BELIZE CITY, Wed. Feb. 28, 2018– The challenge with a weekly MVP Watch in a small and short league like the Pepsi NEBL is the desire of overreacting to single game performances. Last week’s five-game schedule had the potential to turn the rankings on its head … and turn it did!
With an asterisk hanging next to the result of last weekend’s chaotic game in Cayo, let’s take a look at how the stars in the clubhouse line up!
The top four in the fourth edition of the 2018 NEBL MVP Watch:
1. Nigel Jones, Digicell Belize City Defenders
Season Stats (4 games): 23 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 52 fg%, 1.25 spg, 1.25 bpg
MVP Case: After a tough outing defensively against Luther Page and the Bandits in their second game, Jones and the Defenders have responded, with two dominant fourth quarters to secure back to back victories. Jones has scored no less than 18 points in any game this season, and has only shot below 50% once (against the Bandits). One bad shooting performance is usually expected from foreigners playing the physical Belizean game for the first time. While Jones and the Defenders got worked by big man Martevuius Adams last week, his length and quickness helped him provide the offensive punch needed to complement the scoring exploits of the veteran Puppy. With his energy and body language looking much livelier than the start of the season, next week’s big game against the poised Dream Ballers will test the ability of Jones to guard multiple positions and maintain his offensive punch!
2. Daniel “Buddy” Nolberto, Griga Dream Ballers
Season Stats (5 games): 17.4 ppg, 46 3p%, 3.4 3pmg, 1 spg,
MVP Case: The engine of the Dream Ballers, Buddy has been a combustible source of energy and inspiration all season. He has consistently risen to the occasion defensively as the Dream Ballers’ perimeter stopper, taking on and handling matchups like Verdes’ Isaiah Thomas, Tiger Sharks shooters Ashton Edwards and Doug Valley, and he did his share in limiting the Hurricanes backcourt of Akeem Watters and Shaquille Crawford. Buddy’s confidence and consistency as a scoring threat was enough to pull the Dream Ballers back from a slow start (17-2) against the Hurricanes, to lead Griga to the much needed road win. Buddy will be able to cement his position in the MVP Watch if he can lead Griga to another road win by handling the pressure of Ty Bradley and Lincey Lopez, and limiting the effectiveness of scoring dynamo Darwin Leslie.
3. Darwin “Puppy” Leslie, Digicell Belize City Defenders
Season Stats: (4 games): 22 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 55 fg%, 2.75 3pmg MVP Case: Facing the biggest early season test of the season against the undefeated Tiger Sharks, Leslie led the offensive charge for the Defenders with 28 points, 8 rebounds and 59 fg%. His offensive aggression has come directly from the call of Head Coach Troy Gabb, Jr., who has turned to the veteran to lead on the floor by example, given the deficiencies in the Defenders roster. Puppy is averaging a personal NEBL career high of 22 ppg, an average that will likely trend upward if the Defenders are to continue its winning ways. He is currently shooting over 50% from both the floor and three, which is a testament to the years of dedication he has put into honing his craft. If Puppy can limit his turnovers (4 per game), he will definitely continue making his march up the NEBL MVP Watch.
4. Jihad Wright, San Pedro Tiger Sharks
Season Stats (6 games): 13.67 ppg, 10 rpg, 54% fg, 10 rpg, 4 apg, 3 spg
MVP Case: Wright, last week’s leader in the MVP Watch, had a tough week playing in back to back games against the Defenders and Running Rebels. Unfamiliarity from the Dream Ballers coaching staff may have been the reason Wright was able to go off for that monster 22 pts and 11 rebs performance in Dangriga, but Head Coach Troy Gabb, Jr. had his game plan ready for the explosive Wright. He constantly met help from the Defenders when he attacked the basket, resulting in only 6 points and 4 turnovers. Though he struggled against the Defenders, Wright responded with a solid 12 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists against Orange Walk. Though Wright may not be the 20-point scorer that the Dangriga game showed, his versatility and all-around play will ultimately be what allows him to remain in striking distance for this year’s MVP Trophy.
On the Radar: Akeem Watters (Smart Belize Hurricanes), Luther Page (Belmopan Bandits), Martevuius Adams (San Pedro Tiger Sharks).