We're at the halfway point of the 2022 campaign and it certainly hasn't disappointed with upsets galore and the ladder as congested as it's ever been. Diving into the numbers, there are some interesting storylines developing that are worth breaking down. From a red-hot start to the season by an American import, to a team that is struggling on the surface but their numbers suggest they're better than advertised - let's take a look at some interesting stats that might have gone under the radar.
American import Anthony Hilliard has hit the ground running since joining the Taranaki Steelformers Airs. From game one Hilliard showed his natural scoring ability and knack for getting a shot off with limited space and he seems to only be heating up with more reps.
Through four games with the Airs, Hilliard is averaging a league-leading 31.8 PPG on 51.2% from the field, 51.1% from three and 94% at the line - good for a 50-40-90 season to date. His incredible efficiency has completely changed the outlook of the Airs, who are 3-1 since his arrival, and he had a big hand in the team's stunning upset of the Auckland Tuatara in Round 7.
Hilliard's 51.1% clip from three becomes even more impressive when looking at the volume of shots he gets up. The 35-year-old shoots 11.8 3-pointers per game and hits an average of 6.0 per game, easily the best mark in the Sal's NBL this season. Hilliard also possesses the highest offensive rating (128.7) for players who have played more than 100 minutes this season. The offensive numbers Hilliard has posted in his short time in the league are eye catching, and whether he can sustain it moving forward will be a big factor in the Airs' potential success.
Out of Fayetteville, North Carolina - Hilliard has showcased his scoring and shooting ability in other stints overseas but none have been more productive than this current season. His quick release makes him a tough player to close out on, and the step-back game winning jumper he hit to down the Tuatara was the perfect example of his 1-on-1 scoring abilities.
Taranaki will be without centre and defensive presence Tai Wynyard for the next two rounds, as he's with the Tall Blacks 3x3 team in Europe. We'll see if Wynyard's absence has any impact on Hilliard's production, but either way he's certainly put a target on his back for the rest of the season as every opposing team will have him circled on the scouting report.
The defending champions have stumbled out the gate and their poor rebounding has been a big reason for their struggles. The Saints rank dead last in rebounds per game (32.8 RPG), and rank ninth in both defensive rebounding (23.9 RPG) and offensive rebounding (8.9 RPG). Their lack of size made it a nightmare for the Saints to compete on the glass in the first few rounds, and with the other nine teams having a natural centre in place it put them behind the 8-ball.
The recent arrival of Australian NBL Finals MVP Xavier Cooks and Tall Black Tom Vodanovich has already helped shore up their rebounding and the Saints are seeing results in the win column. Cooks has featured in three games for the Saints in 2022 and leads the Sal's NBL in rebounds per game (15.7 RPG) and offensive boards per game (4.0 RPG). That includes a monster 24-point, 24-rebound effort in Saturday's win over the Sharks. The 26-year-old isn't a natural centre but his rebounding ability and athleticism is exactly what the Saints needed to turn the corner on their season.
Tall Black Vodanovich has also aided the rebounding woes, reeling in 10.8 boards per game and sitting second in offensive rebounding (3.4 RPG) behind only his teammate Cooks. With Taane Samuel being moved to the bench to provide a scoring punch, that pairs Cooks and Vodanovich in the frontcourt together and it's a combination that can tackle almost all the frontlines in the league. With the Tuatara losing big man Chris Johnson for the remainder of the season, you could make a case the Saints now possess the best frontcourt in the league but we'll need to see more reps before making a determination.
Cleaning up in the rebounding department should be enough to catapult the Saints up the standings, as offensively they're one of the better teams this season. Wellington currently sits second in points per game at 87.6 and commit the second fewest turnovers with 11.1 per game. This is a team that wants to get out and run once they've got the ball in hand and having a solid rebounding foundation will enable them to do that at an even higher level. The resurgence is on in Wellington and they're hungry for wins.
The Southland Sharks have been one of the bigger disappointments in the Sal's NBL this season, limping to a 2-7 record to start their 2022 campaign. They've been hit with a multitude of injuries in the early proceedings, including head coach Rob Beveridge who doesn't have a timetable for his return to the team.
Whilst they sit in ninth on the ladder, diving deeper into their stats would make you think they're at the other end with them ranking near the top in multiple stat categories. Offensively, it's hard to find a team with better overall numbers that the Sharks. They're first in 3-point percentage (35.6%), second in field goal percentage (45.4%) and third in points per game (87.0 PPG).
The Sharks also possess the second highest assists mark per game (18.8 APG) and third highest offensive rating (109.0). Southland scores with high efficiency and they play at the second fastest pace in the league, so they've established themselves as a real handful for opposing defences.
They take a step back defensively, though, posting the third worst defensive rating (112.7) and allowing opponents to score 90.0 points per game (2nd worst). The Sharks have had a chance to win multiple games over the past few rounds, holding double digit leads in some cases, but they're just unable to hold on when their defence doesn't come to the party. Interim head coach Leyton Haddleton will be well aware of the team's defensive struggles and fixing that area of their game even in a minimal sense will do wonders for their overall performance.
Southland have the league's leading shot blocker in Romaro Gill (3.0 BPG) at their disposal and he'll always make life difficult at the rim with his 7-foot-2 frame, but the Sharks have to do a better job of restricting opposing players on the perimeter as all too often it's Gill who has to clean up in the paint.
The Sharks have a tough uphill climb to make it to the Top-6, but their impressive offensive numbers suggest they're probably unlucky to be where they are on the table at this point in the season.
Some advanced stats supplied by Spatial Jam.