Tag: leon henry

Title contenders claim big wins in one-sided night of action

TITLE contenders Southland Sharks and Wellington Saints have established their top two positions on the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) ladder, with big wins in their respective matches overnight. The top placed Sharks won the first three quarters to take complete control over Franklin Bulls on their way to a 101-69 triumph, whilst the Saints bounced back from a loss to Hawke’s Bay Hawks last start, to win 89-63 in their home clash and retake the second spot Hawke’s Bay had snatched from them.

Southland Sharks did all the damage early, piling on 32 points to 15, leaving the visiting Bulls on the back foot from the start, then added 21-15 in the second term to lead by 23 points at the main break. Needing a spark in the second half, the Bulls could not find it until the final term – which they won by two points – as the Sharks added another 29 points to 18 in the third, leading to the eventual 32-point victory, 101-69.

The Sharks won every statistic in the book, from field goal shooting percentage (47 to 36 per cent), rebounds (52-41), assists (20-17) and steals (13-6). They had seven less turnovers (15-22) and therefore more points from turnovers (25-18), and also had more points in the paint (46-32), second chance points (22-7) and bench points (33-22).

Josh Cunningham piled on 22 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals in the win, as he grabbed the Most Valuable Player (MVP) from the match. Not far behind him was Courtney Belger (13 points, six assists and four steals) who also impressed, while Brayden Inger had the 18 points – four of eight from long-range – and six rebounds. Alonzo Burton (11 points, four rebounds) and Sione Helu (10 points, three assists and two rebounds) also hit double-figure points, while Toby Gillooly came close to a double-double of nine points and nine rebounds.

For the Bulls, Manel Ayol was the star with 17 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals, with a couple of fellow recent additions since the completion of the ANBL season also holding their own. Isaac Davidson (11 points, five rebounds and three assists) and Kyrin Galloway (eight points, 12 rebounds and two steals) both tried hard, whilst the Bulls’ old firm – being there since the start of the season – in Denhym Brooke (nine points, five rebounds and three blocks) also worked well in tandem.

Wellington Saints had an equally comprehensive win over Taranaki Mountainairs in a top-against-bottom clash at TSB Bank Arena. The Saints won every quarter in the match, starting off strongly to race to a 47-28 lead at the main break, then won the second half by seven points to claim a 26-point victory, 89-63.

The Saints were the more accurate of the sides (45 to 40 per cent field goal accuracy), also knocking down 11 three-pointers to six. They had more rebounds (48-28), assists (15-10) and steals (12-6), with the Airs winning the blocks (4-1). Wellington finished with more points in the paint (44-28), second chance points (14-7), points from turnovers (24-15) and bench points (34-20) in a real dominant effort.

It was incredibly difficult for judges to select an MVP from the match with seven players earning between six and three votes. In the end, captain Dion Prewster got the nod in the Saints’ winning performance, finishing with 10 points, four rebounds and four assists. Tohi Smith-Milner (15 points, four rebounds, three steals and two assists), Kerwin Roach Jr (13 points, five assists and three rebounds), Leon Henry (13 points, 11 rebounds and two steals) and Ezrah Vaigafa (11 points, six rebounds) all picked up votes in an even team performance. Ken Tuffin was another one who contributed strongly with 13 points and six rebounds.

Tai Wynyard tried his hardest for the Airs with 15 points, four rebounds and two steals, grabbing MVP votes in the heavy loss with Baxter Fenwick (10 points, two rebound) Marcel Jones had a quieter night, only shooting two of nine from the field on his way to 11 points, five rebounds, three assists and two blocks. Francis Mulvihill (seven points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals) was the other player who did his best in the loss.

Both the losers will have to regroup themselves for matches today as Franklin Bulls and Taranaki Mountainairs both hit the road to take on Otago Nuggets and Canterbury Rams respectively. The Wellington Saints take on Nelson Giants next Friday night, with Southland Sharks hosting Auckland Huskies on the Saturday night.

