Nuggets sparkle at times during inconsistent season

Nuggets import Isaiah Moss was capable of lighting up a game. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Nuggets import Isaiah Moss was capable of lighting up a game. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
The Otago Nuggets’ first full season back in the National Basketball League is in the books. Basketball writer Jeff Cheshire reflects on an important year.

There may be a tinge of regret among the Otago Nuggets.

A top-four finish would have been considered a big achievement before the National Basketball League season.

On reflection, it was right there for them.

The Nuggets showed their ability to play fantastic basketball on the way to winning nine of their 18 games, finishing in a tie for fifth with the Canterbury Rams, two wins back from the fourth-placed Auckland Huskies.

In the context of Otago Nuggets history, that is a good season.

tago Nuggets forward Akiva McBirney-Griffin tries to get up the shot past Canterbury Rams...
tago Nuggets forward Akiva McBirney-Griffin tries to get up the shot past Canterbury Rams defender Quintin Bailey and Deshon Taylor at the Edgar Centre on Saturday night. PHOTO: WALTER SAVAGE

But as good as it was in parts, it was equally bad in others and those inconsistencies cost the Nuggets.

Games against the top teams proved tough - the home win over the Hawke’s Bay Hawks was the Nuggets’ only win over a genuinely good team.

However, two losses to weaker teams was what derailed them.

A thrashing from the Taranaki Mountainairs in New Plymouth - the one game Sam Timmins missed all season - was telling.

Taranaki won just one other game and rarely got close in others. It was a game that should have been a gimme.

The other one was the home overtime loss to the Nelson Giants, in which a slow start and ultimately a poor overtime cost the Nuggets.

Those games would have got this team to 11 wins.

Even in the tough games, there were chances - notably had they avoided the second-half meltdown against the Huskies in Dunedin.

At times, the way the Nuggets played lent itself to dominance over weaker teams.

The 2-3 zone with Timmins in the middle back spot was a big weapon against teams without quality shooters and scorers.

The star centre’s presence made layups almost impossible and teams had to look further out to score. That translated into Timmins hauling in rebounds and the Nuggets being able to get out and attack in transition.

However, the good teams - notably the Sharks and Hawks - shredded the zone by knocking down shot after shot from the perimeter.

That also meant fewer transition opportunities and, while at times the Nuggets looked good in that, it is much harder to score when the defence is set all the time.

In Timmins and import guard Isaiah Moss, the team had an impressive duo who were among the league’s top players.

Timmins’ all-round ability was notable, the 24-year-old returning home and taking the leap from role player to star.

He finished the season with a league-leading 13.9 rebounds per game and was also in the top 10 for points, assists and blocks.

Moss’ 21.1 points per game left him fifth in the league, his shooting ability at times keeping the Nuggets going. When he shot well, the team generally played well.

Both were rewarded with contracts in Australia’s NBL.

The lack of a genuine third scoring option hurt the Nuggets.

Australian import forward Geremy McKay’s effort was undeniable and, while unorthodox, he had nights where he was very effective.

However, he was never a genuine scorer and he also had several quiet nights - which you cannot have as an import.

Luke Aston was a great mid-season pick-up and contributed on both ends. Had he been around all year, the Nuggets may not have dropped those games to Nelson and Taranaki.

Local point guard Richie Rodger grew as the season went on and the team always looked better with him on court.

He rarely made mistakes and combined his elite facilitating and defence with an increasingly impressive scoring game.

It is not a stretch to say he was the league’s best Kiwi point guard, aside from Jarrod Kenny.

However, when he went off the team tended to struggle and many of its meltdowns came with Rodger on the bench.

The lack of an NBL-quality back-up point guard was stark and that will be a key void the Nuggets need to fill.

Apart from that, there were a handful of solid performers, but nothing startling.

But it is hard to be too critical.

The Nuggets were back in a full NBL for the first time since 2014.

While they won last year’s Showdown, four drafted players had a huge impact in that.

This year, a group of local products combined with two imports - an Otago team made up of Otago-developed players, and that is always special.

That always helps in terms of retaining players, although a few will have enhanced their reputations and value looking ahead to next season.

Season awards

Best game

94-88 win v Hawks
The Nuggets needed to win and they did just that against a talent-laden Hawke’s Bay team. Isaiah Moss poured in bucket after bucket and Geremy McKay came up with several big plays late in the game. Easily the Nuggets’ best performance against a quality opponent.
 

Worst game

91-62 loss v Mountainairs
The late-season loss to Southland, in which the Nuggets trailed 71-35 at halftime, was pretty bad. But the loss to Taranaki in New Plymouth, in which the Nuggets were without Sam Timmins, was an awful display against a poor team. Nothing clicked as the Airs played smarter, harder and ultimately better than the Nuggets.
 

Best player

Sam Timmins
The star centre did a bit of everything and was classy at both ends of the court. A monster on the boards and making layups hard to come by for opponents, he showed a vastly improved scoring and passing game. Narrowly gets the nod over Moss.

 

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