Tag: manawatu jets

NBL21 season previews: Sydney Kings

ARGUABLY the best performing side during the 2019/20 regular season, the Sydney Kings have perhaps the biggest level of motivation going into NBL21, despite not finding championship glory in last year’s Grand Final series.

Finishing a game above the eventual reigning champion Perth Wildcats after 28 regular season outings and a record of 20 wins and eight losses, many had the Kings as heavy-handed favourites given their form heading into finals. Unfortunately, this was not the case for former gaffer Will Weaver’s playing list. Later on, some key departures during the Free Agency period have made Sydney’s plans to work their way back to the top-four slightly more difficult.

With Australian basketball legend Andrew Bogut announcing his retirement recently, the Kings will be without a key component in the frontcourt and on the defensive end. Furthermore, the omission of Kevin Lisch from this season’s roster will also mean a major hit to the team’s leadership structure, but not necessarily for the worse, as many more returning players will look to step it up into more prominent roles.

Key pickups for Sydney in the offseason domestically came by way of two up and coming prospects ready to hit the ground running. 23-year-old Dejan Vasiljevic has made his return back home to Australia after a successful collegiate career at the University of Miami, while 22-year-old Angus Glover has made a less sizeable move from Illawarra to the big city.

In what will be his fifth season in the NBL and his second campaign in Sydney, Casper Ware returns as an import for last season’s runners-ups after leading the team in points (19.7 per game) and assists (3.7 per game) and being selected to the league’s All-NBL Second Team at the conclusion of the fixture in 2020. The second of the Kings’ two imports is Louisiana native Jarell Martin, a former member of the Memphis Grizzlies and the Orlando Magic (192 games and 40 starts) in the NBA.

Other internationals to arrive to Sydney this season include the returning Next Stars nominee Didi Louzada, who averaged a respectable 10.3 points per contest in NBL20 and contributed a substantial amount to last season’s outfit in his rookie year, and reigning NZNBL MVP and member of the Manawatu Jets, Thomas Vodanovich, who transfers from the New Zealand Breakers for his sophomore season in the Australian counterpart of New Zealand’s top league.

Familiar faces predominantly round out the remainder of new head coach Adam Forde’s side. Brad Newley prepares for his fifth season at the Kings, veteran Daniel Kickert arrives for his third fixture with the side and Shaun Bruce gets ready to undertake his seventh NBL season (second at Sydney). Additional individuals to return to the franchise such as Jordan Hunter, Craig Moller and Xavier Cooks will also wear the Purple and Gold in NBL21.

Harbouring an abundance of coaching experience, Forde certainly knows the formula to winning NBL titles after playing a pivotal role within the coaching staff during the Wildcats’ 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2019 championships. However, only time will tell if the squad he has assembled this time around holds that “special” combination of physical and mental talent.

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: #12 – Taane Samuel (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.

#12 TAANE SAMUEL

The second of four Manawatu Jets players to make the list, Samuel was more than a handy contributor throughout the season. He recorded the second most points of any Jets player behind competition Most Valuable Player (MVP) Tom Vodanovich, and equal eighth in the league overall. His 5.7 rebounds were impressive as only the third most in the side, to be still ranked inside the top 15 in the league. Those efforts alone earned him a place in our Top 20 list, and the Jets were more potent with him running around.

What made Samuel so deadly was his accuracy inside the arc, recording 57.4 per cent from two-point range, averaging 10 points a game from that region. His three-point radar might have been a little off, but he still dropped an average of 4.5 games from there, and was dangerous enough that opposition players could not leave him in space. When getting to the free throw line, he was one of the best of the top shooters, earning his fair share of chances and running at a 77.8 per cent efficiency.

Samuel spent a lot of time on court for the Jets, often more than 30 minutes, and only four times dipped below 25 minutes. His standout game for the season was against Taranaki Mountainairs on July 5 when he dropped 24 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block. Likewise, he was just as impressive against the Auckland Huskies a week later (29 points, five rebounds and four assists) and Canterbury Rams three days following that (20 points, nine rebounds, two assists, three steals and three blocks). He tended to play well against those three teams in particular, with seven of his eight 20-plus point games with the Airs, Huskies and Rams copping the brunt of his ability.

