Where Did It Go Wrong For The Breakers This Season?

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The initial feeling was pretty strong about this Breakers side. They’d reshaped the roster to play fast and aggressive and the pedigree of their imports, so often the factor that turns a good team into a great team in this league, was as high as its been for years, not to mention bringing back Corey Webster.

A bit concerning with the way they ended up changing coaches so soon after changing ownership and it didn’t seem like the best idea to get rid of both kiwi centres (Pledger and Loe). Even if they weren’t going to be as useful with the new style of play it never hurts to be able to mix it up off the bench. But strong feelings all the same. Strong feelings that this was one of those years where they could take it deep.

Not exactly how it turned out. The Breakers never got it going in any kind of consistent way, with absolute horror quarters of offence killing them one week and forty minutes of mediocre defence killing them the next. In Shawn Long they had one of the most talented imports the team has ever seen but they were a one-man show at times. The potential was always there for something like those early hintings but it never quite clicked. All a bit of a mess, really.

The blame game doesn’t help anything and adversity is an opportunity to learn and grow, so none of that negativity nonsense over in this corner, mate. Instead this is more like a wistful reflection, a gentle acknowledgement of what went wrong and why. Away we go.

Too Much Change All At Once

Realistically, this was always going to be a transitional year. Most specifically because it was the first full season where the new ownership was pulling strings. We got much less of the hype mongering of the early days but there were still learning curves along the way. The NBA-style gameday experience certainly needed some adjustment from fans. So did the relatively hands-on approach of Matt Walsh - you can’t expect Americans to settle into kiwi culture straight away and Walshy’s admitted as much since. To be fair, it was a much more balanced approach as the season went on and things should be more comfortable next time around.

But it wasn’t only the ownership that changed. The head coach left as well, Paul Henare disappearing in what are still slightly shady circumstances. We don’t know the exact nature of it, whether they lowballed him on his next contract or if he wasn’t willing to work under the new regime or if maybe he just wanted a change of pace to concentrate on the Tall Blacks ahead of the World Cup and Olympics.

Regardless, it meant Kevin Braswell came in as a first time coach at this level, with heaps of success in the NZ NBL but still very much learning his craft. And Braswell orchestrated a significant change in the style of basketball the team wanted to play as well by overhauling the roster in order to suit that. Gone were veterans such as Mika Vukona and Alex Pledger. Kirk Penney retired. There were a few returning players which helped but only four players from the main rotation were there last season… and that includes Jordan Ngatai.

This was probably all too much to deal with all at once and in hindsight it was expecting a lot for the team to play to their potential amidst so much shuffling of the deck. Stability is very underrated. At least we got all of the ch-ch-ch-ch-changes out of the way at once.

D-E-F-E-N-C-E

The big old blatant one. Offensively this team had its issues but overall it averaged 94.2 points per game, second best in the league behind Adelaide. Shooting 35.7% from deep was decent enough. And for once they didn’t have the worst free throw percentage in the league, which is always a bonus.

However they conceded just as many at the same time. Because so many of their games were blowouts one way or the other, skewing things pretty badly, the stats don’t blindly show exactly what was going on over the whole season, where they’d keep a team to 80-odd one week and ship 100+ the next. But how about this for an example: opponents shot an obscene 39.1% from three-point range against them. And another one: eleven separate times they allowed over 100 points, which is also obscene. How can you even win when you’re giving up that much?

The sad thing is it got worse as things went along. After coming out of that five-game losing streak with a couple nice wins over Cairns and Illawarra before Xmas, the Breakers sat at 6-8 with every chance of turning things around over the back half of the campaign. That’s about when Shawn Long went stratospheric so, again, they bagged a heap of points over that time. But they also conceded 99.8 points per game over the last half of the season, a number which only dipped under triple figures because of a low-scoring finale.

There were some good defenders out there. Armani Moore and Patrick Richard could each guard most jokers they came up against, although they also each had inconsistent playing time along the way. Shawn Long too, the bloke’s a rim-protecting shot-blocking maestro, but his foul rate was a large drama, especially early on. Fouls for the whole team were an issue, to be honest, but whenever Long had to sit it meant not having a proper big man out there. Majok Majok did a few nice things in limited opportunities yet he had one of the worst defensive ratings in the side. It was just bad. They played this high-paced transitional game but kept getting beaten at it coming back the other way, unable to get set in defence (and without too many decent rebounders in the team) and consistently allowing easy lanes to the basket or open shooters.

The Starting Point Guard Situation

Huge call from Coach Braswell to let Shea Ili play as the starting point guard rather than doing the prerequisite NBL thing and getting in a ball-handling import. He did have Corey Webster and Patrick Richard around him for some help but… still a gutsy call.

