Ordinarily preseason is just preseason and nobody cares. It’s important for the players to get back into the groove of things but results are irrelevant and performances are all compromised by the fact that nobody wants to get hurt. This preseason is a little different because the Breakers have a new coach. They have a completely reshaped team. They’re changing their style of play. They’re dealing with new ownership.
So much has changed that it’s hard to know what to expect from the team ahead of the new NBL season so this time we’ve gotta keep them eyes open and pay attention. Here are seven takeaways from their opening NBL Blitz game against Perth, something to give a little context to those new season expectations.
Pace And Space, Run And Gun
Kevin Braswell has made clear that he wants to see a team that plays quick, modern basketball. In order to do that he’s had to undergo a bit of a rebuild, with the likes of Alex Pledger, Kirk Penney, Mika Vukona and Rob Loe all leaving for one reason or another. In terms of sentimentality, that’s a lot to take. But in terms of scheme it does make sense. The Breakers want to be able to play in transition and exploit defences before they’re able to get set. Manufacturing offence deep in the shot clock was a big issue last season and it’s something that came back to bite them in the playoffs, with Edgar Sosa left to create his own shot time after time to minimal success. If they go down this year, they’ll go down in a different manner because almost every player on this current roster looks like they can play downhill. It’s an athletic squad and a pretty skilful one as well. Expect some high scoring games.
Shawn Long Is The Real Deal
This guy, aye. There was a moment early on in the game when Long got the ball on the perimeter and faked to shoot, sucked in his defender, dropped the ball on the deck and charged to the rim, drawing a foul as he finished for two points. That’s a skillset from a big man which the Breakers have not had anything close to in recent years. Long might’ve been a late replacement on this roster but clearly the team did their scouting for this guy because he’s absolutely electric. 13 points, 14 rebounds and two reverberating blocks in this one from Shawn Long.
Who Starts At Small Forward?
Tom Abercrombie still isn’t fully fit and he sat this one out (along with Finn Delany), with Patrick Richard starting in his place. Armani Moore was on the bench. Tai Wesley also got the start. Shea Ili came off the bench after playing big minutes for the Tall Blacks the other day but has already been told he’ll be the starting point guard ahead of Jarrad Weeks so probs not worth reading too much into that.
But there is a question over Abercrombie’s place here. Tommy’s only come off the bench a handful of times in recent years, starting basically every game he’s been available for, but he can’t argue with it if Kevin Braswell decides that they need the defensive anchor of Patrick Richard ahead of Tommy’s shooting bounce. These are his last three seasons…
TA in 2015-16: 14.0 PPG | 44.7 FG% | 38.0 3P% | 58.5 FT% | 6.3 REB | 0.5 BLK
TA in 2016-17: 11.9 PPG | 41.1 FG% | 42.7 3P% | 74.3 FT% | 5.1 REB | 0.5 BLK
TA in 2017-18: 9.9 PPG | 37.4 FG% | 32.1 3P% | 68.8 FT% | 4.8 REB | 1.4 BLK
A nice boost in his blocks last campaign but huge drops in his shooting and scoring. With his fluctuating free throw numbers affecting his efficiency when driving to the hoop he’s often left as a spot up shooter… which rather depends on him then making those shots. Abercrombie is a superb player with heaps of life left in him yet but he might have to prove his worth off the bench to start things in this new era of Breakers basketball. You’re only as good as you’re last go around and last season’s Tom Abercrombie has done this to him. Real shame about the timing of that injury too, considering this conundrum.
It’s Pronounced ‘Rishard’, Not ‘Richard’
At least according to the commentators on the live stream. Which is cool, a nice little French flourish to broadcasts this season.
Looks a solid player too, great court awareness and a very useful defender… although he shot kinda trash here, just 2/9 from the field and 1/6 from deep. He only missed one of seven from the free throw line though and that’s usually a good indication that a guy is capable of knocking them down. A better indication than a single poor shooting preseason game, at least.
Rebounding, Rebounding, Rebounding
The biggest worry about the alterations made to this roster is the perceived lack of height. Giving up two tall towers in Pledger and Loe is concerning when we’re gonna have to play against Andrew Bogut a few times, not to mention all them other big fellas. Perth weren’t a team that threw out a big man in that calibre, although Nick Kay had a quality game, but the Breakers were surprisingly able to dominate the boards by 48 to 38.
That’s the thing with those bouncy athletes, they all know how to get up there. Shawn Long isn’t especially tall for his position but the dude is long and he hauls them in. Chuck in the powerhouse of boxing out that is Tai Wesley and each of them had double figure rebound totals. Other teams will be better built to exploit the lessened height that the Breakers are putting out there, however there was enough here seen from those two in particular to think it won’t be as bad as was feared.
Corey Webster Is Still Corey Webster
If anyone had any doubts that Corey Webster was coming back a better player than when he left the Breakers then those people weren’t paying close enough attention. Since he departed he’s gotten possibly as fit as he’s ever been, popping by Israel for an excellent season with Ironi Nahariya where he shot 41.1% from deep across 23 games, averaging 15.4 points, as well as a memorable stint with the Dallas Mavericks two NBA Summer Leagues ago. Quick spell in China tearing it up and now back in AKL to take care of unfinished business.
But he rushed back into the Tall Blacks the other night and looked a bit rusty (no worse than the entire rest of the team, that was not a great game), so understandable if some short sighted folks missed the larger picture. Webster continued on those rusty ways early on against Perth but then sunk a hat-trick of trebles late in the second quarter and went on to score 24 points on 9/15 shooting with six three-pointers. If he’s doing that consistently this season then he’s winning the MVP award. Don’t worry one little bit about Corey Webster.
Umm… Free Throws…
Which team had the worst free throw percentage in the league last season? The Breakers of course and at a shocking 67.6% it wasn’t even close – next worst was Sydney at 72.8%.
Which team had the worst free throw percentage in the league the season before last? The Breakers of course and at a shocking 68.9% it wasn’t even close – next worst was Melbourne at 71.4%.
Which team had the worst free throw percentage in the league the season before the season before last? The Breakers of course and at a shocking 61.6% it wasn’t even close – next worst was Townsville at 70.3%.
Which team had the worst free throw percentage in the league the season before the season before the season before last? The Breakers of course and at a shocking 67.6% it wasn’t even close – next worst was Cairns at 70.1%.
Four times in a row the far and away worst free throw shooting team in the NBL, those are points wasted every time. Those missed free throws are the difference between a comfortable win and leaving the door open. Those missed three throws can cost you your entire season.
Tai Wesley is a big improvement on Mika Vukona in that regard while Corey Webster and Patrick Richard can be trusted to hit the majority of theirs. But even here against Perth the Breakers still missed a dozen free throws. They were 24/36 for 66%, right about at their recent uselessness. Six different guys shot freebies and none of them escaped without a miss. Majok was 3/6, Ili 7/10, Long 3/5… gotta get those ones up there by season’s beginning. To be fair, Ili did hit a couple clutchies late on to help ice the game, same as he did for the Tall Blacks on the weekend.
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