Mate, the Breakers nearly beat the Phoenix Suns. It was only preseason against a Suns team that was missing their best scorer in Devin Booker, not to mention a Phoenix Suns team that only won 21 games last season for the worst record in the NBA and a Phoenix Suns team that a few days later sacked their General Manager and a good chunk of their backroom staff. But that doesn’t really matter, every now and then there’s a dumb sports radio debate in the States over whether the worst team in the NBA would beat the beat college team and the answer is: yes, absolutely, a hundred times out of a hundred. It’s the bloody NBA, the best players in the business. Grown-ass men amongst the 500 best men in the world at what they do.
And the Breakers only lost by five. Corey Webster scored an impressive 27 points, a record for an NBL player against an NBA team, showing that no matter the level he can still get his shot off. Webster also had seven assists and every shred of evidence over the last year suggests that Corey’s about to have an incredible season. He was making shots down the stretch and if a few others had chipped in at that time then you never know what might’ve happened. A five point loss was easily the closest any NBL team came to doing something in this preseason series.
NBLxNBA 2018 Tour:
Philadelphia 76ers 104-84 Melbourne United
Utah Jazz 130-72 Perth Wildcats
Los Angeles Clippers 110-91 Sydney Kings
Phoenix Suns 91-86 New Zealand Breakers
Toronto Raptors 120-82 Melbourne United
Denver Nuggets 96-88 Perth Wildcats
Utah Jazz 129-99 Adelaide 36ers
This is only preseason (for both teams) so we can’t read too much into it. The Suns-Breakers game proved that most of all as no matter how up for it the kiwi side was against a Suns team full of young dudes more focussed on practising a few fundamentals and impressing the coach rather than doing the selfless stuff that helps lead to easy wins, the extremely promising hustle from Shawn Long and Tai Wesley was completely irrelevant whenever DeAndre Ayton was near the ball.
The first overall 2018 pick brings a massively refined skill-set for a big fella which will serve him well as a rookie this upcoming term yet against an NBL team like the Breakers all that mattered was that he’s seven feet tall. Nobody on this relatively small Breakers side could challenge him for a rebound and if he’s hitting jumpers too then that’s unguardable. So it proved to be, Ayton bossed this thing without even having to try. That’s the difference in so many cases. NBA players are much, much better in terms of basketball ability but they don’t even need to be when they’re also bigger, stronger, and faster. Ayton had 21 points and 15 rebounds in this game.
There’ll be a bit of that in the NBL too, with Andrew Bogut signing for the Sydney Kings. That’s had a lot of people talking the Kings up as championship favourites but Bogie was having none of it, ripping on his dudes for their trash defence in the NBL Blitz… early shades of an entertaining stint in the league for a guy with a reputation for being something of a dickhead, albeit an immensely talented one. At 2.13m tall he’s one of four seven footers in the league this season, yet most teams have a five who comes close to that. Tom Jervis at Perth, Josh Boone at Melbourne (along with seven footer Alex Pledger, of course), Andrew Ogilvie and David Anderson at Illawarra, Rob Loe (!) and Nate Jawai at Cairns, Matt Hodgson at Brisbane and Dan Johnson at Adelaide. All those guys are at least 6’10 tall, meanwhile the Breakers have nobody taller than 6’9.
You know what, though? That’s deliberate. In fact it’s something that Matt Walsh (of the ownership team) mentioned during the telly coverage of the Suns game. It’s Kevin Braswell’s specific aim to combat the size and, by association, lack of speed of those other teams by playing a lot of small ball line-ups. Looking to throw over-skilled fives at the likes of Bogie and his companions. The Breakers obviously had this size to begin with, Alex Pledger and Rob Loe were both let go this offseason, so it’s not something that the team is doing as a reaction - it’s a planned assault.
That comes with natural concerns and Ayton made that blatant but the rebounding prowess of Tai Wesley and Shawn Long has put a bit of that to bed for the night, with a mug of warm milk and a bedtime story. Those two are likely to be starters for the Breaks and each is built like a tank. Wesley boxes out as well as anyone, Bogut notwithstanding. Long is a pleasant case of nominative determinism in action with those arms of his. Chuck in that Majok Majok should be able to come in off the bench and haul a few loose ones in and the Breakers will be better than feared in that regard. DeAndre Ayton dined out at the buffet but there are no DeAndre Ayton’s in the NBL.
We haven’t seen an excessive amount of Patrick Richard and Armani Moore yet, though each looks a tidy defender and reliable option. They’ll probably need to offer a tad more offence than flexed in preseason but, again, that’s preseason. It’s not always the most honest representation. There’s big pressure on Tom Abercrombie and Shea Ili to step up their shooting but Corey Webster’s gonna average 18+ per game so he’ll keep the team in most games.
The new season begins on Thursday night at home against Brisbane Bullets. It’s a game which will be a little weird featuring Mika Vukona in his debut for Brissie in the arena of the team he just left, not to mention earlier Breakers -> Bullets switches such as Reuben Te Rangi, head coach Andrej Lemanis and assistant coach CJ Bruton. The Breaks then travel to Melbourne on the weekend to play a rematch of the semi-finals last season against the defending champs. Defending champs who have re-signed import stars Josh Boone and Casper Ware with team captain Chris Goulding still flopping around – a lot of continuity there against a Breakers team which has undergone immense change.
Despite Bogut’s friskiness, the Sydney Kings are still going to be a lot better this season. Julius Randle and a healthy Kevin Lisch should go a fair way to ensuring that even without considering Brad Newley, Dan Kickert or David Wear. Brisbane have been underachieving so you can’t underestimate them either. Illawarra might have a tougher time although there’s proven NBL talent there, not the least of which being old mate Cedric Jackson, while you can say similar things about Cairns (who have moved on from head coach Aaron Fearne) and Adelaide (although losing Mitch Creek to the NBA is a huge blow). The Perth Wildcats you already know are contenders every season. They locked up reigning MVP Bryce Cotton for three more years. The NBL is only getting bigger and bigger. The NBA games, the Terrance Ferguson thing, the Andrew Bogut signing, the telly deal… it’s getting stronger every year.
With that in mind, you can have your doubts about the shake-ups with the Breakers. I’ve had my doubts about the priorities of the new ownership myself at times and the current sponsorship dilemma may need fleshing out at a later date if that issue catches fire. But the Breakers of last season were not going to make the playoffs this time. They’re in for a tough task to stay up there as it is considering it’s the first season with a new coach, mass player overhauls, a stylistic shift, all that stuff. Clearly they needed to take a gamble if they were going to keep up and this is that gamble. Kevin Braswell’s got the cojones to see that and to go with that. How well it works… we’re about to find out starting Thursday night.
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