NZNBL teams prepare for massive final month

ONLY five rounds remain in the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) with the final third of the season getting underway tonight. Ahead of Round 11 tipping off between the Otago Nuggets and Canterbury Bulls, we look at how each of the 10 teams is shaping up in the run home.

Auckland Tutatara

Position: 1st
Win-Loss: 9-3
Points: 18
Run home: Sharks, Giants, Airs, Rams, Hawks, Saints

Ladder leaders Auckland sits a win clear on top of the table, with the strongest home record (4-1) and a pretty handy away record (5-2) from the opening 12 games of the season. With five of the Tuatara’s last six games coming against sides in the bottom six, it gives the reigning runners-up a chance to go one better in 2023.

Auckland’s combination of Jarrad Weeks and Robert Loe have been an outstanding combination and hard to stop all season. Weeks is averaging 22.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists, while Loe has recorded 20.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 4.5 assists, showing off their Australian NBL experience. With the likes of Reuben Te Rangi and Cameron Gliddon also stepping up, the Tuatara have been difficult to stop.

Canterbury Rams

Position: 2nd
Win-Loss: 8-4
Points: 16
Run home: Nuggets, Nuggets, Tuatara, Sharks, Jets, Bulls

Canterbury Rams have the advantage on their two second placed rivals with an equal 8-4 record thus far. However the Rams have not been in the best of form of late, dropping games to the Giants, Saints and Tuatara in the past five weeks.

With back-to-back games against the Nuggets – starting with an away trip tonight – and then the Tuatara on July 2, the Rams will need to find some consistent form ahead of finals.

Taylor Britt has been a mainstay for the Rams, averaging 4.7 dimes per game to go with 9.7 points. He has worked well with bigman Tai Wynyard (19.1 points, 10.7 rebounds), while Tevin Brown (18.1 points, 3.1 assists) and Troy Baxter Jnr (17.0 points, 5.7 rebounds) have both been influential inclusions.

Otago Nuggets

Position: 3rd
Win-Loss: 8-4
Points: 16
Run home: Rams, Rams, Hawks, Bulls, Giants, Airs

The Nuggets will be relieved to have snapped a poor streak of results with a 16-point win over Wellington Saints on the road last Friday having gone down to Manawatu Jets the night before. After setting a strong benchmark early in the season, the Nuggets have slipped a little, and with the back-to-back games against the Rams, they will also be keen to regain their season form.

They have had some serious quality this season with inclusion Michael Harris putting up 21.8 points per game, ranked fifth in the league, while also averaging 5.3 rebounds per game. Sam Timmins has long been a star of the competition, and his 9.2 boards per game have been outstanding, while also averaging 14/8 points and 3.6 assists. JaQuori McLaughlin‘s 7.1 assists ranks him second in the league, as well as boasting an eye-catching 21.6 points per game.

Franklin Bulls

Position: 4th
Win-Loss: 8-4
Points: 16
Run home: Sharks, Saints, Sharks, Nuggets, Airs, Rams

The third of the 8-4 teams, Franklin has a good opportunity to leapfrog the others ladder in the season with crucial games against the Rams and Nuggets. Prior to that, the Bulls have an easier run of sides outside the top four. Prior to a 13-point defeat to Auckland on Monday, the Bulls had gone on a winning run and were in the best form of the second to fourth sides.

Daniel Fotu (16.3 points, 7.8 rebounds) has been critical off the boards, with the Bulls having no shortage of rebounding types. Isaac Davidson (6.2 rebounds, 12.0 points) has been a promising type for a number of years, while Darrell Brantley (10.7 points, 2.1 assists and 6.0 rebounds) has been able to contribute in multiple ways.

Wellington Saints

Position: 5th
Win-Loss: 6-6
Points: 12
Run home: Airs, Bulls, Jets, Hawks, Jets, Tuatara

The league’s most successful franchise enters the final month with an even keel of results and six more games to come. Two games off the top four sides, the Saints will be hoping to put away the Airs on Sunday as they did back on June 4. Prior to a hard-fought loss to the Nuggets on Friday, the Saints had put up some big numbers in wins, including that 120-112 shootout with the Giants.

