WEEK two gets underway today with a couple of huge clashes in the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) competition. First up, the in-form Taranaki Mountainairs take on the winless Auckland Huskies, whilst two sides grabbing their first wins in their most recent games, Nelson Giants and Franklin Bulls lock horns.
TARANAKI MOUNTAINAIRS VS. AUCKLAND HUSKIES
The opening game of the night pits an in-form side against a team yet to fully hit its straps when the 2-1 Mountainairs take on the 0-3 Huskies. The Mountainairs pushed the equally impressive Canterbury Rams all the way on the weekend and could have finished week one undefeated, but lost no admirers in the process. The Huskies were well beaten in their first two games of week one, but equally pushed Franklin Bulls to the finish line, only just falling short in the end.
The Airs are the highest scoring team in the competition, averaging 106.7 points per game. They also sit third overall for rebounds – second off the offensive boards – and second overall for assists. Most importantly, they have been the most accurate team from beyond the arc with an ultra-impressive 42 per cent accuracy from three-point range, and a second highest ranked of 74 per cent from the free-throw line and 58 per cent from inside the arc.
The Huskies statistically are at the other end of the table in most stats, averaging just the 65.3 points per game, and 33.3 rebounds. They do however do well off the offensive boards, ranked third overall in the competition, and have enough field goal attempts (75.7 per came to rank third overall) however have only made 32.2 per cent of them, clearly last. There was certainly an improvement last start against the Bulls, and they showed signs of turning it around, so expect each game for the Huskies to get better and better, and this could be the game which flicks the switch.
Of their top players this season, Tohi Smith-Milner averages the 12.7 points,5.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game to be the standout player to-date. Izayah Mauriohooho Lea’afa only returned last game and will be much better for the run, whilst the improvement from both the experienced Leon Henry and Taine Murray over the course of the three games has been telling. Basically, it is looking like the Huskies are getting the right mix, and it will not be long before it clicks.
It will be a tough ask to overthrow an in-form Airs team with the likes of dominant guard, Derone Raukawa on song. He is averaging 23.7 points and 6.3 assists, ably assisted by Marcel Jones (20.3 points, 4.7 assists and a whopping 14 rebounds), with the duo doing some serious damage. Throw in good friends, Francis Mulvihill and Ken Tuffin, and the Airs have plenty of weapons on their list.
The Airs will head into this game as strong favourites, but do not expect this to be as clear cut as the statistics might suggest. The Huskies are building and if it is not this game, sometime soon they will arrive.
NELSON GIANTS VS. FRANKLIN BULLS
The second game of the night is set to be the pick of the duo, with the Nelson Giants and Franklin Bulls both sitting with a 1-2 record. The teams are both coming off weekend victories after starting the week with back-to-back losses, and now that the teams are starting to gel, this looms as a huge contest.
The Giants are ranked fifth for both points per game with 88.7, and rebounds per game with 35.7. They are ahead of the Bulls in both cases, with the teams equally matched in that regard. Similarly, both teams are mid-competition when it comes to assists, while all the shooting percentages across the board are fairly even as well. It is just the Giants engaging in a more high-scoring shootout than the Bulls who have tried to keep it more contained on average.
Remarkably the Giants have stayed competitive despite missing top star, Mika Vukona for all three matches thus far, and only regaining their other two top picks in Mike Karena and Dane Brooks in the last match, In their absence, it has been the likes of Nicolas Trathen and Thomas Ingram who have stepped up with 19 and 15 points per game on average respectively, as well as 6.0 and 6.3 rebounds. With Vukona finally expected to make his long-awaited return to the Sal’s NBL competition in this game, the Giants are well placed to build on their tight win over the Jets and win here.
The Bulls will not make it easy for them however, with a low-scoring win over the Huskies coming after falling agonisingly short of ladder leaders Canterbury Rams by three points a few days earlier. Whilst much of the talk was about Dom Kelman-Poto prior to the season start, it has been Isaac Davidson who has lit up the court with a whopping 22.3 points per game, sealing the deal from beyond the arc time and time again. He along with the likes of Everard Bartlett and and Nikau McCullough are all deadly three point shooters and easily capable of dominating from range. Chuck in Kelman-Poto who is in the form of his life in terms of his fitness, and then the exciting Jackson Stubbins, and the Bulls are a team to watch throughout the season.
The match will be an intriguing one as it will finally see the Giants at full-strength up against a Bulls side that has now had enough time to gel as a unit. The teams are capable of shooting from inside and outside the arc, and it could well be a shooting extravaganza if both allow it to be. While it is likely to be very close, the Giants might be buoyed by the inclusion of Vukona, though the Bulls would love to go back-to-back and take a second scalp in this match.