It hasn’t always been pretty but the Breakers have won four of their last five games to get back into semi-final contention and a win away in Sydney on Friday night would restore them to an even record. They’ve been a frustrating team to follow this season, a little reminiscent of trying to plug a hole in a leaky lifeboat and a new breach appears each time you take care of an old one. And there’s still plenty wrong that’d take more than a cheeky article to get to the bottom of… but if you wanna know what’s led to this turnaround then it starts and stops with one fella: Shawn Long.
Not like he ain’t had plenty of help, Jarrad Weeks is playing his best stuff for one, not to mention Tai Wesley’s consistent excellence. But Shawn Long is the most talented player on this roster and just recently he’s started to translate that into full games of magic and slams. After all, this is a bloke who was playing NBA two years ago. A bloke who isn’t so far away from playing NBA again to be honest. In the last few games he has shown everybody exactly why.
I mean, just sit back and bask in what this bloke can do. The commanding dunks are just the icing on the cake. He’s got a bit of range to his shooting as well, making three triples against Perth last game. There’s the rebounding which is utterly essential from him in this team, which has prioritised speed over size and therefore needs a proper old bully going up to get those loose ones like Shawn Long can do. He’s also protecting the rim like a rabid pitbull these days. It’s nothing sneaky. He’s just way more skilled than most other fives he comes up against and is proving it time and time again.
Here are his box scores from the last five games…
@ CAI – 31 MINS | 16 PTS (7/11 FG) | 13 REB | 4 BLK | 4 PF
vs ILL – 30 MINS | 26 PTS (10/14 FG) | 14 REB | 2 BLK | 3 PF
@ ADL – 20 MINS | 5 PTS (2/5 FG) | 4 REB | 1 BLK | 5 PF
@ ADL – 35 MINS | 28 PTS (12/21 FG) | 18 REB | 3 BLK | 3 PF
vs PER – 29 MINS | 33 PTS (12/17 FG) | 6 REB | 1 BLK | 2 PF
Guess which one was the game they lost? Not too hard to tell it was the middle one.
With Long it was never a matter of proving he could play at this level, as it has been for blokes like Shea Ili or Finn Delany for example, it was always a matter of proving he could stay on the court. Same as many imports before him have found, the refereeing in the NBL can be tricky to grasp. Particularly for big men. Foul counts rise and impacts shrink. Even Rob Loe had the same issues last season, let alone past fellas like Charles Jackson and Rakeem Christmas.
With Long he’s already fouled out four times this season, including in that last loss against Adelaide. The Breakers have actually won two of those games, the two in which he’s played the least amount of minutes, and there’s a good reason for that: Tai Wesley. In the Guam Governor the Breakers have a readymade stretch five good to go if necessary. Somebody who can slide up to centre and hold his own without compromising the way the team plays. Same deal with backup centre Majok Majok as in the three games in which Long has played less than 20 minutes, Majok has had his best two performances (the only two times he’s made more than two field goals in a game - the third game he only played five mins). When Long is out there though, Majok is basically irrelevant.
Where it really becomes an issue is when Long is forced to play extended minutes under foul trouble, unable to be his natural enforcing self. It’s a compromise. When he plays more than 26 minutes the Breakers are 5-2. When he plays between 19-26 minutes the Breakers are 0-7. They’ve also won each of the three games he played less than 19 mins, with others able to step up.
Absolutely no doubt about it that the Breakers are at their best with Shawn Long out there. Especially now that he’s put the whole league on notice with about the most dominant individual round of the season. Who’s gonna argue with 61 points on 24/38 shooting with 24 rebounds and 4 blocks and, most importantly, two wins?
The post moves and rebounding were clear from the start of his stint and the frustration was that the fouls kept him from unleashing that ability but then this week we started seeing him hitting jump shots and fadeaways and all these charming developments, bringing out all the tools in the toolbox. The devastating blocks as well, can’t ignore the devastating blocks.
Next up, of course, it’s Andrew Bogut and the Sydney Kings, a team that’s beaten NZB three times outta three already, with the two away games by a combined margin of 36 points. For this bloke to get back to the NBA, and he’s as close to that level as any Breakers import since Cedric Jackson, then Bogie is the man to measure yourself against – if he wasn’t such an abrasive Aussie with an injury history then he’d still be playing in the States.
TNC Breakers Season MVP Standings:
Tai Wesley – 24 PTS
Shawn Long – 23 PTS
Patrick Richard – 12 PTS
Corey Webster – 10 PTS
Tom Abercrombie – 8 PTS
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