Four teams will be without crucial pieces for at least the next two rounds with Tai Wynyard (Taranaki Airs), Jayden Bezzant (Franklin Bulls), Dom Kelman-Poto (Southland Sharks) and Nikau McCullough (Otago Nuggets) all departing with the Tall Blacks 3x3 team to Europe.
The Tall Blacks' first stop will be in France for the Big Twelve 3x3 tournament, where they'll compete for the first time against other top tier countries, followed by the FIBA 3x3 World Cup in Antwerp, Belgium. The FIBA 3x3 World Cup tips off on June 21 and runs for six days. New Zealand has been placed in Pool A with Serbia, France, Puerto Rico and Brazil.
The Nuggets will be thin at guard during McCullough's absence and with former import Tahjere McCall returning to the United States, but they'll be hoping their new import can come in and fill the void quickly. The 25-year-old has put together a tidy season in the Sal's NBL to date, averaging 17.1 points per game on 46.4% shooting from the field (34.5% from three). His scoring punch will be missed, especially in the Nuggets' upcoming game against the top of the table Auckland Tuatara.
The Airs are 3-1 since the arrival of their imports and their big upset win over the Tuatara last Friday night put the league on notice. Whilst Tai Wynyard's name hasn't jumped off the stat sheet in recent weeks, his stability and defensive presence in the paint has made an impact and without him their momentum could take a hit. Taranaki will be relying on their imports and the likes of Marcel Jones, Carlin Davison and Richie Rodger to take it to another level to keep their foot on the gas.
Jayden Bezzant's shot making ability has been on full display in 2022 and he's currently sitting fifth in the MVP rankings because of it. His playmaking and natural ability to lead an offence helped the Bulls jump out to a 2-0 record, and now with Corey Webster in the fold the Bulls' backcourt becomes even more of a handful. He's averaging 14.5 points and 4.8 assists over eight games this season, so the Bulls will be looking for Jett Thompson to take on more minutes and work next to Webster to fill the gap.
Dom Kelman-Poto and the Sharks haven't had the most pleasant 2022 campaign and his absence will only make life more difficult for the southern most franchise in the Sal's NBL. The 27-year-old forward has been his usual dominant self, posting averages of 16.2 points, 9.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.2 steals per game on 55.8% shooting from the floor. Making up for his lost production is going to be an enormous challenge for a team already trying to pick up the pieces. The Sharks, though, still possess a ton of firepower to make some inroads over the next couple of rounds. Alonzo Burton, Brayden Inger, Winston Shepard III and most recently Jaylen Gerrand - who went off for 28 points in Round 7 against the Saints - can all produce in a variety of ways and their contributions moving forward will be essential.
As we cross the halfway point of the regular season, each game becomes more crucial with the battle for postseason positioning as hotly contested as ever. The race is on, and the teams that can make adjustments on the fly and play together will be able to do some damage over the coming weeks.