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NBL 2017-18 season preview: New Zealand Breakers

Alex Pledger of the New Zealand Breakers, marked by Shawn Redhage of the Perth Wildcats. (Source: Chris Pike)
Expert
17th September, 2017
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The NBL season is just around the corner, and it’s time to take an in-depth look at each team and their chances in The Roar‘s preview series.

Over the next three weeks we will go over all eight teams comprehensively in the build-up to tip-off on Thursday, October 5 when the Adelaide 36ers host Melbourne United to get things going.

Today, we kick things off with the New Zealand Breakers. The Auckland-based club, under the new leadership of Paul Henare, just missed the playoffs last year, eventually winding up in fifth spot with an even 14-14 record.

It was almost enough, with the New Zealanders only missing out thanks to results not going their way in the final round as the Illawarra Hawks beat the Brisbane Bullets.

There was no great shame in that, given how closely fought the competition was, but they should have made the finals. They had more than enough talent, but things just didn’t go right for Henare’s men.

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(Wikimedia Commons)

Corey Webster’s season was disrupted, and that didn’t help the Breakers, but their consistency was all over the place.

It was capped off in Round 17 for the Breakers, when their finals hopes all but ended as they lost to the Cairns Taipans at home and then got smacked around on the road by the Sydney Kings, being restricted to just 57 points.

An obvious lack of creativity in their offensive game hampered the season for the Breakers, and without many changes, it’s hard to see that changing a great deal in 2017-18.

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When it came to percentage of points scored against points conceded, the Breakers had the second lowest in the competition and were well behind teams like Adelaide and Illawarra for points scored.

They were up and down at the pre-season NBL Blitz, but a loss to the understrength Perth Wildcats where they only posted 11 points in the third quarter and registered 13 assists for the match highlighted the issues are still prevalent.

If the same issues hamper the Breakers in this campaign, it’s not going to be a fun season.

Team Roster and depth chart

Squad
Thomas Abercrombie (co-captain), Finn Delany, Daniel Fotu (development), James Hunter, Shea Ili, Robert Loe, D.J. Newbill (import), Mitchell Newton (development) Jordan Ngatai, Kirk Penney, Alex Pledger, Derone Raukawa (development), Edgar Sosa (import), Mika Vukona (co-captain)

In: Edgar Sosa, D.J. Newbill, James Hunter
Out: Corey Webster, Ben Woodside, Akil Mitchell
Coach: Paul Henare

Starter Interchange 1 Interchange 2
Point guard Edgar Sosa D.J. Newbill
Shooting guard Kirk Penney Shea Ili Derone Raukuwa (dev)
Small forward Thomas Abercrombie Finn Delany Daniel Fotu (dev)
Power forward Mika Vukona (c) Jordan Ngatai Mitchell Newton (dev)
Centre Alex Pledger Robert Loe James Hunter

The undoubted glaring issue here for the Breakers is age. Without even considering what the players have been able to do throughout their long careers, Kirk Penney, Thomas Abercrombie and Mika Vukona – three stalwarts of the club – are all on the wrong side of 30.

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Penney (36) and Vukona (35) in particular are getting to the end of their careers, while Abercrombie (30) struggled with some injuries last year. While Alex Pledger (30) appears to be coming into his prime and front-court rotation partner Robert Loe is only 26, the ball actually getting into them in good positions is key.

mika-vukona-new-zealand-breakers-nbl-basketball-tall

In truth, with Edgar Sosa added to the team this season as an import and DJ Newbill likely to come from the bench, it means they have a good point guard rotation, but there are still issues.

They are weak off the bench, with very little to support the starting five. While Jordan Ngatai, Shea Ili and Finn Delany have promise, they are a long way from behind consistent, high-level NBL players. Given the age issues we have already talked about for the Breakers, they could be needed to step up more than expected.

Essentially, the Breakers are relying on a second unit full of players who will need to have career-best seasons if the Auckland-based club are to do anything special.

Key questions

Do they have enough creativity from the backcourt?
The Breakers struggled for points on more than a few occasions last season, as has already been highlighted.

Their only genuine point guard was Ben Woodside, and he has moved on this year. When Woodside was sitting out injured, there was an obvious difference in the way the Breakers played.

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The problem they faced is that Corey Webster, Kirk Penney, Thomas Abercrombie and even Shea Ili off the bench are all scoring players.

That problem isn’t going to fade away this year. While they have picked up two quality import point guards in Edgar Sosa and DJ Newbill, who will likely back up from the bench, the latter averaged under two assists per game twice during his college career and is a genuine score-first player.

While Sosa has had better assists numbers throughout his career, which has jumped from team to team, his last stint with Juvecaserta saw numbers typical of his career. Almost 20 points per game and just a tick over five assists.

They aren’t bad numbers, but for the role he is likely to be required to play in the Breakers unit as starting point guard, it’s anything but good enough. He is playing in a team of shooters rather than creators, and the pressure on him both externally and from coach Henare is going to be immense.

Speaking of Paul Henare…

Is Paul Henare an NBL-level coach?
Henare had his first foray into NBL coaching last year, and while he has done a solid job with the New Zealand Tall Blacks on the international stage, getting them to the pointy end of the FIBA Asia Cup with an understrength squad, he is yet to prove himself as a NBL-level coach.