Picture credit: PhotosportNZ via NZNBL

Hawks swoop against Saints as Nuggets’ Giant first half secures win over Nelson

HAWKES Bay Hawks swooped on the Wellington Saints early to post an impressive win in the 2019 New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) finals rematch, whilst the Otago Nuggets spoiled the Nelson Giants’ 40th birthday celebrations in the other match. Both games saw the eventual winners storm to a big lead early, and shake up the ladder, as the top four teams now sit a game clear of the rest of the competition.

In the top three clash, Hawkes Hay Hawks leapfrogged the Wellington Saints to hand their opponents only their second loss for the season. Moving into second spot on the ladder, the Hawks did so by taking control from the opening tip-off and leading 23-12 at the first break. The Saints predictably clawed their way back into the contest, winning the second term by six points and the third by three, but the home team steadied when it counted to win the last stanza by four, and the match by six, 88-82.

Hawkes Bay shot at a more accurate 49 per cent from the field, compared to the Saints’ 41 per cent. They won the rebounds (39-37), points in the paint (38-34) and second chance points (15-8) on the night. The Saints had their fair share of the ball, with one more assists (18-17) and steals (6-5), as well as more blocks (6-1) and less turnovers (10-13), leading to an even share of the points from turnovers (11-11), but the Saints produced more points off the bench (17-9).

It was an even team performance from the Hawks, with Devondrick Walker (20 points, four rebounds) marginally winning the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award from the match, shooting four of seven from long-range. Hyrum Harris (18 points, seven rebounds and four assists) was not far behind, whilst Rhys Vague (15 points, three rebounds and two assists), Derone Raukawa (14 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals) and Ethan Rusbatch (12 points, five rebounds and three assists).

For the Saints, Tohi Smith-Milner top-scored with 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists, whilst the long-range shooting deadeye of Taane Samuel managed four of five from beyond the arc to finish with 14 points, four rebounds and two blocks. Kerwin Roach Jr (18 points, six rebounds and five assists) and Dion Prewster (14 points, five assists, four rebounds and two steals) also impressed from the starting team, while Leon Henry contributed all the team’s bench points with 17 – five of nine from three-point range – as well as seven rebounds and four blocks in the loss.

The Otago Nuggets silenced the crowd early on a night where the Nelson Giants were celebrating 40 years in the competition, piling on 31 points to 19 in the opening term, then 23-18 in the second quarter to lead by 17 points at the main break. The home team sprung to life in the second half, winning it 47-40, but it was a case of too little, too late, with the visitors getting up by 10 points, 94-84.

Otago shot the lights out with 56 per cent of their attempts from the field going in, compared to the Giants’ 34 per cent. What made it all the more impressive was that the Nuggets had 25 less shots, but nailed four more than their opponents, including the same amount of triples (11) despite 19 less attempts (21-40). They also won the rebounds (43-41), assists (23-15) and blocks (5-0), and had more points in the paint (40-28). The Giants committed less turnovers (10-20) and therefore had more points from turnovers (22-12), as well as more second chance points (16-13) and steals (10-4).

Isaiah Moss won MVP with 24 points – five of nine from long-range – eight rebounds, two assists and two steals to lead the way, whilst Gerasimos McKay picked up 21 points, nine rebounds and two assists on the night. Sam Timmins continued his hot streak with a double-double of 15 points and 12 rebounds – 11 defensive – as well as five assists, two steals and two blocks, while Richie Rodger had the 11 points, seven assists and two rebounds.

For the Giants, Hunter Hale had 21 points, five assists, five steals and two rebounds, just ahead of Sam Dempster (19 points, seven rebounds and two assists) Thomas Ingham (11 points, four rebounds) also hit double-figure points from the starting line-up, whilst Nic Trathen contributed his usual long-range shooting from the bench with three of five going in from long-range on his way to 13 points and three rebounds.

Wellington Saints front up tonight up against the Taranaki Mountainairs, whilst the Hawkes Bay Hawks take on Manawatu Jets tomorrow, whilst the Otago Nuggets also play then against Franklin Bulls. The Nelson Giants have an extended break until lJune 25 when they lock horns with the Saints.

