact is the mood of the team was poor and changes were needed (and were made). Despite still not being able to string 40 consistent minutes together, the performance against the ladder leaders was some of the best basketball we have seen from the southerners this season, and it points to an ice-breaking win not being too far away. Bring on the Nuggets in R9 for the Battle of the South.

Are The Nuggets Pretenders?

Wow, what a sharp decline it has been for the Nuggets. After three straight wins to open the season, the Nuggets have slumped to score just a solitary win from their last seven games. This team blows hot and cold like no other, we literally have no idea what we will get from game to game, and that’s very unlike the Nuggets we have become accustomed to in recent years. Now, with Tai Webster perhaps missing the foreseeable future, if not the rest of the season (exact timings yet to be confirmed), the Nuggets face a massive battle to reach the Final 6. Expect fire and brimstone this week against the Sharks in a game that is a must win in more ways than one.

Whai Find Their Identity

A win for the Whai in R7 over the Nuggets showed signs of a team finding its identity, especially at the defensive end where they were able to hold the Nuggets to 69 points, which included 3/19 (15%) shooting from the arc. A commendable performance against the Rams in R8 was at the very least competitive, despite the 20-point loss, but then that defensive identity came to the fore one again in the latter half of their South Island double. On Sunday night in Nelson against the Giants we witnessed a Whai performance filled with a commitment and determination to execute a game plan, especially at the defensive end, and it worked. The Giants offense couldn't find any flow and were held to those 69 points while over-relying on an elusive three-ball (5/28 at 17%) and despite creating 17 more shots than the Whai, who are now squarely in the hunt for the 6th spot in the postseason. 

Hawks Cop Injury Blow

The Hawks are also right in the mix for the Final 6, performing better than pundits predicted at the start of the season. With an outstanding starting unit, the key for the Hawks this season is establishing depth, which the Rapid League has greatly attributed to as a host of local youngsters carve out greater playing opportunities. However, an injury to young forward Tommy Fergusson in the last play of a Rapid League game in R8 was most unfortunate as he has been playing an important role as Josh Roberts’ understudy in the Sal’s NBL. The return of Keanu Rasmussen can’t come soon enough, and there’s every chance in year 22 of playing in the competition (he played in R1 this season) the great Jarrod Kenny will need to lace up the boots once more and give the Hawks some added experience off the bench.

Tuatara Not At Their Best

The Auckland Tuatara took on the Southern Swing in R8 and did enough to score two wins. But it was nothing more than … enough. No team’s starting unit packs a bigger punch than the Tuatara, and while they returned home with two road wins and sit on top of the ladder, coach Aaron Young will know his team didn’t produce their best basketball in R8. The scary thing is the top team can play way better than what we saw down south. Next up – the Giants, who on more than one occasion have snuck up on a team that wasn't prepared for the fight they bring, including an early season defeat of the Tuatara. 


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