Week one of this year’s Sal’s NBL was reminiscent of a movie plot that was figured out in the first scene, featuring teams at full strength having a wee bit of an advantage over those whose full squads are yet to arrive. Star performances still shone through with Alonzo “Trey” Mourning (35 PTS, 14 REB) and Alonzo Burton’s (8-for-8 from three) performances in particular still giving off heat from the nets they set on fire (is it coincidence that they share a first name? I think not). In a more tightly contested game, Joe Cook-Green led the Rams while contributing in all facets of the win over the Nuggets with 30 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
The Bigs are Back in Town (please read to the tune of the Thin Lizzy Classic)
While not all performances and trends will be replicable, one that jumps out in week one was the strong interior play with big men contributing dominating performances across the league. Anzac Rissetto and Tai Wynyard were huge (pun intended) in impressive, if not unexpected, road wins. Dom Kelman-Poto and Romaro Gill joined in on the big man parade in a Sharks frenzy despite the valiant efforts of an under-experienced Saints unit. Sam Timmins and the Nuggets came up second best twice despite his best efforts.
Most notable (possibly because I saw it in person) were Rob Loe and Chris Johnson for the Tuatara combining for 34 points and 29 rebounds in a win where their offence rarely got out of second gear. Johnson said it was a pairing a year in the making and it looks like the wait was worth it.
Of course teams that want to succeed at the highest level will need to find that inside-outside balance, but if week one has indicated anything it would be that the performances of the big fellas down low will be a determining factor to the height of teams' ceilings this season.
Taranaki Steelformers Airs vs. Taylor Hawke's Bay Hawks | Thurs, May 5 @ 7:30pm
The home opener for the Airs will welcome a Hawke’s Bay side still waiting on key interior player Jack Salt, but are likely to have Hyrum Harris available. Will this enable Tai Wynyard to keep the birds down or will the Hawks' perimeter game take off following a disappointing home loss?
Mike Pero Nelson Giants vs. Auckland Tuatara | Fri, May 6 @ 7:30pm
Trey Mourning was electric in leading the Giants to victory versus an undermanned and understrength Nuggets squad. That won’t be the case as Auckland looks to kick off their South Island double capitalising on the skilled big man combo of Johnson and Loe.
Night 'n Day Otago Nuggets vs. Wellington Saints | Sat, May 7 @ 5:30pm
The Nuggets never fired in week one but are confident that their trio of imports will be ready for game time. Tahjere McCall will compete for the title of top import in the league with his two-way game and top flight athleticism. The return of Jordan Ngatai and Taane Samuel will enable the Saints to lose the ‘Baby’ moniker bestowed upon them by coach Guy Molloy, but will the influx of talent be enough?
EnvrioNZ Franklin Bulls vs. Southland Sharks - ONE TO WATCH | Sat, May 7 @ 7:30pm
Southland enjoyed little more than a preseason scrimmage in week one, Mojave King, Dom Kelman-Poto and Alonzo Burton looked in mid-season form offensively. Will that continue against a physical Franklin squad who in week one traded in last seasons bombs away approach for half court offensive and defenisve schemes that have a bit more grit and grind. This matchup will show if either of these teams' first week performances were more mirage than oasis.
Wheeler Motor Company Canterbury Rams vs. Auckland Tuatara | Sun, May 8 @ 3pm
Auckland will be hoping the strength of Loe and Johnson will be tough to contain for Mike Karena, who along with Joe Cook-Green led the Rams to a closely contested week one victory. The Rams are also expecting their two imports, Sunday Dech and Ryan Taylor, to play along with big man Max Darling, who is on his way home from Romania.
Will fatigue on the second half of a Southern double come into play or will Auckland’s expected reinforcements (Nick Barrow and import Siler Schneider) help keep the Rams from defending their home court.
Property Brokers Manawatu Jets vs. Southland Sharks | Sun, May 8 @ 5pm
The Manawatu offense sputtered on its home floor in week one, only managing to crack 20 points in one of the four quarters. The Jets will be looking for an improved shooting night from deep to combine with a bit of fatigue finding Southland, who will be playing on the second day of a back-to-back, to help them defend their homecourt.