Picture credit: PhotosportNZ via NZNBL

Draft Central’s Top 20 Players of the 2020 Sal’s NBL Showdown: Complete List

HERE is our complete list of the Top 20 Player of the 2020 Sal’s NBL Showdown. Click on any of the links below to view the corresponding article:

#1 Tom Vodanovich (Jets)

#2 Derone Raukawa (Airs)

#3 Jordan Ngatai (Nuggets)

#4 Marcel Jones (Airs)

#5 Hyrum Harris (Jets)

#6 Izayah Mauriohooho Le’afa (Huskies)

#7 Taylor Britt (Rams)

#8 Jordan Hunt (Nuggets)

#9 Dom Kelman-Poto (Bulls)

#10 Jarrod Kenny (Nuggets)

#11 Leon Henry (Huskies)

#12 Taane Samuel (Jets)

#13 Tohi Smith-Milner (Huskies)

#14 Jayden Bezzant (Jets)

#15 Sam Timmins (Bulls)

#16 Isaac Davidson (Bulls)

#17 Mike Karena (Giants)

#18 Shane Temara (Airs)

#19 Kane Keil (Nuggets)

#20 Taine Murray (Huskies)

2020 Sal’s NBL Top 20 Players: #1 – Tom Vodanovich (Manawatu Jets)

IN our newest countdown series wrapping up the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown, we look at our top 20 players that took to the court this year. While it was an incredibly difficult list to create, we have had a mix of pure domination, defensive efforts and eye-catchers to form this list.

#1 TOM VODANOVICH

Top spot on our Top 20 Sal’s NBL countdown of the best players of season 2020 had to go to the Most Valuable Player (MVP). Vodanovich was a deserving winner of the award, and while the likes of Derone Raukawa and Jordan Ngatai both had deserving claims, the Jets power forward was absolutely enormous throughout the year as he often had to stand up with teammates such as Hyrum Harris out injured. When push came to shove, Vodanovich was not afraid to make his presence felt, and he was a hard man to stop up either end, a key reason why the Jets went all the way to the grand final.

The knock on Vodanovich not winning the award was often because of his low assist and steal numbers compared to some of the other top players in the competition. But that means little in the scheme of things when you factor in his influence on games. He was third overall for points (22.4) and fourth for rebounds (10.2), one of only four players to average a double-double in season 2020 alongside Marcel Jones, Harris and Leon Henry. But it was not only his sheer volume of numbers on the offensive end – where he also picked up the fourth most offensive rebounds (2.2) and the only player in the top 10 for that stat who averaged more than 18 points per game.

One cannot speak about Vodanovich’s impact without reciting his ridiculous accuracy from the field. Of the top 20 point-scorers, Vodanovich was the most deadly from outside the arc (44.9 per cent), and the second most deadly from inside it (63.7 per cent), for a total field goal accuracy of 52.1 per cent (fourth of those shooters). While statistics can lie, and players who rarely put up shots pick up high percentages, this was not the case with Vodanovich. The Jets forward had the most three-point marks in the league with 4.1 per game. To put that in comparison, that is more than one per game higher than his nearest competitor, and only 11 players averaged two or more per game – he doubled that feat. He actually put up more three-pointers than two-pointers which is rarely thought of considering the high percentage plays.

In season 2020, Vodanovich only dipped below double-digit points twice, and below five rebounds twice. One of these happened in the same game against Auckland Huskies where Vodanovich was managed leading into finals with second spot locked on the ladder and played just 15:45 minutes. Of his best games? It is hard to go past his competition-record 43 points, as well as 11 rebounds, three assists and one steal, dropping 10 triples on the Bulls in a devastating night. The Huskies could sympathise with the Bulls because he did it in the second game of the season against Auckland, recording 10 of 16 from three-point range on his way to 38 points and three rebounds as well.

Vodanovich had nine games of 20-plus points making him clearly one of the most dominant shooters, and when factoring in him being the most accurate of the lot, the Jets big man was a well deserving winner of the MVP Award and top spot in our Top 20 Sal’s NBL countdown.

STATS:

Points: 22.4
Rebounds: 10.2
Assists: 2.1
Steals: 1.1
FG%: 52.1
2P%: 63.7
3P%: 44.9
FT%: 71.4
Minutes: 32.6

2020 Sal’s NBL Top 20 Players: #11 – Leon Henry (Auckland Huskies)

IN our newest countdown series wrapping up the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown, we look at our top 20 players that took to the court this year. While it was an incredibly difficult list to create, we have had a mix of pure domination, defensive efforts and eye-catchers to form this list.

