McLaughlin set to be a marked man

Otago Nuggets import JaQuori McLaughlin looks to move the ball through the court during the...
JaQuori McLaughlin in action against the Manawatu Jets earlier this season. PHOTO: CHRISTINE O’CONNOR
Otago Nuggets point guard JaQuori McLaughlin will loom large on the Hawks’ radar tonight.

The 25-year-old American is fresh from back-to-back career highs and back-to-back NBL performances-of-the-week awards.

He poured in 39 points during the 93-84 loss to the Auckland Tuatara in Dunedin last week and 31 points in the 103-94 win against the Wellington Saints a week earlier.

That 39 points was the highest individual score by a Nuggets player since Akeem Wright slotted 40 against Harbour in 2012.

Branduinn Fullove (42 v Manawatu, 2006), Ron Grady (41 v Hawke’s Bay, 2002), Lemar Gayle (40 v Waikato, 2008) and Mike Pegues (40 v Harbour, 2003) are the only other players to score 40 or more for the Nuggets this century.

Glen Denham holds the individual scoring record for the Nuggets. Thirty years ago he popped in 50 points against Harbour — yep, 50.

Leonard King hit 40 or more for the Nuggets on five occasions, including a 48 point haul against Hawke’s Bay in 1993.

But scores of around 40 are rare, which is why McLaughlin’s name would have come up plenty when the Hawke’s Bay Hawks were doing their scouting ahead of tonight’s match against the Nuggets at the Edgar Centre.

Nuggets coach Brent Matehaere would not expect anything less.

"He’s a talent and if people give him space, he’ll do his thing," Matehaere said.

"But that depends on what the scout throws at him from the Hawks. That is not something we control.

"I’m sure, if they leave him open, he’ll knock down shots. And if they give him driving lanes, he’ll take them as well.

"But he is also elite at setting the table for others. There could be a big focus on him and hopefully that opens it up for others."

The Nuggets have actually spread the scoring load quite evenly between the fab four.

McLaughlin is leading the charge with an average of 21.6 points per game. Australian shooting guard Michael Harris is not far behind with 19.4.

Defensive general Todd Withers (17.1 points) is near the top of the league for three-pointers made, while Sam Timmins (15 points) pops up on the list of the league’s leading rebounders. He is snatching 10.1 boards per game, while Withers makes 3.6 three-pointers per game.

With all that star-power, the Nuggets won their first seven games on the trot. But they came out flat against a a quality Tuatara’s outfit last week.

"We were poles apart in terms of what we wanted to do and what we did do," Matehaere said.

They have spent the week fixing up "a couple of bits and pieces" and getting " a bit more clarity around what we are doing in terms of offence".

But perhaps the biggest factor in their opening loss was Timmins and Withers getting into early foul trouble.

The pair spent most of the second quarter on the bench.

The Hawks also had some problems in that department. Hyrum Harris got into foul trouble during the 94-78 loss to the Nelson Giants in their last outing. He is a key player in the lineup, while Derone Raukawa and Jordan Ngatai shape as the biggest scoring threats.

Ngatai, Jarrod Kenny and Jordan Hunt were all instrumental in the Nuggets’ championship run during the 2020 Showdown.

But they have not enjoyed the same kind of success with the Hawks (3-6) so far this season.

The visitors desperately need to start winning to stay in touch with the six.