Remember like two weeks ago when Corey Webster wanted to take up that offer to play in Turkey and the Breakers didn’t wanna let him go because as a local player of the skill level that Webby is it was just impossible to replace him this close to the start of the season? Yeah well that problem doesn’t exist for import players. So when Chris Obekpa’s lingering knee issue kept on, well… lingering… the hierarchy moved swiftly to nudge Obekpa off to the side and bring in American forward Brandon Ashley as a replacement. We’ve got a few little ramifications and idiosyncrasies to get to with this cheeky move but the one that matters most of all is this: on the eve of the new season, the Breakers just got better.
Poor old Chris Obekpa was always a bit of the odd man out. The Nigerian big man didn’t quite have the same pedigree as Scotty Hopson or Sek Henry and what’s more is that he hadn’t ever played in Israel either, as the other two had. He’d also had a weird college career where he lead the NCAA in blocks one season but ended up requesting (and getting) a transfer a couple years later. His role for the Breakers was less clear considering the presence of Ater Majok and Rob Loe on this roster and as Obekpa hobbled through a limited role in preseason the possibility of a change didn’t look completely off the cards.
What’s odd though is that the Breakers put out an article on their website about a week ago which – hold up, first of all it began with the words: “SKY Sport Breakers Coach Dan Shamir says his roster is in its early stage of evolution and nothing can be read into pre-season results in Australia” so that was a laugh. Don’t let Kevin Braswell’s lawyers see that somebody got caught slipping. But much more relevant is that, after Dan Shamir made the very accurate point that a team that’s undergone this much upheaval all at once is not going to click from day one of preseason so results literally do not matter at all, not a single bit… there was this quote from Chris Obekpa about his troublesome knee…
“My knee injury is nothing to worry about, it’s just like a little bruise, I overplayed my minutes from the last game, and it just got a little sore. Me and the doctors have been working on it to get it right, and I should be back before the season gets going.”
In other words: It’s just a flesh wound.
Except it wasn’t just a flesh wound because as a new coach tries to put his spin upon a new roster with this guy unable to fully participate they’ve decided the timelines don’t match and they’ve curt him loose. Hence why I wonder if maybe this move wasn’t at least 50% tactical/opportunistic because they could have afforded to nurse the dude back to health even if he’s out for the first couple weeks of the season. They have the players there to cover him… which is exactly why I think they replaced him. He wasn’t at an irreplaceable level compared to the local talent therefore that roster spot was better used elsewhere. The dude is definitely injured, the proof was there to see during the Blitz. However unless that injury was actually like ten times worse than they were letting on (always possible with the Breakers PR machine in full force) then I’m not sure that this is something they’d have done for, say, Scotty Hopson. And definitely, absolutely, for certain not for RJ Hampton.
Brandon Ashley isn’t exactly a like for like replacement either. He’s of a similar size, about an inch shorter, but with good length and legit capabilities as an offensive weapon. In his time in the G-League he’s developed a semi-reliable three point shot that he didn’t have in college which gives him stretch-big abilities – interesting to see who shoots at a better clip out of him and Rob Loe this season. BA isn’t a monster rebounder by any imagination but his defensive numbers seem to be pretty useful (take that with a grain of salt though – we never know the full context of the stats). He’ll be used primarily as a centre but clearly he’s got the skills of a stretch-four as well which should see him spent some time playing alongside Rob Loe or especially Ater Majok, which hedges bets for the Breakers in a position where perhaps Finn Delany and Tom Vodanovich aren’t going to offer day in day out consistency.
Let’s just pump the breaks for a second though, because as a long-term Mavs fan myself I saw the press coverage for this bloke and wondered which alternate universe I’d woken up in if he’d had an “impressive stint” with the Dallas Mavericks yet I had absolutely zero recollection of him. Did they perhaps mean Brandon Wright? Or even an unretired Brendon Haywood?
Turns out that impressive stint was entirely limited to Summer League and preseason but okay, that’s still something. More than something actually since he was in the 2017 Mavs Summer League squad that also included none other than Corey Webster. He spent a couple Summer Leagues with the Mavs in truth and came close to making the roster in 2015 as an undrafted rookie but was a late waiver – he also signed an NBA contract in preseason of 2017 with the franchise and hung around for three months on that one but again was waived in mid-October before the season started.
Still a very pedigreed recruit though. Ashley was a G-League All Star with the Texas Legends (Mavs affiliate) as well as having played a little in both Germany and Cyprus. About a week or so before he signed with the Breakers his G-League rights were acquired by the Northern Arizona Suns so the product of the University of Arizona always has that backup option of sliding back to the G-League if he, you know, picks up a lingering knee issue along the way.
(Actually I might have to take some of that back about his history with the Mavericks because I see he’s wearing #41 in that video… turns out he’s a true Mav after all).
So guts to Chris Obekpa and we’ll pour one out for his Breakers career that could have been. The Clint Capela-esque lob threat that we were warned about but will never witness. But Ater Majok can play and as long and Ashley and Loe are able to complement each other and not get in each other’s way then the Breakers just got a whole lot more versatile, added a bit more shooting and mobility, and found a healthier balance in the frontcourt for a team that does look rather backcourt heavy at the moment. That seems like a good thing to me.
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