#11 LEON HENRY

One of the most experienced and decorated Tall Blacks to grace the New Zealand NBL competition, it was exciting to hear Henry would return and subsequently end up at the Huskies after initially being named as Franklin Bulls captain prior to the season postponement. After a slow start in the opening game or two, Henry got to work and became one of the most dominant big men in the game, finishing the season with a double-double average. While he only averaged the 11.8 points per game – the lowest of the remaining players in this list, his rebounding capability and his willingness to come up with game-changing blocks, was a feature of his season.

The season was not without controversy for Henry who missed a game due to suspension, but made up for his indiscretion with a strong second half of the year. Ranking third overall for rebounds and 11th for assists, it was his damaging long-range bombs that hurt opposition defences. Any guard that was willing to leave the veteran open, subsequently got punished as Henry finished the year with an average of two triples a match at 35.4 per cent accuracy. His overall field goal percentage was down on his usual accuracy at just 36.6 per cent, but early in the season he had to carry a fair chunk of the load and was taking shots he normally would not.

After a couple of scoring games to forget in the opening two matches – where he shot four of 19 from the field for 10 points total, Henry got into his groove over the next couple of weeks with double-figure points in six of the next eight games. While his points ranged between two and 21 – the latter being against Taranaki Mountainairs – his consistency off the boards did not waiver. He picked up no less than six rebounds in a match, and had a mind-boggling nine games with double-figure rebounds, of which seven were double-doubles.

His best game was against the Airs with 21 points, 15 rebounds, four assists and two teals, though his game against Franklin Bulls in the third game of the season (16 points, 15 rebounds, four assists and four steals) was not far behind. Memorably in the elimination final, Henry produced a stunning six blocks as he contributed 18 points at 50 per cent from the field, including four of six from long range to close out the year. While his side missed out on a finals win, Henry did all he could in the last game of the season to try and haul his side over the line.

STATS:

Points: 11.8
Rebounds: 10.9
Assists: 2.7
Steals: 1.6
FG%: 36.6
2P%: 37.8
3P%: 35.4
FT%: 61.3
Minutes: 27.7

2020 Sal’s NBL Top 20 Players: #13 – Tohi Smith-Milner (Auckland Huskies)

IN our newest countdown series wrapping up the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown, we look at our top 20 players that took to the court this year. While it was an incredibly difficult list to create, we have had a mix of pure domination, defensive efforts and eye-catchers to form this list.

#13 TOHI SMITH-MILNER

Making our way into the second week of our countdown, Auckland Huskies big man, Tohi Smith-Milner comes in at number 13. It would have been no surprise to see the Melbourne United forward named on this list if you had predicted it at the start of the season, such is his even balance between scoring and rebounding. Playing just 25 minutes a match, he contributed around 16 points and eight rebounds, while dishing off a couple of assists as well.

Smith-Milner is ranked 14th overall in terms of points, and of the top 15, has the second lowest minutes on court. More impressively, the Huskies rebounder finished the season ranked sixth in the competition, and had the third lowest minutes of the top 15. Smith-Milner’s ability to drain jump shots from beyond the arc – averaging 1.6 makes per game – separated him from a number of big men, and really helped aide the likes of Izayah Mauriohooho Le’Afa and Leon Henry when it came to the scoring front.

Along with Henry, he also provided great experience and basketball IQ with a number of younger players running around including Taine Murray, and provided the bigger body required to take the blows when driving to the basket. His two-point and free throw shooting could be higher, but his presence at both ends was what really had an impact for the Auckland-based side.

Smith-Milner picked up four double-doubles during the season, but his undoubted best game came against Taranaki Mountainairs on July 16 when he finished with a remarkable 22 points and 20 rebounds. Critically, he had six offensive rebounds, and dropped three of six attempts from beyond the arc, as well as three assists, two blocks and one steal. It was a complete game by Smith-Milner who followed on from his 22-point and 11-rebound game against Franklin Bulls two days prior.

