Basketball: Nuggets look good enough to strike some gold

Otago Nuggets (back row from left) Sam King, Tom Rowe, Riki Buckrell, Lance Allred and Mark...
Otago Nuggets (back row from left) Sam King, Tom Rowe, Riki Buckrell, Lance Allred and Mark Morrison (front row from left) Ollie Smith, Scott O'Gallagher, James Ross, Sam To'omata, Hayden Miller and Damon Cleverley. Missing are Craig Bradshaw, Matt Trueman, Tom Allan and Adam Dunstan. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
The Otago Nuggets are the undisputed runts of the NBL litter, but have recruited well and might even register a win or two when the season gets under way on Wednesday.

If the Otago Nuggets are the little engine that could, then they have been stuck at the bottom of the hill for a very long time. But for the first time in almost a decade the franchise appears to be gathering steam.

In a major coup, the Nuggets signed Tall Black Craig Bradshaw on a one-year deal before Christmas. He is the first Tall Black to link up with the franchise since Mark Dickel returned home for a season in 2003.

And late last month, big centre Lance Allred and speedy point guard Scott O'Gallagher arrived in the city. The two American imports are expected to have a big impact on the league, particularly Allred who had a brief stint in the NBA playing alongside LeBron James at the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2007-08.

In the last week the Nuggets confirmed former Christchurch Cougars forward Mark Morrison would join the campaign. He is exactly the type of seasoned campaigner the Nuggets have needed more of in the past.

It is good reward for some feverish work behind the scenes to bolster the playing roster before the opening match against the Auckland Pirates on Wednesday.

While there have been some setbacks, the squad looks significantly stronger than last year. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the franchise needed to stiffen its ranks.

The Nuggets dropped out of the league in 2009 due to financial reasons and their comeback season was marred by some one-sided encounters and a winless campaign.

The team which took the court, though, bore more resemblance to a high school team than a competitive NBL squad. The experiment to field a largely local team fitted with the shoestring budget and a philosophy where financial survival appeared to be the main consideration. To that end, the Nuggets boasted a great balance sheet but a dreadful scorecard.

With major naming sponsor Oceana Gold back on board for another season, there appears to be more financial wiggle room.

But money is not everything.

The franchise has an image problem which hinders the recruitment process. A shift south to the Nuggets is perceived as a bad career move.

It was hoped signing Bradshaw would help address that issue. The opportunity to play alongside the athletic 2.05m forward certainly provided some leverage.

But attempts to sign veteran point guard Luke Martin and guard Jeremy Kench fell flat.

Martin will be lining up for Auckland and Kench opted to sign with the Manawatu Jets.

Naturalised import Kevin Smith also decided on Auckland, despite being presented with a competitive offer to play in Dunedin.

Still, the Nuggets have the core of a useful side. Their forward line of Bradshaw and Allred should give them parity with any team in the league.

Bradshaw is the type of player you can build a roster around.

He is good on the boards, he can muscle up in the paint and can shoot from the outside. He is a tough player to shut down.

However, he has not played in the league since 2003 and was going to skip the season to rest his body. So there is a question mark about his fitness.

Allred arrives at the Nuggets with a reputation as a very solid player - the sort who grabs 10-12 rebounds and scores 12-15 points a match. The Nuggets will be well pleased to get that sort of production out of the 2.11m centre. 

He had a promising debut, scoring 27 points in a pre-season game against the Southland Sharks in Invercargill last weekend.

O'Gallagher is a scoring point guard who likes to drive to the hoop and is deadly accurate from the free-throw line.

Captain Sam To'omata will also do his fair share of bringing the ball up court. He was easily the Nuggets' most improved player last season and will be called on to shoot from the outside more often.

Back-up point guard James Ross will add some spark from the bench. He is a lively player with good speed and is in his third season with the Nuggets.

The small forward spot will be the most keenly contested.

Former Junior Tall Blacks Tom Rowe and Riki Buckrell will lay claim to a starting spot, while Morrison will also be trying to cement the position as his own.