Probably the wrong call as it turns out. Shea Ili won defensive player of the year for the club (whatever small honour that was worth under the circumstances) and you’re never going to find a guy that works harder for the lads. He just didn’t have the game to complement the others around him. Over the course of the entire season he shot 15/65 from 3pt (an atrocious 23.1%). He was a hesitant shooter which allowed defenders to stand off him and thus apply more pressure to either the big man inside (affecting rebounding) or the shooters on the edge. They also got to hang off and close down the lane to the hoop which Ili thrived upon so much as he won the NBL’s Most Improved a year ago. He was too deferent and things tended to be run through Tai Wesley or Shawn Long instead which made Ili a bit of an odd man out.

Then Jarrad Weeks came along and ate even more into his minutes with some outstanding performances which have seen him called up for the Australian side. Ili is the better defender but that was like a drop of blood in the ocean for this team. Weeks was considerably more useful with a ORtg/DRtg differential of -3.0 compared to -13.3 for Ili – in other words the Breakers were ten points better off when Weeks was out there.

Per 40 Mins:

Shea Ili – 13.6 PTS | 4.3 REB | 4.9 AST | 1.4 STL | 42.9% FG | 23.1% 3PT

Jarrad Weeks – 19.9 PTS | 3.4 REB | 4.6 AST | 0.8 STL | 44.7% FG | 40.2% 3PT

But that’s by the by because what this team really needed was a starting point guard of import quality, which I guess is simple enough to deduce for next time now. Especially when you’re asking your team to play fast and a little loose. That requires a point guard making rapid decisions and getting the ball where it needs to be in the blink of an eye. It’s a tough call. Ili is a great player. He just wasn’t the player for that role and would have been way more effective coming off the bench like last time.

General Inconsistencies

From a 28 game season, the Breakers had seven double digit defeats (a full quarter of their schedule) and another eight games with a double digit winning margin. Only five games ended within two scoring possessions – in other words they were all in or all out with no apparent pattern.

The Breakers didn’t have a win streak of better than two games, while having three separate losing streaks of at least three.

The Breakers were 7-7 at home and 5-9 away from home.

They were 6-8 in the first half of the season and 6-8 over the second half of the season.

Against teams in the top four, the Breakers went 4-12 (including being swept by Sydney).

They were 8-4 against the other three teams outside the semis.

All of which paints a picture of a team that struggled to nail down what it was doing from week to week, showing great signs of improvement in one game only to crumble in the next. Without a whole lot of correlation toward whether they were at home or away too – although they did usually struggle against the better sides. At least there was that much consistency.

This is more evidence rather than explanation but it does show that the Breakers, with all that was going on, never could come to grips with a formula that worked. Whether there was some leadership aspect to that, player or coaching responsibilities, whatever. End product was that we had a team that didn’t meet its potential.

Kiwi Veterans

One of the most disappointing aspects of it all was that Corey Webster truly seemed to be on the verge of a magical season when he returned. Fresh from absolutely shredding in China, having done great in Europe and in NBA summer league before that… he was poised. But all those miles seemed to catch up with him and he only rarely showed what he was capable of. A delicious 31-point game against Melbourne, for example. Webster had five different games with at least four triples but he also had ten games with six or fewer points (in which the Breakers were 2-8). It was so weird - he was even held completely scoreless on two occasions. And he was worse when Braswell played him off the bench a few times.

He wasn’t the only one. Tom Abercrombie’s decline has continued with another quiet campaign. On the plus side this was his best ever effort with the old free throws but with an average of only seven field goal attempts per game he was a non-factor way too often.

TA in 2018-19: 25.1 MIN | 8.4 PTS | 5.1 REB | 0.4 BLK | 42.6% FG | 36.0% 3PT

TA in 2017-18: 27.2 MIN | 9.9 PTS | 4.8 REB | 1.4 BLK | 37.4% FG | 32.1% 3PT

TA in 2016-17: 29.6 MIN | 11.9 PTS | 5.1 REB | 1.0 BLK | 41.1% FG | 42.7% 3PT

TA in 2015-16: 32.8 MIN | 14.0 PTS | 6.3 REB | 1.6 BLK | 44.7% FG | 38.0% 3PT

A steady drop in minutes and points each season for four straight. Don’t try saying that ain’t a concern. He shot better this time around but even for an absolute club legend it’s hard to say that he deserved the starting gig over Patrick Richard or Armani Moore. Rotations being another drama that’s best not to get into. Perhaps a spot on the bench next season might reinvigorate him, who knows? One thing’s for sure, dudes like Corey Webster, Tom Abercrombie and Shea Ili are a lot better than they showed this term.

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Keep cool but care