The 22-point achievement was his top score for the season, achieving it a third time – another double-double – against Canterbury Rams in the final week of the regular season – where he had another 12 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal. He only dipped below 13 points on three occasions, showing remarkable consistency and earning his spot on this list. Now he heads back to the Australian NBL where he will compete for Melbourne United in the 2020/21 season.

STATS:

Points: 15.5
Rebounds: 7.7
Assists: 1.9
Steals: 0.9
FG%: 43.6
2P%: 46
3P%: 38.7
FT%: 69.2
Minutes: 25.9

Draft Central’s NZNBL Top 10 Moments: #2 – Huskies and Airs go the distance in OT

IF you just so happened to tune in to the opener of the NZNBL’s action on Thursday July 16 between the Auckland Huskies and the Taranaki Mountainairs, then you were privy to arguably the most thrilling contest of the entire campaign and number two amongst Draft Central’s Top 10 Moments.

For the full match report between the Huskies and the Airs – Click HERE

Kevin Braswell’s side was certainly looking for nothing less than a win against an old foe in Taranaki, whom they upset in their first encounter to really shake up the league standings. A win for the Huskies once more, would bring their win-loss record back up to .500 for the first time since the start of the season.

Braswell noted pre-game the need to neutralise Taranaki’s two main threats, the one-two punch combination of Derone Raukawa and Marcel Jones, as well as the supplementary damage the Airs’ role-players could also inflict.

Nevertheless, it was a different combination that commenced business between the two sides, as Tohi Smith-Milner and Leon Henry both began what was a very impressive outing. Shortly after, Raukawa and Jones started off their nights with their initial baskets and the game was underway.

In a fast-paced three minutes that saw 18 points get put up on the board in that time, both teams got off to good shooting starts. Notably, Raukawa had his hands full with the fantastic play of Auckland’s point-guard Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’Afa. Despite this, Raukawa still managed to collect 11 of the Huskies’ first 18 points, but following a late triple from Mauriohooho-Le’Afa bringing his total to 10, Auckland obtained a slim one-point lead at the end of the first period.

The second quarter took on a more casual persona, as scoring started to come at a higher premium. But a three pointer from Jones and six straight points from Shane Temara allowed Taranaki to have a firm grip on the game for the first time in the encounter and force a Huskies timeout. Coming out of the huddle, the Huskies quickly dismantled their deficit by capping off a lovely 9-0 run with a couple minutes to go in the first half. But again, Jones led another charge handing back the lead to the Airs going into half time, 47-44.

Given that Auckland had failed to complete their main objective in slowing down Raukawa and Jones, the Huskies looked to their long-range shooters to try and gain the upper hand in the second half. First up to the plate in this respect was rising youngster in Taine Murray who did not make his presence known until the closing stages of the third quarter and made Taranaki pay for their hand-down defence as a result. Coupled with Smith-Milner’s rebounding, the Huskies oozed confidence as they led by seven with a quarter to go.

Reuben Fitzgerald, who had proven himself a prominent participant in the opening three quarters, made his impact on the game late in the fourth, as both sides jostled for the driver’s seat, converting on an and-one. As both teams arrived at the final seconds of regulation tied at 83-83 apiece, the Airs found themselves with a chance to win it at the death. But after two missed attempts by Jones off of two second chance points opportunities and a missed buzzer-beater attempt from Raukawa outside the arc, fans had to wait five minutes longer, as the game went into overtime, the second time for the Airs.

The Airs struck first with a nicely facilitated layup and three by Jones, which was further compounded by a follow-up three from Raukawa, putting Taranaki up by as much as six. But the Huskies did not wither away, as Smith-Milner and Mauriohooho-Le’Afa brought the game back to a single possession ball game and after Murray converted on a reverse hanging layup with just over a minute and a half to play, the match was once again at a stalemate.

Free throws became the deciding factor in the dramatic end to the game, as numerous fouls from the Airs put Auckland into the bonus. In the final ten seconds of overtime, the Huskies shot six free throws converting on five of them, to put away a resilient Doug Courtney led squad and topple the top-of-the-table Airs for a second time in a row in an overtime thriller, 102-99.

