Sports leagues all over the world have been left in various states of disruption by the COVID-19 pandemic, but there’s one league that’s daring to dream as a result. New Zealand’s domestic basketball league, the Sal’s NBL, was due to tip off in April. Of course, the outbreak of coronavirus nixed that, and left the league with uncertain prospects for the 2020 season.
Unlike many other higher profile leagues around the globe, the NBL has embraced the opportunity to do something innovative and exciting to ensure their season takes place. It won’t be the stock standard version of the league, but instead a high intensity, condensed competition over just six weeks, with all games played at one Auckland venue. Some of the rule tweaks affect the game itself, with the usual five minute overtime period replaced by what promises to be an exciting “first to seven points” tiebreaker. The big innovation though is the player draft.
The NBL has often been dominated by just a handful of teams, with the Wellington Saints and now defunct Auckland Stars accounting for over half the league titles between them. Nothing should be taken away from the achievements of those teams, who have capitalised on the basketball development pathways in their regions, as well as the willingness of owners to invest in their teams.
With overseas imports essentially unavailable for this season, the ability of the smaller teams to compete was always going to be compromised. That is one of the main reasons the draft has come about. Interestingly, the three top sides from last season (the Saints, Hawke’s Bay Hawks and Southland Sharks) have opted not to take part, but the league will consist of seven teams despite their withdrawals. That’s thanks to the Franklin Bulls (who were joining as the 8th team this season), the Auckland Huskies (who competed as the Hobart based Southern Huskies in 2019), and the Otago Nuggets.
So let’s go through how the draft will work. I’ll try and lay it out as simply as I can, but there are a couple of great podcasts that I recommend listening to for some further insight. Huw Beynon (who has worked hard developing the draft concept with NBL General Manager Justin Nelson) helped explain things on his ‘Limited Minutes’ podcast, while Nelson himself appeared on the ‘Marc Peard Sports’ podcast.
Any player who wishes to take part in the league will register themselves. Many of these players would have likely been participants anyway, but there will be players who register from the non-participating teams, as well as some new, exciting talent unfamiliar to many of us.
Teams will select 10 players for their active roster, plus two emergencies to cover for injuries, illness or other unavailability. That’s twelve players total per team, and 84 players in total for the league.
The teams will have the ability to pre-select players on agreement with the player, provided the player fits one of the criteria of:
– he was already contracted to that team for 2020
– he as lived in that region for no less than 10 years
– he attended high school in the region for no less than 4 years
– he has played the majority of his existing NBL minutes for that team
The league has determined player salaries, with each player from a particular round in the draft paid the same. As part of their agreement with the team, pre-selected players will be given a round designation, thus determining their salary. The team will then not pick another player in that round of the draft. Only players taken in the first seven rounds will be paid, but all players have accommodation and food covered. Due to a number of likely participants wanting to remain eligible for American colleges (which are amateur), this shouldn’t prove an issue. Pre-selections will not be made public, but will be announced as part of the draft night process, which will hopefully be televised.
To help further ensure a spread of the best talent, teams will be able to select a maximum of 2 players from an independently ranked list of the top 14 players. Beynon, Nelson and New Zealand basketball legend Dillon Boucher are the members of that panel. That trio will also determine the draft order based on pre-selections. Following the draft, there will be a 3 day window for trades to occur.
The tournament will then tip off June 23, with multiple games on five nights a week. That sees teams playing up to three times a week, culminating in the finals series during week six. All seven teams will take part in the finals, with the top two seeds earning a possible life ahead of the semifinals.
It promises to be an intriguing season, most notably because of the draft wrinkle which should ensure parity across the league. The new teams will bring a fresh flavour before becoming permanent in 2021, while having games available via Sky, Stuff and Tribe Sports App means there’s no excuse for hoops fans not to engage in the product.
Plus, after all, we’ve all been hanging out for sports content in 2020, and the Sal’s NBL is helping it return in an exciting, innovative fashion.
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