Samuel had a quieter grand final with only nine points at 25 per cent accuracy, and amassed just the three rebounds, four assists and two steals. Despite arguably his second quietest game for the season coming on the big stage, the Jets scorer deserves his place in this list for helping guide his team to the final with 23 points, five rebounds and four assists in the semi-finals.

STATS:

Points: 17.9
Rebounds: 5.7
Assists: 2.1
Steals: 0.7
FG%: 44.4
2P%: 57.4
3P%: 25.5
FT%: 77.8
Minutes: 29.3

2020 Sal’s NBL Top 20 Players: #14 – Jayden Bezzant (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.

#14 JAYDEN BEZZANT

He might not have had the fanfare of some other players in the side, but Bezzant was a crucial member of the Manawatu Jets’ starting line-up. He was just consistent across the board with a healthy 17.4 points, as well as 3.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists whilst his defensive pressure – of almost two steals per game, meant he could run both ways on the floor. Ranked 12th for points per game (17.4), eighth for assists (3.5) and third for steals, Bezzant is a high-impact player even without the plaudits.

Bezzant has the ability to be a high-volume shooter, but get it done defensively simultaneously. His field goal shooting could improve with just 41.4 per cent from the season, but that was more attributed to his long-range attempts where he struck just 31.6 per cent of them, but totalled a third of his overall shots. With 1.8 three-pointers made per game and almost five two-pointers made, Bezzant could not be left alone, and he showed that from day one.

In the first game of the season, Bezzant showed no signs of rustiness against eventual premiers, Otago Nuggets. He dropped 30 points – including three triples – on his way to the achievement, to accompany a healthy five rebounds, five assists and four steals. While he did not hit the 30-point mark again, he reached 20 points on a further five occasions. The only reason he is not higher in the list is because of his quieter second half to the season. Heading into the final week of the regular season, Bezzant had averaged 21.8 points per game, including 2.5 triples per outing. In week five and finals, Bezzant averaged just 9.7 points and less than a triple per game. Taking out the one limited minutes night against the Nuggets where he played just 11 minutes and scored two points, his numbers were still down.

Regardless of how he finished the season – and a lot of players were in the same boat considering the increased workload of a shortened season – Bezzant still put in a body of work and was clearly one of the top 20 player in the competition this season and a key reason why the Jets were able to notch up quite a few wins on their way to the final.

STATS:

Points: 17.4
Rebounds: 3.2
Assists: 3.5
Steals: 1.9
FG%: 41.4
2P%: 50.8
3P%: 31.6
FT%: 79.5
Minutes: 30.5

Draft Central’s NZNBL Top 10 Moments: #1 – Ngatai block saves GF for Otago, Nuggets hold on in final seconds

IN what was the culmination of an action-packed month and a half of basketball, the events that ensued in this season’s Grand Final between the Otago Nuggets and the Manawatu Jets, in particular the final minutes, fittingly rounded out the NZNBL this year as a whole as the Nuggets clinched a two-point victory (79-77). Due to this, it concludes Draft Central’s Top 10 Moments at the number one-spot.

For the full match report of this year’s Grand Final between the Nuggets and the Jets – Click HERE

Otago had defeated the Jets in their previous four encounters, meaning Manawatu entered the Grand Final as the underdogs. But for Tim McTamney and his side, all prior meetings were irrelevant and one win on the night could crown them NZNBL champions.

It only took a few seconds for the Jets to get their squad going, as Hyrum Harris dunked the ball with two hands, which was quickly followed up with a layup from the league MVP in Thomas Vodanovich. Fortunately for Otago, the experience and calmness from veteran teammate and Defensive Player of the Year, Jarrod Kenny, the Nuggets hit back with a couple of baskets of their own, slowing the momentum of the Jets.

Limited opportunities would present themselves to both teams in the opening period, but the Jets were smart enough to attack the rim early on, edging out a slight two-point lead heading into the first intermission.