Even though Jones (36 points and 17 rebounds) and Raukawa (28 points and eight assists) proved their dominance once again, Temara tried his best to help the duo get their side over the line with 15 points and eight boards of his own, but Auckland’s bigs were too productive to let that happen.

For the Huskies, Smith-Milner had himself a ball, as he amassed one of the few 20-20 games of the season (22 points and 21 rebounds), whereas Murray led the way in scoring with 28 points alongside six threes. Mauriohooho-Le’Afa and Henry also proved instrumental collecting 21 points apiece, summing up a terrific performance from Auckland’s core.

In a game that had all the trademarks of a classic, it sits perfectly as a top two moment on Draft Central’s list, and perhaps the best game in all respects throughout the entire 2020 NZNBL season. One to remember.

Draft Central’s NZNBL Top 10 Moments: #6 – Auckland’s historic start against Nelson

THROUGHOUT the month and a half of basketball that we witnessed in the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL), there were an abundance of impressive quarters. However, there is one that stands out unmistakably.

Auckland’s opening quarter against the Nelson Giants sits at the pinnacle of the season’s most productive and efficient periods, and as a result waltzes into number six on Draft Central’s Top 10 Moments.

For the full Match Report of the Huskies’ clash against the Giants– Click HERE

In their previous matchup, the Huskies held off a persistent Taranaki Mountainairs side and looked to carry momentum over into their next contest. Additionally, Auckland was also on the cusp of securing their third win in a row, which when coupled with a late charge to finish high in the postseason rankings, Kevin Braswell’s side had plenty of motivators before the opening tip-off on July 19.

As Joshua Leger won the tip, it marked the only time that the Giants would be ahead for the entirety of the game, as Dane Brooks turned the ball over, and Leon Henry threw the alley-oop to Tohi Smith-Milner for the first bucket of the game. Smith-Milner’s finish signified the start of arguably one of the best starts in NZNBL history.

Reuben Fitzgerald’s three kept the ball rolling as it were, while Smith-Milner and Henry continued to pile it on down low in the post. It was not until the fourth minute of the first quarter that a fourth player got on the scoreboard for Auckland, as Izayah Mauriohooho Le’afa converted on a fast-break layup for the Huskies’ seventh made field goal in as many attempts.

Fitzgerald kept his foot on the pedal, whereas Smith-Milner started to find his range, knocking down his first triple of the game thus extending his side’s lead to 12. Leading comfortably 21-9 before the midway point of the term, it was a temptation for the Huskies to start and rest on their laurels. But Auckland did the exact opposite, as the four-man combo of Henry, Fitzgerald, Le’afa and Smith-Milner would account for their team’s opening 34 points while successfully shooting 14 straight shots to begin the game.

A fifth scorer would eventually get their name on the scorecard, with Marvin Williams-Dunn knocking down the Huskies’ 15th straight. Whereas Le’afa and Fitzgerald capped off a flurry of six threes concluding an 18-3 run, leading the Giants 43-12. Fitzgerald’s second shot from deep marked Auckland’s seventeenth straight field goal to start the game.

Finally, with 80 seconds left, Nate Wilson’s three-point attempt would not find its target, ending the season’s most impressive shooting display, and one of the best starts to a single game in the League’s history. Nevertheless, the miss did not seem to sway the 19-year-old, as just 30 seconds later he dunked the ball with two hands to end proceedings in the first.

A lone miss by Anamata Haku brought the Huskies’ shooting average down to 90 per cent (18/20), but no one was too bothered, as Auckland went into the first intermission leading 45-12, essentially winning the game before the start of the second term had even begun.

In a slow paced remaining three quarters, Auckland would walk away with the 96-67 win as a result of the opening period and string together a nice three-game winning streak in the late portion of the season.

Despite their field goal percentage dropping down to 52 per cent by the final buzzer, the Huskies would shoot a productive 46 per cent from deep, nailing 13 triples compared to Nelson’s six.

While the majority of their points came in the first quarter, the combo of Le’afa, Henry, Fitzgerald and Smith-Milner made up most of their team’s total over four periods of play. For Smith-Milner, he led the way with 20 points off of 80 per cent shooting, meanwhile Fitzgerald followed up with 14 of his own. Le’afa proved himself as the squad’s facilitator, producing 12 points alongside six assists and four rebounds, as Henry accumulated a game-high seven rebounds next to 13 points.

