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NZ NBL Preview

THE NZ-NBL tips off this week, with many familiar faces for NBL fans in Australia to follow.

Here's our annual season preview, with all comments for each team provided by the head coach and predictions from local basketball journalists Niall Anderson, NZME (NA), and Marc Hinton, Fairfax (MH).

Canterbury Rams

TAB ODDS: $5:50

2016: 1st regular season, beaten in semi finals by Super City Rangers

Head Coach: Mark Dickel

Imports: Jeremy Kendle(pictured below), guard (USA); William Neighbour, forward (GBR)

Roster: Derek Albertsen, guard; Quinn Clinton, guard; Maxwell Darling, forward; Max de Geest, guard; Jordan Lindbom, guard; Hamish McDonald, guard; Joshua Petermann, guard; Ethan Rusbatch, guard; Tohiraukura Smith-Milner, forward;  Marcus Alipate, guard: Hayden Collier, forward; Marcel Jones, forward; Marques Whippy, forward.

Key players: There's no reason Marcel (Jones) couldn't be the best rebounder in the league if he wanted to be. The way we're going to play is going to give him more and more room to be able to attack the basket. You just can't guard him when he drives to the basket. He can take the ball off the glass and bring it up and initiate the offence [like a point guard]. I see him being interchangeable all over the court.

I think Marques Whippy is in the best shape I've ever seen him. I'm sure he's going to play as well as he's ever played this year. I really anticipate him playing well because he's done the work and got himself in great shape.

On imports: (Neighbour): He'd be a surprise for people on this side of the world, but if you speak to people in America about him, they could tell you who he was. If he comes out here and plays the way he's capable, he can play anywhere (in the world). You're either a big man who can post up, or you're a perimeter player that can guard the other big men. I think he can do a little bit of everything.

Key Losses: McKenzie Moore

NA: 3rd
.  The Rams should be an elite offensive side, and the best shooting team in the competition. They have plenty of productive players, but will miss departing MVP McKenzie Moore and could be short of rebounding and rim protection against the other top sides.

MH: 3rd. Mark Dickel has assembled a deep roster that should win a lot more than it loses in 2017. Expect Ethan Rusbatch's level to go up after his full season with the Breakers.

Wellington Saints

TAB ODDS: $2:40

Champion. 2nd regular season, def Southland in semi finals, def Super City Rangers in final

Head Coach: Kevin Braswell

Imports: Aaron Valdes, guard (USA)

Roster:  Benny Anthony, forward; Nico Buckrell, guard; Joshua Duinker, forward; Damien Ekenasio, forward; Leon Henry (pictured), forward; Shea Ili, guard; Isaac Letoa, guard; Jordan Mills, forward; Jordan Ngatai, forward; Elliott Stubbins, guard; Jackson Stubbins, guard; Corey Webster, guard; Tai Wesley, forward.

Keys to success: First is the togetherness of the group, getting on the same page and understanding it is a ‘we’ not a ‘me’ attitude. We have talent, I don’t think scoring will be a problem for us, but we need a strong defensive approach and guard against any complacency. We have to focus at all times, and make sure we are following all of our rules and instructions.

On import: Aaron is a freakish athlete, at University of Hawaii he had great numbers. This is his first year out of school so he is learning a lot. Having players like Corey and Leon and Jordan around – he is learning from those guys who have been there and done that, he is a quality young athlete, but he is learning for sure.

Goals: We take things week by week. The goal of the club is obviously to win a championship – and for me. But for me it is a weekly process to get to that championship, build good habits week by week. I want all of these guys to stay healthy and for all of them to grow as players and young men during the season.

Key Losses: Torrey Craig (USA), Dion Prewster (to Nelson)

NA: 1st. 
The defending champions are reloaded with NBL talent, possessing eight players of starting calibre. They are favourites to be top qualifiers for the Final Four, but unlike last year there will be no guaranteed wins.

MH: 1st. With a loaded roster, championship pedigree and a hungry young coach. The prize signature of Corey Webster completes another winning equation in the capital.

SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks


2016: 3rd regular season, beaten in semi finals by Wellington Saints

Head Coach: Judd Flavell

Imports: Mitch Norton (AUS), Nick Kay (AUS)

Roster: Hayden Allen, guard; Luke Aston, guard; Duane Bailey, forward; Connor Coll, forward; Tom Cowie, guard; James Hunter, forward; Jordan Murphy, forward; Alex Pledger, centre: Derone Raukawa, guard; Oliver Smith, guard; Reuben Te Rangi, guard; Andrew Wheeler, guard.

Keys to success: The backbone of the team is our defence. The players we have enjoy playing defence and that will be a key for us, our constant. We have size in the group – you have that anytime you have Alex Pledger, but across the board with our guards Reuben and Duane – both are big guards.  Add in Hunter and Kay it gives us good size across the floor. Rebounding will be huge for us too. Strength in these areas give you a great base to work from. Shots will be made at times, but if you are working hard on defence and getting the boards it gives you a shot at winning.

On Imports Norton and Kay: Most think of imports getting points per game or carrying a heavy scoring load, but for us these two are guys that can do multiple things on the floor. They have a super high work rate and enjoy getting stuck in on the defensive end. They have a skillset on the offensive end when needed to get us baskets, but both are known for being part of a team and being unselfish in their approach. In that way we are perhaps going against the grain with imports, but these two will lead us from the front in key areas.

REMATCH: Mitch Norton and Jarrod Kenny will go head-to-head again in the NZ-NBL.

Goals: We are here to win this league, we have recruited a team that was here last year, we are looking to build on that continuity in what are short seasons. The challenge is finding consistency quickly, having the majority back again has us already working on a strong foundation.

Key Losses: Everard Bartlett (Hawks), James Parangitai, Jordair Jett (USA)

NA: 2nd
.  Southland is the only team who can match Wellington for depth, and it has a huge frontline. Expect them to dominate points in the paint and the rebounding battle, and be right in the mix throughout the campaign.

MH: 2nd. With a good coach, continuity with (Aussie) imports and a quality big man to base their game round in Alex Pledger, should have the Sharks there or thereabouts this season.

James Blond Super City Rangers


2016: 4th in regular season, def Canterbury semi finals, lost to Wellington Saints in final

Head Coach: Jeff Green

Imports: Nnanna Egwu (USA), Mitch McCarron (AUS)

Roster: Nicholas Barrow, centre;  Dillon Boucher, forward;  Samuel Everitt, guard; Hyrum Harris, forward; Linus Jakszt, forward; Brook Ruscoe-Taiaroa, guard;  Judson Seumanu, guard;  Lindsay Tait, guard;  Rhys Tupe, guard;  Earnest Ross Jr, forward; Christopher McIntosh, guard

Keys to success: We must be able to play some defence, we have to stop people. Offensively we can foot it with the best of them, at the end of the day it is about whether we can stop anyone. That means we have to rebound as we are quite small. The responsibility falls on everyone, play good ‘D’ and box out and offensively everyone knows what we want to do, run and negate other teams height.

On imports: Both will bring defence, Egwu (pictured below) is a true 6’11”, a true centre, he can rebound and block shots which is what we want first and foremost. With Mitch he is a great defender, a typical Australian guard with a defensively mentality about him, he is tough and hardnosed.

Goals: The way the league is set up, we are not too concerned about where we finish as long as we are in the playoffs. Once you get there it is two games to win the title, you can finish fourth as we did last year and beat the top seed and find yourself fin a one off-game to win the championship. It is having good wins at home and picking up the odd road game here and there, the regular season is not the priority though, it is making that top four.

Key Losses: Eric Devendorf (USA), Mika Vukona, Reuben Te Rangi (Southland), Corey Webster (Saints)

NA: 4th
. Super City possess a very strong starting five, all with NBL experience. Under Jeff Green they will play their usual up-tempo, high-scoring style, but there are questions about their bench depth.

MH: 4th. Mika Vukona's decision to rest up during the NZ-NBL hurts. So too does Webster's to head back to Saints. But still enough experience to make the top four.