An unexpected turn for the worst had the Nuggets on the back foot for the majority of the second quarter. Jordan Ngatai, Otago’s number one draft pick and Brent Matehaere’s go-to man, had run into early foul trouble and sat out for most of the second quarter meaning Otago’s secondary unit had to step up.

While Manawatu outscored the Nuggets in the second 24-22, Ngatai and Kenny gained extended periods of rest, as their bench players limited the Jets’ ability to score. Additionally, their bigs in Jordan Hunt and Kane Keil made their presence known, as they pulled down a number of rebounds to convert on numerous second chance opportunities. Furthermore, terrific ball-movement from coach Matehaere’s role players kept his side in the contest, culminating in a corner three for Richard Rodger to tie the game with few minutes to play in the first half.

In a first half that saw eight lead changes, there were not many things that the final was missing to make it a great game, but the main concern for Manawatu was their inability to capitalise on Otago’s turnovers (14 in the first half).

The combination of Hunt and Keil injected a sense of composure into their side, as the frontcourt duo strung together a pivotal 10-0 run. The points swing in favour of the Nuggets was quickly upended, as Kalib Mullins’ three-pointer out of the timeout got the Jets’ bench on their feet. Shortly before the final break, late field goals from Harris and Jayden Bezzant re-secured the advantage for Manawatu, as the Jets held onto a flimsy three-point lead with 10 minutes still to play.

Re-energised and raring to go, Ngatai opened up the fourth with the initial points of the stanza and after Joshua Aitcheson and Keil knocked down their third triples of the contest each, the Nuggets helped themselves to an 11-0 start to the fourth quarter, blowing the game out of the water. But the triple-threat of Vodanovich, Harris and Bezzant did not back down, gradually grinding away at the deficit throughout the final term. Luckily for Manawatu, they whittled the Nuggets’ lead down to just three points with over the two minutes left to play in the Grand Final.

As the intensity and the pressure started to grow for both sides, each basket started to feel like two, and Ngatai who had played limited minutes up to this point had a couple tricks up his sleeve. The Tall-Black and New Zealand Breaker penetrated the lane for another signature right-hand jam turning Trusts Arena into a frenzy. But, back-to-back buckets from Bezzant made the crowd hold their breath a little longer, as the Jets trailed by just one point.

With 33 seconds left on the clock, a Hunt shot-clock violation handed the ball back to Manawatu for the final possession and a chance to win the closing game of the season. However, as Harris drove down the corridor for the right-hand layup, Ngatai swooped in from the side, pinning the shot against the backboard with the game-saving block. A moment for Otago’s supporters to cherish for the rest of their lives.

After Aitcheson was intentionally fouled following regaining possession of the ball, the 22-year-old had a chance to ice the game. After missing one of his free-throws, the Jets chose not to call a timeout, meaning that Nelson Kirksey’s shot from half court on the buzzer was the last gasp for the green and white.

Sailing through the air for what seemed like an eternity, the ball clang off the left side of the rim as the Otago Nuggets claimed their first NZNBL title in franchise history, capping off what was a fitting way to end the most unique and possibly most controversial campaign in the NZNBL’s history. For this, it deserves the top-spot in Draft Central’s Top 10 Moments of the season.

Draft Central’s NZNBL Top 10 Moments: #3 – Vodanovich drops 43 to conclude MVP season

MANAWATU’s star forward and eventual Most Valuable Player of the NZNBL 2020 season, Thomas Vodanovich had an action packed campaign, as he led his side to a grand final appearance with multiple impressive outings.

These included a dominant 25-point and 12-rebound performance against the Rams, multiple 28-point performances (including the grand final) and a 38-point masterclass in the second game of the season against the Huskies. But his best individual performance came at the very end of the regular season against the Franklin Bulls.

The multiple-time Tall Black’s display against the Bulls in late-July was so impressive, he outperformed teammate and statistical gatherer Hyrum Harris in the plus-minus statistic by more than 10 and for this, features as number three in Draft Central’s Top 10 Moments.