Even though there were some mistakes in the second, third and fourth quarters during their clash against the Giants, the Huskies could not be faulted for a single thing in the first. Opening up the second term with a 33-point lead, Auckland never looked back and after witnessing such a dominant stretch of basketball, how could you not see this moment appear in Draft Central’s Top 10.

2020 Sal’s NBL review: Otago Nuggets

OTAGO NUGGETS are next up in our team-by-team review series of the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown. The Nuggets had a season to remember returning to the competition, finishing on top of the table at the end of the 14-game regular season and then going all the way to premiership glory. We take a look at their season.

Played: 17
Won: 12
Lost: 5

KEY STATS:

Points: 92.6 (3rd)
Rebounds: 40.6 (6th)
Assists: 20.2 (1st)
Steals: 9.2 (2nd)
Blocks: 3.0 (4th)
FG%: 47.4 (2nd)

BEST WIN: defeated Manawatu Jets by 2 points

What else could it be? The match that guaranteed Otago Nuggets premiership glory. It was far from a straightforward win though despite beating the Jets on the previous four occasions. In the tightest match between the teams, fitting for a grand final, the Nuggets had to fight back from a four-point deficit at half-time to cut it to three by the final break and run over the top of their opponents thanks to a 27-22 final term to win, 79-77. Jordan Hunt topscored with 21 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals, as five players recorded six or more rebounds. Josh Aitcheson (16 points, six rebounds, three assists and two blocks), Kane Keil (15 points, seven rebounds, three assists and one block), Jordan Ngatai (11 points, six rebounds, four assists and two blocks) and Jarrod Kenny (six points, seven rebounds, eight assists and two steals) were phenomenal on a memorable night for the organisation.

WORST LOSS: lost to Auckland Huskies by 12 points

While the final day of the regular season was by far the worst loss in terms of points, considering the obvious man management factor and that top spot was secured, you have to wind back to when the Nuggets went down to the Huskies on July 7 in a 12-point defeat. Trailing at every break and losing each quarter – albeit by no more than five points, it was just one of those games where the opposition team was better on the night. The usually accurate Nuggets were simply terrible from the field, shooting at just 32.4 per cent, including Kenny (30 per cent), Ngatai (22.7) and Richie Rodger (22.2). Meanwhile the Huskies were led by Taine Murray (19 points, five rebounds and three assists), Tohi Smith-Milner (17 points, 10 rebounds), Izayah Mauriohooho Le’afa (12 points, six rebounds, three assists and six steals) and Leon Henry (11 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and two steals) on a big night for them.

TOP PLAYERS:

Jordan Hunt 19.6 points, 6.1 rebounds 0.9 assists, 1.0 steals
Jordan Ngatai 18.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.5 steals
Kane Keil 11.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.0 steals
Jarrod Kenny 11.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.4 steals
Josh Aitcheson 10.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.3 steals

WHAT WENT RIGHT?

Everything if you look back in hindsight. That is not to say they did not have their challenges, but in terms of their list, they predominantly had their best team out on the court each night, they followed team structures and just did all the team things perfectly. From the start to finish of the season, they were consistently in the top few teams and deserved the title by season’s end. While not many top teams end up following through after winning the minor premiership, the Nuggets did just that, and can celebrate their first ever franchise title.

WHAT WENT WRONG?

In the counter opposite to the above, nothing that could be considered serious enough to derail a season. They can look back and be proud of their year, because aside from the odd hiccup here or there in terms of losses, they legitimately were one of the contenders all season.

SUMMARY

Otago Nuggets were the premier team of the 2020 Sal’s NBL and were well coached by Brent Matehaere to lead his team to a memorable title. They had first pick in the Player Draft, and Ngatai paid them back in spades, with their second choice who slid in Kenny, also paying dividends. What a year to remember for the Nuggets.

Draft Central’s NZNBL Top 10 Moments: #9 – Webley’s third quarter helps Rams charge into Semis

LOCKING up the ninth-best moment of this year’s NZNBL season, comes from the lowest performing team in the competition’s regular season. The Canterbury Rams’ stellar third quarter against the Auckland Huskies in their Elimination Final encounter sits proudly amongst Draft Central’s list. Thomas Webley and his teammates produced one of the most efficient quarters throughout the entire season, capping off a historic postseason run.