It is a healthy sign to see some competition for places. The Nuggets have not won a match in the NBL since April 2008. But this team should be good enough to bring the 27-game losing streak to an end at some stage.

It will not be easy. The other eight teams all have their strengths. The defending champions, the Wellington Saints, look formidable with the likes of Lindsay Tait, Corey Webster and Casey Frank in the squad.

Watch out for Valerie Adams' younger brother, Steve Adams.

He is being touted as the next big thing and has been brought into the squad as a development player.

The Waikato Pistons had to be content with second place last season and look just as strong this year with a talented crew of Hayden Allen, Thomas Abercrombie and 2.13m centre Alex Pledger.

The Jets have been busy in the off-season signing big men Nick Horvath, Mike Homik and Jeremiah Trueman, and added Kench to complete a promising roster.

The Southland Sharks lured former Tall Blacks and Nuggets point guard Mark "Sparky" Dickel back to New Zealand, and the Pirates are new but look useful with an experienced pair in Luke Martin and Dillon Boucher.

Phill Jones, Mika Vukona and Michael Fitchett will ensure the Nelson Giants are competitive again, and Paora Winitana has returned to bolster the Hawkes Bay Hawks.

The Taranaki Mountain Airs will rely heavily on imports Jack Leasure and Mario Flaherty.


National Basketball League

OTAGO NUGGETS

Squad: Sam To'omata (captain), Craig Bradshaw, Lance Allred, Scott O'Gallagher, Mark
Morrison, Riki Buckrell, James Ross, Tom Rowe, Matt Trueman, Sam King, Hayden Miller, Adam
Dunstan, Ollie Smith, Damon Cleverley, Tom Allan.

Coach: Alf Arlidge (second season)

Strengths
The Nuggets have recruited well and boast a talented forward line featuring Tall Black Craig Bradshaw and 2.11m American centre Lance Allred. Allred has been billed as the double-double
king and Bradshaw is an athletic player who is just as capable in the paint as he is shooting from range.

Game plan
While the Nuggets have two big target men up front the Dunedin-based team will look to play an up tempo game and move the ball through the court quickly. American point guard Scott O'Gallagher
is an out-and-out scorer and likes to cut to the hoop.

Question mark
The Achilles' heel may prove to be outside shooting. The Nuggets do not have a proven three-
point shooter and the playing roster appears to be one or two seasoned campaigners short of a
really competitive squad.

2011 NBL DRAW

v Auckland: April 13 (away), June 25 (home)
v Southland: April 16 (home), June 11 (away)
v Hawkes Bay: April 29 (home), June 6 (away)
v Nelson: May 6 (away), June 17 (home)
v Wellington: May 7 (away), May 13 (home)
v Manawatu: May 21 (home), June 5 (away)
v Waikato: May 28 (home), July 9 (away)
v Taranaki: June 3 (home), July 8 (away)


THE CONTENDERS

Auckland Pirates

Coach: Kenny Stone
Last year: This is their first year in the league
Key players: Poacher Dillon Boucher and big American Raheim Brown

Southland Sharks

Coach: Richard Dickel
Last year: Quarterfinalists
Key players: Former Tall Blacks Mark Dickel and Brendon Polyblank

Hawkes Bay Hawks

Coach: Paul Henare
Last year: Semifinalists
Key players: Sharpshooter Paora Winitana and American guard Josh Pace

Nelson Giants

Coach: Chris Tupu
Last year: Semifinalist
Key players: Rebound machine Mika Vukona and three-point king Phill Jones

Wellington Saints

Coach:
Pero Cameron
Last year: Champion
Key players: Guard Lindsay Tait and mobile forward Casey Frank

Manawatu Jets

Coach: Ryan Weisenberg
Last year: Ninth
Key players: Classy centre Nick Horvath and point guard Jeremy Kench

Waikato Pistons

Coach: Dean Vickerman
Last year: Runners-up
Key players: Lively guard Hayden Allen and athletic swingman Thomas Abercrombie

Taranaki Mountain Airs

Coach: David Bublitz
Last year: Eighth
Key players: Imports Jack Leasure and Mario Flaherty


 

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