For the Jets and Vodanovich’s full match report against the Bulls – Click HERE

Prior to their tipoff in the season closer, the Jets had a lot at stake, as a loss against Franklin would mean losing their qualifying final slot and a chance to gain a trip straight to the prelims. So, it was apparent to Tim McTamney’s squad that they needed to start off strong, and who better to help get that going than their first-round pick and captain.

Funnily enough, Vodanovich got the scoring going, opening up the contest with the game’s first points. But, the rest of his starting five proved pivotal in allowing Manawatu to obtain a double-digit lead heading into quarter time. Harris, Jayden Bezzant and Taane Samuel each contributed to the scoring load in the opening 10 minutes, but the main man was still yet to catch fire putting up eight points in that time (four of which came from free throws).

But all notions of Vodanovich having a quiet night were quickly dashed, as he went on a three-point tear, knocking down four consecutive threes for his side and putting up 12 of his team’s first 14 points in the second term. He hit home with a fifth triple, three minutes later finishing off a 17-point second quarter and extending his team’s advantage to 15 points at the main break.

For the majority of the third quarter, Vodanovich’s teammates held down the fort, keeping the Bulls at bay. As the combination of Dominique Kelman-Poto and Jackson Stubbins failed to cut significantly into their deficit. Four minutes in, Vodanovich found his first points of the second half making four free throws in a row, which was promptly followed by a triple as a result of Nicholas Fee rebound. The three mentioned would prompt another scoring run, as he found the target on two more attempts and brought his total from behind the arc to eight. Heading into the final break, Vodanovich had already compiled an unbelievable 37 points.

With the final term underway a minute and a half later, Vodanovich topped his season high and cracked the 40-point mark with his ninth three-pointer of the contest, thanks to a Harris assist. But feeling good and with fresh legs, the sharpshooter continued into the sixth minute of the final quarter, and after nailing his tenth triple exited the game.

Despite a late charge from the Bulls, it was nothing more than a formality, as the Jets ran away with the matchup 99-84, earning the win after a monumental effort from their leader and talisman.

Vodanovich summarised his night with 43 points (a career-high), 11 rebounds and a few assists to round out his 34 minutes of court time. Harris also had a respectable night, racking up numbers as usual with nine points, 12 rebounds and six assists. Whereas Samuel (16), Fee (12) and Bezzant (10) got into double digits.

A career night that saw Vodanovich help his side to a top-two spot to finish the season, it is no wonder why his 43-point performance finishes so high on Draft Central’s list.

Draft Central’s NZNBL Top 10 Moments: #4 – Otago baffles Manawatu with 130-point display

WHILE the end result of the Otago Nuggets and the Manawatu Jets ended in a blowout, both teams put on phenomenal scoring totals. But in their second of five encounters throughout the 2020 NZNBL season, the Nuggets strung together perhaps the most dominant display of basketball across all fixtures this year securing the number four spot in Draft Central’s Top 10 Moments of the season.

For the full match report between the Nuggets and the Jets – Click HERE

Heading into the contest, neither of the eventual grand finalists were yet to establish themselves as a serious top-two team. The Nuggets had only a modest .500 record with three wins and three losses to their name. Meanwhile for the Jets, they sat just half a game above Otago, earning four wins to this point thanks to an extra-game 30-point win over the Nelson Giants in their last outing.

Both sides would ensue in a back and forth opening period, as Manawatu’s newly signed wingman Nelson Kirksey got his stroke going early to open up proceedings. But Otago emerged with the more aggressive style of play by pushing the floor and attacking the rim, which in turn forced three early Jets turnovers and created a 12-5 lead as a result.

However, a late run of points from center Taane Samuel and guard Haize Walker tied the score with less than a minute to go in the first. Two free-throws in the dwindling moments of the opening term from Jordan Hunt were responsible for the Nuggets’ two-point lead at the opening break, but the good shooting from both sides of the aisle continued well into the second quarter.

Otago once again got out to an early advantage, pulling away with another 12-5 scoring run. Unsurprisingly however, Thomas Vodanovich became the main focus point for Brent Matehaere’s side. As the multi-time Tall-Black started to catch fire in an impressive first half, managing to convert four of his seven attempts, with three of them triples as the Jets trailed by just a single point after 20 minutes.