For the full match report between the Rams and the Huskies – Click HERE

In a season that was hindered by injury and bad luck, Mick Downer and his coaching staff at the Canterbury Rams faced numerous challenges throughout the NZNBL regular season.

Nevertheless, in a season that saw the Rams finish bottom of the table with a record of four wins and 10 losses, how Canterbury finished the season, no one could have expected, with the Rams’ miraculous finals run culminated in one quarter of play from a determined squad with everything to prove.

Putting some context behind the Rams’ third quarter in the second round of Finals week against the Huskies, Canterbury began the season in as good of form as anyone within the league.

Exploding out of the gates with three wins in three games, Canterbury sat at the top of the standings to begin their campaign. But a flurry of injuries, and a squad restructure as a result, destabilised the side’s rotations and sent them cascading down a miserable path of defeat for the remainder of the season.

The Rams endured one of the longest losing streaks in New Zealand basketball history, coming out second best in 10 straight games between their fourth and final clashes of the season. However, momentum eventually found the red and black just in time for the postseason.

Managing to topple the mid-tabled Franklin Bulls in the final game of the regular season ending their double-digit winless run, it put them in good stead for their opening elimination game against fellow bottom-dweller, the Nelson Giants.

After strong second and third quarters from the Rams, as well as surviving a late charge from the Giants in the fourth period, the Rams took the first step in redeeming themselves throughout the finals.

The next day, it was time for the Rams to really test their mettle, as they now stared down a Huskies outfit that was hot off a convincing win against the Manawatu Jets to conclude their season.

Finishing in the third seed on the standings, it was no surprise that Auckland were the heavy-handed favourites heading into their matchup against the Rams. While Canterbury’s bigs had the monstrous task of slowing down the likes of Tohi Smith-Milner and Leon Henry.

As was expected of the underdogs during the first two quarters, the Rams found themselves down by six at the end of the first half. Despite the deficit, Downer urged his side to work one possession at a time and to play a selfless brand of basketball. Following the huddle, the message rang true for Webley in the third, putting on one of the season’s most impressive periods of play for the entire season.

To begin the third quarter, Webley got the ball rolling immediately, kick-starting the term with a slam dunk and following up with two more baskets to get his side within a basket two minutes in.

Even though Webley carried his side for the majority of the third, much needed assistance came in bunches from the side’s captain and shooting marksman, Taylor Britt and Samuel Smith. Before anyone was able to blink, Canterbury surprisingly found themselves five points ahead a minute later after Webley’s fourth basket of the quarter.

Both sides traded buckets over the course of the next couple of minutes, as Quintin Bailey, Toby Gillooly and Reuben Te Rangi made their presence felt for the Rams. Meanwhile, Henry and Auckland guard Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’Afa (finished his night with 39 points, six rebounds and five assists) found their range with each of them knocking down a triple to keep the Huskies within arm’s reach, as the score stood 55-54 with four minutes and 49 seconds remaining in the third.

However, after Gillooly’s three with four and a half minutes left in the term, Webley and his teammates pulled together their best stretch of play for the entire season all the way to the final break.

A 20-8 scoring run concluded a 39-point third quarter for the lowest ranked team in the NZNBL, as Canterbury miraculously produced a 75-62 lead with a quarter to be played. In turn it flipped the contest on its head and set the Rams on their way to a semi-final matchup with the would-be champion Otago Nuggets, as Canterbury held on for the 98-84 upset win.

While many of Webley’s teammates contributed to the comeback third quarter, it was the 18-year-old that led the charge from the front. The 208cm-tall center accounted for 14 of his 21 total points in the third term. He also went on to snag seven rebounds and shoot an unwavering 69 per cent from the field, as he helped his side to a semi-final spot they were not meant to have.

Despite losing to the Nuggets by 18 points in the Semi Final a day later, the third quarter for the Rams in their contest against the Huskies stands firm as one of the most exhilarating and dominant performances for a team throughout the entire competition this year.