BELMOPAN, Thurs. Mar. 8, 2018– All Star Weekend is quickly approaching in the 2018 Pepsi NEBL Season, and the playoff picture has already started taking shape. After stunning the league by pulling out a victory against the undefeated San Pedro Tiger Sharks (6-1), the Digicell Belize City Defenders (3-2) and their two MVP candidates fell short at home to championship contenders Griga Dream Ballers (5-1). In what was the match of the season so far, the dynamic duo of Nigel Jones and Darwin “Puppy” Leslie were outmatched after a furious comeback led by Dream Ballers captain Edgar “Boogie” Mitchell. Mitchell, the star point guard from last season’s championship Belmopan Bandits, has returned home to Griga to lead a balanced attack that averages over 80 ppg. He was brilliant down the stretch for the Dream Ballers, scoring ten points over the final period to silence the Defenders fans!
After playing the San Pedro Tiger Sharks tough in San Pedro, the Orange Walk Running Rebels (0-6) fell short on their best chance at their first win by losing to Verdes (2-5) at home, 73-66. Through six games, the Rebels are losing by an average of 16.8 points per game, by far the worst point differential in the league. The performance of the Rebels over the first half of the season does not bode well for a packed house in next week’s All-Star game … LET’S HOPE I AM WRONG!
With that, here’s the latest version of the 2018 NEBL MVP Watch:
1. Nigel Jones, Digicell Belize City Defenders
Season Stats (5 Games): 23.4 ppg, 10 rpg, 1.6 blkpg, 1 spg, 50 fg%
MVP Case: Jones did enough against the Dream Ballers in the loss to secure the top spot in this week’s MVP Watch. He dominated the game through the first three quarters to finish with another strong 25-point and 12-rebound performance. Looking at the wins and losses from the Defenders this season, it has become clear that Jones will have to be much more efficient than his 43 fg% shot in the last game against Griga. He will have another statement game to prove his worth as he faces the league’s toughest defense, the Smart Belize Hurricanes. Jones will have every opportunity to continue his statistical brilliance, as he has averaged almost 17 shots a game for the Defenders since the start of the season.
2. Jihad Wright, San Pedro Tiger Sharks
Season Stats (7 Games): 15.57 ppg, 9.86 rpg, 3.86 apg, 2.86 spg, 56 fg%
MVP Case: After struggling with a dedicated Defenders ball pressure, Wright bounced back in a big way when the Tiger Sharks pulled out the tough win against the Bandits. He was super-efficient, scoring 27 points on 15 shots, and filling the box score with 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks. With the game on the line, Wright scored 12 of the Tiger Sharks’ final 23 points, showing that he’s able to raise his level when the stakes are highest. The all-around game of Wright will remain evident throughout the season, especially given the ease of the scoring burden with the emergence of Martevuius Adams. If Wright can lead the Tiger Sharks to the best record in the league, his MVP case will be hard to refute.
3. Akeem Watters, Smart Belize Hurricanes
Season Stats (7 Games): 16.33 ppg, 6.83 rpg, 1.5 apg, 3 spg, 54 fg%
MVP Case: Watters is finally making his appearance in the NEBL MVP Watch after another strong game against Verdes in Cayo. Save for the loss against Griga, where he only tallied 5 points, Watters has cracked double digits all season, and has been a pest in the passing lanes, with a season high 7 steals against the Bandits. If Watters can stay healthy for the remainder of the season, his offensive and defensive output should be enough to keep him in the running for MVP.
4. Darwin Leslie, Digicell Belize City Defenders
Season Stats (5 Games): 20.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 53 fg%, 48 3p%
MVP Case: Puppy was solid but not spectacular in last week’s loss to the Dream Ballers. He finished the hotly contested game with a solid 14 points and 13 rebounds, but was noticeably absent in the fourth. While his scoring wasn’t where it was in the past three games, it was refreshing to see the veteran take good care of the ball, finishing with only one turnover against the Dream Ballers. Look for him to continue his steady play as the offensive identity of the Defenders will feature Puppy heavily. His shooting touch will define the effectiveness of his season and the final record of the Digicell Belize City Defenders.
On the Radar: Daniel Nolberto (Griga Dream Ballers), Martevuius Adams (San Pedro Tiger Sharks), Luther Page (Belmopan Bandits), Edgar Mitchell (Griga Dream Ballers).