The Nuggets decided they needed a different approach if they were to pull away from a persistent Jets outfit and through the deep ball, Otago found a solution. Creating a quick 8-0 run, the team from Dunedin got themselves out to a comfortable double-digit lead and began a dominant one-sided second half in turn.

Otago shot a ridiculous 56 per cent from the field in an authoritative third term, as the lead quickly grew out of control. Outscoring the Jets 38-23 in the championship period, Tim McTamney’s side needed drastic measures if they were to claw their way back from a 16-point deficit in the final quarter. Ashton McQueen started the fourth off in good spirits knocking down a lead-off three, but when Jordan Ngatai and Kane Keil started to heat up, there was nothing that the Jets could come up with to slow down the South Island onslaught that was the Nuggets’ second half.

Otago pushed all the way to the finish line, outscoring Manawatu 35-15 in the concluding 10 minutes, capping off a 73-point performance in the latter two periods of the game and gliding away with the 130-94 demolition of the Jets.

Collectively for the Jets, both Jayden Bezzant and Vodanovich led the way for their side with 18 points apiece, but five different individuals for the Nuggets reached double digits. Keil’s game-high 29 points, six rebounds and four assists led the way for Otago, as Ngatai and Hunt combined for a massive 55-point haul.

As a team, the victors completed their performance with a script of impressive stats. Firstly, they concluded their shooting with a 57 per cent accuracy rate, going 47 from 82 on the floor. Otago managed to knock down 14 triples and 22 free-throws, and lastly, a plus-six on the boards and a plus-10 in assists would round out the highest scoring performance from a team all season. Furthermore, the Jets’ 94 points of their own helped bring the overall total of the game to 224, the largest points total in a contest form both troops all season long.

A lot went right for both sides in this high scoring affair, but the Nuggets put the rest of the league on notice with the 130-point effort against the Jets. For this masterclass at both ends of the floor, there’s no arguing that this moment slots in at number four in Draft Central’s list.

Draft Central’s NZNBL Top 10 Moments: #5 – Hyrum Harris’s Triple-Double vs Airs

IN terms of production from a single player throughout the NZNBL competition this year, Manawatu Jets’ forward Hyrum Harris was next to no one in this respect. His triple-double against the Taranaki Mountain Airs on July 19 was the only triple-double for the entire duration of the season and just one example of his work ethic during his campaign. The rarity of this feat earns itself fifth spot on the countdown for Top 10 moments throughout the NZNBL season.

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

After being selected as a development player for the Illawarra Hawks in last year’s Australian NBL competition, Harris was a top prospect heading into the NZNBL’s draft night. Luckily enough for the Manawatu Jets, they snatched him up early in the second round next to Thomas Vodanovich, and they would not regret it.

From the beginning of the season, Harris quickly assumed the role of workhorse, as he secured double-digit rebounding numbers in three out of his four opening matches. However, the 24-year-old hit a bump in the road suffering a hip injury against the Canterbury Rams on July 1 sidelining him for almost three weeks.

Harris’s return to action came at an opportune time, as the Jets were in the midst of compiling a sizeable winning streak, looking to make it three in a row with a win over the Airs and make a claim as one of the elite sides in the League. From the get-go, Harris facilitated the ball well, finding Ashton McQueen for an easy layup and the Jets’ first score of the game. A solid first quarter for the youngster saw him head into the first break with four points, three assists and two rebounds as Manawatu trailed the Airs, 22-25.

A lone three-pointer for the Jet rounded out Harris’s scoring output for the second period, but a strong 32-23 second quarter for the side altered the scores dramatically, with Tim McTamney’s squad now leading 54-48 at half-time. An increases work rate in the second extended to Harris’s defence a lot more, accumulating seven points, six assists and five rebounds over 20 minutes of play. He also added a couple of blocks to his stat-line as he looked to finish off his comeback game with an even stronger second half.

It was clear that Harris focused more on scoring to start the third quarter, as over the next seven minutes of court time he found the net on numerous occasions. Leading into three-quarter time, he tripled his scoring total with the final quarter still to be played.