Serving an internship under the guidance of former head coach Dean Vickerman isn’t a bad start, nor is being a stalwart of the club. Henare spent eight years playing in the Breakers’ system and was an integral part of the club rising as a success in the league.

His joy as a player hasn’t translated to coaching yet. 2016-17 was a tough initiation – noting the problems the Breakers faced, it wasn’t a terrible finish, but they had the talent to make the finals.

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The selections he has made for imports this year are concerning and if it doesn’t come off and the Breakers miss the finals again, Henare’s head might be on the chopping block.

What can Alex Pledger and Robert Loe provide?
This is probably the question which will define the Breakers’ season. As good as their shooting from outside is likely to be, their defence is going to need to be up to the challenge.

There are going to be tough periods for the Auckland-based club where shots simply won’t fall and things won’t go their way. Without the creators in the team, it’s unlikely Henare will enforce his team to play a highly-structured brand of ball.

If that’s the case, then they must be ready to defend in the paint, and take opportunities of defences trying to guard the perimeter. There are likely to be plenty of rebounding opportunities for Loe and Pledger.

The pair made a strong if at times inconsistent centre pairing last year. If they can continue to work hard on their game and get the little things right week in, week out, then the Breakers stand a chance.

Alex Pledger and Shawn Redhage compete for the basketball

(Source: Chris Pike)

Team fixtures

Round Date Time (AEDT) Opponent Venue
1 Sun Oct 8 3:00 PM Cairns Taipans Spark Arena, Auckland
2 Fri Oct 13 5:30 PM Sydney Kings Spark Arena, Auckland
3 Thu Oct 19 5:30 PM Sydney Kings Spark Arena, Auckland
3 Sun Oct 22 3:00 PM Melbourne United Hisense Arena, Melbourne
4 Thu Oct 26 7:30 PM Brisbane Bullets Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre
5 Thu Nov 2 5:30 PM Adelaide 36ers North Shore Events Centre, Auckland
5 Sat Nov 4 7:30 PM Cairns Taipans Cairns Convention Centre
6 Thu Nov 9 5:30 PM Perth Wildcats Spark Arena, Auckland
6 Sun Nov 12 7:00 PM Perth Wildcats Perth Arena
7 Sun Nov 19 1:00 PM Brisbane Bullets Spark Arena, Auckland
8 Fri Dec 1 5:30 PM Perth Wildcats North Shore Events Centre, Auckland
8 Sun Dec 3 3:00 PM Brisbane Bullets Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre
9 Thu Dec 7 5:30 PM Brisbane Bullets Spark Arena, Auckland
9 Sun Dec 10 5:00 PM Adelaide 36ers Titanium Security Arena, Adelaide
10 Fri Dec 15 5:30 PM Adelaide 36ers Spark Arena, Auckland
11 Thu Dec 21 7:30 PM Sydney Kings Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney
12 Fri Dec 29 7:30 PM Adelaide 36ers Titanium Security Arena, Adelaide
13 Sun Jan 7 1:00 PM Cairns Taipans Spark Arena, Auckland
14 Sat Jan 13 7:30 PM Illawarra Hawks WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong
15 Sat Jan 20 7:30 PM Cairns Taipans Cairns Convention Centre
16 Thu Jan 25 5:30 PM Melbourne United North Shore Events Centre, Auckland
16 Sat Jan 27 8:30 PM Perth Wildcats Perth Arena
17 Fri Feb 2 7:30 PM Illawarra Hawks WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong
17 Sun Feb 4 1:00 PM Illawarra Hawks Spark Arena, Auckland
18 Fri Feb 9 7:30 PM Melbourne United Hisense Arena, Melbourne
18 Sun Feb 11 1:00 PM Melbourne United Spark Arena, Auckland
19 Fri Feb 16 5:30 PM Illawarra Hawks North Shore Events Centre, Auckland
19 Sun Feb 18 TBC Sydney Kings Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney
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The Breakers’ schedule resembles a poorly put together jigsaw puzzle. If there’s one thing for certain, it’s that they need to get off to a strong start with three back-to-back home games.

Two of those are against the Sydney Kings, who are also expected to struggle a little in 2017-18.

Following the opening homestand, the Breakers play four of their next six on the road and between Rounds 6 and 9 will play the Bullets and Wildcats – two of the strongest sides on paper – six times without interruption.

They then play three of their next four against the 36ers, with their first game against the Hawks not coming until Round 14. Three of their final five games are against the Hawks as well, while they also have a home-and-away double-header with Melbourne in the second last round.

If the Breakers are in a position where they must win to qualify for the finals, then they could well be in a spot of bother, given the strength of United.

While it’s hard to complain about a draw where each team plays each other four times, the Breakers have copped a rough end of the stick here.

Prediction

It’s going to be a long season for the Breakers. While it could be a breakout season for Ili and Ngatai, who impressed at the FIBA Asia Cup, they have very little behind a starting five, the majority of whom struggled to be consistent last season.

While the revolving door of Corey Webster is no longer in the picture, Sosa has bounced through 13 different clubs in five years, and their tall timber up front will need big improvements on what they dished up in 2016-17.

Add to that the travel, the age and pressure on Kirk Penney and the fact Paul Henare is still yet to seriously prove himself as a top NBL-level coach, and it could be an extremely long season for the Breakers.

Their glory days are well and truly over.

Eighth.

Be sure to check back in on Wednesday, when I unveil the team who I have predicted to finish in seventh spot for the upcoming season.

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