Offensively, the Saints have quite the spread with the usual suspects in triple threats, Kyle Adnam, Tom Vodanovich and Tohi Smith-Milner all having an influence. Adnam (18.3 points, 9.2 assists) ranks second overall in the latter, while Vodanovich (16.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists) is second in each of the categories for the Saints. Smith-Milner is ranked first in rebounds (7.8) for his side, and fourth and third respectively in points and assists.

Southland Sharks

Position: 6th
Win-Loss: 5-7
Points: 10
Run home: Tuatara, Bulls, Airs, Bulls, Rams, Giants

In danger of missing finals without a turnaround in form, the Sharks have arguably the toughest fixture remaining. Of the six games remaining, four come against the top four sides, including two against the Bulls, and one each against the Tuatara and Rams. Coming off a forgettable loss against the last placed Airs on Sunday really put a spanner in the works for the Sharks’ post-season hopes.

Jeremy Kendle has been a shining light for the Sharks, putting up a league-high 9.3 assists per game, giving his teammates plenty of good looks, while averaging a competition-high 24.2 points. An MVP candidate, Kendle needs more support to come along for the ride, with Grant Anticevich 15.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists the next best Shark. Brayden Inger (12.3 points, 4.7 rebounds) has also tried hard.

Hawkes Bay Hawks

Position: 7th
Win-Loss: 5-8
Points: 10
Run home: Giants, Nuggets, Saints, Tuatara, Jets

Barring a miracle, the Hawks finals chances seem done and dusted with a 5-8 record and only the five games to come. They take on a mix of teams including two of the bottom three sides, but also face ladder leaders Tuatara and the third placed Nuggets in the run home. A one-point win over the Nuggets followed by a back-up win over the Sharks in late May gave them some confidence, but losses to the Rams and Bulls since have hurt.

The Hawks have enough talent on the list, with Ira Lee boasting 17.6 points per game, just shading talented backcourt player Derone Raukawa and the experienced Jordan Ngatai. The versatile Hyrum Harris (13.5 points, 3.9 assists and 9.0 rebounds) has once again held up his end of the bargain. Consistency is key for the Hawks.

Nelson Giants

Position: 8th
Win-Loss: 4-8
Points: 8
Run home: Hawks, Tuatara, Jets, Nuggets, Airs, Sharks

Though finals are beyond the Giants, they still have the potential to pick up some more wins, with the Hawks, Airs and Sharks all potential victories. Unsurprisingly like most of the bottom five teams, the Giants form has been too inconsistent this season, having beaten the Rams by three points last start, but going down to the Saints in a high-scoring thriller at the start of the month was costly.

Sam Dempster (11.9 points, 3.4 assists and 8.9 rebounds) has been important for the Giants, as has Matur Maker (16.7 points, 7.3 rebounds) off the boards. Darryl Woodson (22.3 points) has been Nelson’s main source of scoring in the 2023.

Manawatu Jets

Position: 9th
Win-Loss: 4-8
Points: 8
Run home: Airs, Saints, Giants, Saints, Rams, Hawks

Manawatu will need to win at least a couple to avoid the wooden spoon this season, and undoubtedly its best chance is beating the only team below it, the Airs this round. The Airs have a game in hand on the Jets, but the Jets will still look to rise up the ladder, though hav some tough games coming up.

Though their ladder position has not always shown their talent, Javion Blake‘s 23.2 points – ranked second in the competition – has been a shining light in the 2023 season. Danny Pippen II is also second overall for rebounds per game with 10.4, but the pair, along with Mustapha Heron (21.8 points, 5.6 rebounds) have been the focal points without the depth quite coming along.

Taranaki Airs

Position: 10th
Win-Loss: 3-8
Points: 6
Run home: Jets, Saints, Sharks, Tuatara, Bulls, Giants, Nuggets

The last placed Airs are unfortunately in the box seat for the wooden spoon, but luckily have an extra gam to play with to try and leapfrog the Jets. If the Airs can knock the Jets on Saturday, then it is game on. A clash against the Giants looms as a potential win for the Airs, though they bat the Sharks on Saturday last week and have another clash with them in 10 days.

Armon Fletcher (19.7 points, 6.4 rebounds) has been a key player for the Airs, with Anzac Rissetto (13.1 points, 6.9 rebounds) also important. Unfortunately scoring has been an issue and the Airs only have three double-figure scorers this season with David Azore (15.6 points) the other.

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