Harris amassed 21 points, eight rebounds and eight assists over the duration of three terms and stood just a couple of rebounds and assists away from achieving the season’s first triple double.

Within just over a minute of the fourth quarter, Harris had his ninth rebound and ninth assist, after he found Taane Samuel down low for the spinning layup. Then another minute later, he secured his tenth rebound off a Derone Raukawa missed three-point attempt and it was only seven seconds later that Harris found a cutting Vodanovich to complete the feat, the league’s first triple double.

After securing the milestone, coach McTamney saw fit to take Harris out of the game. After reinserting Harris with just a few minutes to play to close out the contest, he converted on just one more basket and a free-throw to help his side over the line and defeat Taranaki with an impressive 118-103 scoreline.

As Harris led the way with an all-around 24-point, 10-rebound and 10-assist outing he could not have won his team the game without strong performances from his peers. Samuel was the next highest scorer, polishing off the Airs with 22 points, four rebounds and four assists, while Nelson Kirksey provided a major boost with 19 points off the bench. Other double-digit scorers included Vodanovich (17), Jayden Bezzant (12) and McQueen (12).

Draft Central’s NZNBL Top 10 Moments: #7 – Battle of the Opposites, Airs and Bulls elimination final

THERE are only so many coincidences that can occur in any season or competition, but thankfully fans of the NZNBL were able to witness one. This came as the best offence and best defence of the league got to settle their differences in a win or go home Elimination Final. Due to this, Draft Central sees it fitting to place the Taranaki Mountain Airs’ final contest with the Franklin Bulls in the seventh slot of this season’s Top 10 Moments.

For the full match report of the Airs and Bulls Elimination Final – Click HERE

It was during the regular season that both sides displayed their playing styles and strengths. The Airs, who concluded their season with a respectable eight win and six loss record earned the moniker of best offence in the competition. Taranaki maintained a team average of 98.6 points per contest and cracked the 100-point mark on eight different occasions. For Franklin, they earned the opposite title of best defence, due to holding teams to 82.2 points each time out, 4.2 points less than the Otago Nuggets (second in points against).

Prior to their Elimination Final on July 29, the two sides had met three times with the Airs holding the series’ bragging rights two to one. But in their most recent encounter, it was Franklin that came out the clear-cut winners in a dominant 92-65 win. But with a must-win contest to begin, all prior matchups had little to no meaning in what was a seesawing affair between the two clubs with a semi-final spot up for grabs.

Following their All-Star Five presentation, Taranaki’s two leading individuals in Derone Raukawa and Marcel Jones had their confidence brewing in the opening phase, helping their side to a 26-18 lead in the initial 10 minutes of basketball. During that pivotal first term, Doug Courtney employed some defensive tactics of his own, notably setting up a 2-3 zone defence to minimise Franklin’s inside scoring threats. This in turn forced the Bulls to settle for long range shots, which proved ineffective as they made just two from 16 attempts.

Eventually shots started to fall for Franklin, as the game started to even out for both sides. Back-to-back threes from Jackson Stubbins cut the deficit to a single basket, with the Airs holding the three-point lead at the second intermission.

While an And-One from Dominique Kelman-Poto gave the Bulls a brief lead, the continuous scoring output from Jones kept Taranaki’s noses in front for the majority of the game. In addition to this, Jones was grateful to receive the aid on the boards from teammates Tai Wynyard and Shane Temara, who each finished their nights with eight and seven boards respectively. This proved a pivotal statistic in the sequences of the game, as the Airs pushed their lead back up to eight points with a quarter to go.

Good hustle from Isaac Davidson and Everard Bartlett enabled the Bulls to get within four points, but the duo of Raukawa and Jones was put on full display once more. They carried their side over the line on a night where everyone was making their free-throws. The Airs emerged triumphant in a 99-90 slugfest and set up a semi-final date with the Manawatu Jets.

It was a clinic on both ends of the floor for Raukawa (28 points, eight rebounds and eight assists) and Jones (31 points, 10 rebounds and six assists), meanwhile the team’s rebounding and free throw shooting proved to be the difference. A plus-seven on the boards (44-37) and 90 per cent accuracy from the charity strike (18 of 20) put the cherry on the cake as Taranaki fell just a single point short of another 100-point performance.

