The Sal's NBL is getting to the business end of the season and while the top four could be settled as early as Thursday night's clash between the Jets and Sharks, there is still plenty to play for across the competitions and no shortage of questions to ask. Here's this week's Fast Five.
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Fast Five - Question 1
Q: It's been a long time since the Hawks and Rams lost a game, will they bounce back with a win after their respective losses to the Saints in R11?
A: The Rams seem the most likely to bounce back given they will have two cracks at a win with games against the Giants and Rangers. While both loom as danger games given the competitive nature of the Giants and the unpredictability of the Rangers, the stifling Rams defence should deliver two wins. Meanwhile the Hawks will welcome the Sharks and that looms as probably the game of the round with the visiting Sharks on the up and the Hawks coming off a humbling loss where their tight six-man rotation (without Daniel Kickert) was found out against the Saints. Saturday night at Pettigrew Green Arena could promises to be a very close affair between two top-four teams.
Fast Five - Question 2
Q: Should last week's form of Tom Abercrombie be a warning sign of what's to come from the Saints?
A: In a word - YES! Abercrombie took the Saints to another level in R11, and even as hard as that might sound given the stacked Saints roster, the fact is that against both the Hawks and Rams the title favourites looked even better when Abercrombie was on the court. The big task for coach Paul Henare now is to ensure the pack is getting enough food at the dinner table. If the Saints squad buys-in from here, regardless of who plays the minutes, there is a real chance they will go through the 2019 season without a blemish. Amazingly, in any other team Abercrombie is the first player on the court, yet for the Saints he continues to come off the pine and do the job he is being asked to do.
Fast Five - Question 3
Q: Who is the most dangerous player in the Sal's NBL right now?
A: Good question. If you factor in that the current top four (Saints, Rams, Hawks, Sharks) is highly unlikely to change, let's apply the question to these four teams and right now you would have to say Todd Blanchfield in recent weeks has gone from always being a possible danger, to now being an absolute danger. The Aussie star has dropped 18 treys amongst his 27pts per game over his last three outings (all wins for the Sharks) and has arguably been the best first quarter player over that time with his red-hot starts. While Tom Abercrombie put his hand up for consideration last round, it might just be Blanchfield who is flying under the radar in recent weeks and coming good at the right end of the season.
Fast Five - Question 4
Q: Is the gap between the top half and the bottom half of the competition a concern?
A: League GM Justin Nelson recently referred to the competition as a "two-speed league" and if you dig a little deeper and look at the facts you have to think he makes a strong argument. The Saints (15 wins) currently have three more victories than the bottom four teams put together (Giants 5, Rangers 3, Jets 2, Airs 2), and when you look down the ladder, the Hawks and Rams both have 11 wins, one win away from being equal to that of the bottom four teams. The Sharks occupy fourth position with a 64% win rate, yet just one place below (5th) you have the Huskies at just 42%, and the trail from there is a slippery slope - Giants 35%, Rangers 20%, Jets 14%, Airs 13%. The league's focus on delivering a more balanced competition going forward has been warmly received and gauging by the current situation it appears the timing is spot on.
Fast Five - Question 5
Q: Who is the frontrunner for Coach of the Year?
A: It looks to be a race in three - between Paul Henare (Saints), Mick Downer (Rams) and Zico Coronel (Hawks). All three have solid claims all for differing reasons. Depending on how you rate the qualities and performance of a coach balanced against the talent that is at their disposal and the results they have achieved with that talent, the three coaches listed make for a great debate. As to who will win it, who knows, but it won't be an easy task for the 16-person voting panel, which by the way includes the league's nine head coaches.