Mike Pero Nelson Giants


2016: 5th

Head Coach: Alan McAughtry

Imports: Joseph Slocum, forward, (USA), Curtis Owen (USA)

Roster: Riley Bensemann, guard; Bronson Beri, forward; Finn Delany, forward; Samuel Dempster, forward; Alistair Granger, guard; Thomas Ingham, guard; Tyler Marsh, guard; Dion Prewster (pictured below), guard; Samuel Seelen, forward; Nicolas Trathen, forward.

Keys to success: A concerted effort of being able to defend in the full and half court. A lot of ball movement to go inside and out. We have a good shooting team and depth and youth and we have to utilise the bench strength as well, playing deeper than we did in the last two years. We will be looking to all of our roster to play a role, from the imports, to the higher profile guys, but to the local players as well, everyone has their role to play.

On imports: Joe is a tough up the floor defender and can be physical when the need be and stay in front of layers, good facilities in half court on the offensive end, set up or score in open court if needs be, good range and can get to the basket. Curtis has an undertated three-point shot, he is mobile and agile in the post as well, he can go anywhere from three-point line, to low block to foul line.

Goals: To put ourselves in a position to contest the finals, that is a flat-out goal from the team, club and myself. But also, to continue to develop younger players and to work with the likes of Finn and Dion to mprove their game as well and make sure they are in good shape to return to the NBL and their next contract. But definitely we want to contest a final, and to do that you first must be in the top four. I want to see us get better each day and have anyone on the bench come in at any time in the game, rather than just junk minutes.

Key Losses: Phill Jones (retired)

NA: 7th. 
Nelson has two of the best local players in Finn Delany and Dion Prewster, but lack scoring on their roster. Their imports aren’t at the level of the rest of the competition and they significantly lack bench depth. A playoff threat if their starting five fire, but one significant injury scuppers their chances.

MH: 5th. Yes, this will be the year Finn Delany comes of age in the NZ-NBL, but the supporting cast might just be lacking to get them into that top four. Could go close though.

Augusta Taranaki Mountain Airs


2016 result: 6th

Head Coach: Trent Adam

Imports: Daniel Gomis, centre (USA/SEN), Tylor Ongwae, forward (KEN).

Roster: Brad Anderson, guard; Aaron Bailey-Nowell, forward; Dane Brooks, forward; Alonzo Burton, guard; Baxter Fenwich, forward; Lachlan Fenwick, forward; Xavier Garnett-Shaw, forward; Jaylen Gerrand, guard; Beauden Giddy, guard; Brayden Inger, forward;  Matthew O'Connell, guard; Thane O'Leary, centre;  Houston O'Riley, guard; Oscar Robertson, guard; Cameron Trethewey, forward; Morgan Trott, forward.

Keys to success: We are looking to build on last year, we were the top ranked defensive team in the league, it is important to continue on those lines. A lot of work went into building that team and a defence that can be effective at NBL level, it is important to carry that on. We must have players that can defend their positions at a high level, we are probably a little bit longer this year, so hopefully our wings can continue with that disruptive vein.

On imports: Daniel comes from Oregon State, he is a rebounder and defender, he will protect the lane and be a big presence there and rebound the ball at a high level to limit teams to one opportunity and not have multiple possessions. His aim is to be one of the better defensive players in the league. Tylor has length, we think that will be very productive, he has a 6’11” wingspan. He can put pressure on the rim at both ends of the floor, and take on a key scoring component for us as well. But his length and athleticism will be great at the defensive end, he can defend smaller guards and has good strength, he brings us versatility at both ends of the floor, that is important for our local players to be able to work around.

Goals: We need to reach our potential, that is important, for us to be the best team we can be. We need our New Zealand players to reach their potential as individuals and for that to flow on to the group, last year we had Jordan play for the Tall Blacks and a few were selected in the NZ Select team to tour overseas, that would be cool to continue that development of players, that is important for us as an organisation.

Key Losses: Jordan Ngatai (Saints), Tony Toloave (Hawks)


NA: 6th.
  The Airs have had plenty of roster turnover after an impressive season in 2016, but have made smart recruits. They lack the top-level stars of some opponents but should be a good defensive unit once more, and have an excellent coaching staff who will maximise their playoff chances.