Despite the emotional loss for Franklin, the Bulls had numerous efforts worthy of praise. Kelman-Poto led the way with his 31-point, 10-rebound and three-steal night, whereas Davidson’s 24 points off of four triples was a major contribution.

On a night that saw offence prevail over defence, it was exciting to see two teams at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of playing style, go at it in a do-or-die matchup in the postseason. Thus, putting this moment at number seven in the NZNBL’s Top 10.

2020 Sal’s NBL review: Manawatu Jets

MANAWATU JETS are next up in our team-by-team review series of the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown. The Jets finished second on the ladder and backed up their regular season with an impressive finals series to reach the decider and only agonisingly fall short of glory. We take a look at their season.

Played: 17
Won: 9
Lost: 8

KEY STATS:

Points: 94.6 (2nd)
Rebounds: 43.3 (4th)
Assists: 18.2 (3rd)
Steals: 8.7 (4th)
Blocks: 2.5 (6th)
FG%: 45.3 (3rd)

BEST WIN: defeated Taranaki Mountainairs by 10 points

There were plenty more wins that might have been better in terms of quality difference, but the win against the Airs was one that would have been relieving for the side that lost the last three games heading into the do-or-die semi-finals clash. A topsy-turvy contest, the Jets led by 11 points at quarter time, but found themselves trailing by three at the final break, before steadying with a dominant 38-25 final term to win 105-95. Tom Vodanovich stepped up to record 28 points, seven rebounds and an assist, with Taane Samuel’s 23 points, five rebounds and four assists also impressive. Hyrum Harris did his thing in a clear standout performance of the night though, almost picking up an unheard of quadruple double thanks to 17 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and seven steals. Jayden Bezzant (17 points, five assists and three steals) and Ashton McQueen (11 points, three rebounds and four assists) were also busy.

WORST LOSS: lost to Otago Nuggets by 2 points

There was only one it could be, and it was not for lack of effort nor intensity, but rather the stakes and knowing they came so close to taking home the 2020 Sal’s NBL title. Entering the grand final against Otago Nuggets, the Jets were 0-4 so not many expected them to change that, but they showed up on the night, turning it on from early to lead by two and four points at the first couple of breaks. The Nuggets stayed with them and cut the deficit to three by the final change, then the ladder leaders finished stronger with a 27-22 final term to win 79-77. Jordan Hunt (21 points, seven rebounds), Josh Aitcheson (16 points, six rebounds), Kane Keil (15 points, seven rebounds) and Jordan Ngatai (11 points, six rebounds) helped the Nuggets dominate off the boards, as Vodanovich (24 points, 10 rebounds and four steals) and Harris (19 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and three steals) did all they could to sway the momentum.

TOP PLAYERS:

Tom Vodanovich 22.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.1 steals
Taane Samuel 17.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.7 steals
Jayden Bezzant 17.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.9 steals
Hyrum Harris 14.9 points, 11.6 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 2.7 steals
Nelson Kirksey 11.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.3 steals

WHAT WENT RIGHT?

The Jets put themselves in a title-winning position with a fairly consistent season, always being thereabouts. They had the point-scoring and rebounding machine in Vodanovich who won the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award, as well as Harris who was the only player to pick up a triple double in the competition. The late inclusion of Kirksey was a good one, and they almost went all the way to the title, but could not quite get there.

WHAT WENT WRONG?

Realistically, they just could not beat the Nuggets. While they were strong against all the other sides, no matter the lineups, the Nuggets had them when it counted. Five matches, five losses, and it was arguably the one side the Jets did not want to face in the final. They got close and almost upset them, but were pipped at the post.

SUMMARY

Manawatu Jets can be proud of their efforts in 2020, especially considering they have struggled in recent years. They drafted well, used the combinations effectively, and the key will be whether they can keep these combinations together in future years when the other teams return. If they can, then watch out, but the Jets have some quality coming through for the future years as well.