MH: 6th.  Made big improvements last year, but will struggle to take a similar giant stride in 2017

Taylor Hawke’s Bay Hawks


2016 result: 7th

Head Coach: Kirstin Daly-Taylor

Imports: Grant Fiorentinos, centre (GBR); Lamar Roberson, forward (USA); Amir Williams, centre (USA). {Note that Williams replaces Fiorentinos from April 3}

Roster: Everard Bartlett (pictured below), guard; Anamata Haku, forward; Darryl Jones, forward; Isaia Jones, guard; Mataeus Marsh, guard; Dominic McGovan, guard; Tony Tolovae, guard; Tamakari Kameta, forward; Amir Fox, forward; Jarrod Kenny, guard.

Keys to success: It is all about chemistry and five-man basketball. If we implement our defensive systems we will have a successful year in comparison to last year. We have upped the ante on our personnel with a couple of higher level players in Jarrod and Everard. Jarrod is huge for us to have running the point and leading our defensive effort and Everard Bartlett as a two guard is a coup – to have a starting one and two of their calibre will lead the way, they are both great leaders.

On imports: Thanks to Taylor Corporate and our Hawks board we are financial enough to have two imports this season. They are true ‘bigs’. We won’t have Amir until April but he is a true centre and a defensive specialist in the key. Lamar has been in Uruguay, he is 6’9”, a total stretch four and can shake and bake, if he hits we will be quite strong if he can nail the outside stuff. But we also need him rebounding. Grant will fill Amir’s shoes until he gets here.

Goals: Our plan is to be competitive, we have the roster and system to win some games. Make the playoffs for us is the goal, once you have made the post season you give yourself a shot at a championship.


NA: 5th.
  Poised for a big bounce back after their 0-18 season, the Hawks have recruited stronger imports and brought back experienced locals Jarrod Kenny and Everard Bartlett. Look for a career-best season from Tony Tolovae as the Hawks fight for the playoffs.

MH: 7th. Will win more games in '17 than they did in '16. But that's not exactly going out on a limb


Wellington Saints

Regular Season Champions: Canterbury Rams

Statistics leaders:
·         Points per game: Eric Devendorf, Super City Rangers, 25.8

·         Rebounds per game: Alex Pledger, Southland Sharks, 11.4

·         Assists per game: McKenzie Moore, Canterbury Rams, 8.2

·         Steals per game: McKenzie Moore, Canterbury Rams, 3.4

·         Blocks per game: Daniel Miller, Taranaki Mountainairs, 1.9

Regular Season Awards:
·         Most Valuable Player: McKenzie Moore (Canterbury Rams)

·         NZ Most Valuable Player: Marcel Jones (Canterbury Rams)

·         Regular Season Winners: Canterbury Rams (13–5)

·         Keith Carr Trophy – Most Outstanding Guard: McKenzie Moore (Canterbury Rams)

·         John Macdonald Trophy – Most Outstanding NZ Guard: Shea Ili (Wellington Saints)

·         Commissioners Cup – Most Outstanding Forward: Marcel Jones (Canterbury Rams)

·         Stan Hill Trophy – Most Outstanding NZ Forward/Centre: Marcel Jones (Canterbury Rams)

·         Garry Pettis Memorial Trophy – Leading Rebounder: Alex Pledger (11.4) (Southland Sharks)

·         Dave Taylor Trophy – Leading Assists: McKenzie Moore (8.2) (Canterbury Rams)

·         Leading Scorer: Eric Devendorf (25.8) (Super City Rangers)

·         Nial Forsyth Trophy – Best Team Free Throws: Nelson Giants

·         Rookie of the Year: Logan Elers (Taranaki Mountainairs)

·         Coach of the Year: Ross McMains (Taranaki Mountainairs)

·         Referee of the Year: Matt Bathurst (Canterbury)

·         Media Award: Logan Savory (Southland Times)

·         Administrator of the Year: Bernie Smith (Taranaki Mountainairs)

All-Star Five:
·         G: McKenzie Moore (Canterbury Rams)

·         G: Raymond Cowels (Nelson Giants)

·         F: Torrey Craig (Wellington Saints)

·         F: Marcel Jones (Canterbury Rams)

·         C: Alex Pledger (Southland Sharks)

Final Four MVP:
Tai Wesley (Wellington Saints)

Mar 13

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