The New Zealand Breakers showed a lot of heart and determination in their 94-108 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. The Breakers rallied and finished with their heads held high, in a game that looked like it was going to get ugly in the first half. The poor start however, shows there are lessons to learn.
Here are some big takeaways from today’s NBLxNBA preseason match, the second of the 2019 series so far.
1. Nervous Hampton shows promise
It can be easy to forget this amidst all the hype that surrounds RJ Hampton, but today’s game was a reminder that he is still a kid. It was a tough game for the Next Star as he struggled to find his rhythm and feel the flow of the contest out.
Physically, the young Texan guard looked great. There was a spring in his step, and he glided effortlessly across the court with his trademark long strides. His ball-handling was terrific and his ability to create space for himself was solid, even if he struggled to make the most of it.
Aside from those silver linings, it was not a game to remember for Hampton. Over 19 minutes of playing time, he finished with two points –shooting 12.5 per cent from the field– six rebounds, one assist and a steal. Offensively, it was a tough night for Hampton. Many of his seven misses were quite jarring, because of how bad they were. Some shots completely missed the rim or clanked hard off the rim, even when he had a relatively open look.
It also appears that there will be growing pains, as the Hampton and Corey Webster backcourt develops chemistry. During the first half, there were some ‘your turn, my turn’ displays that stunted the Breakers’ flow, and perhaps contributed to Hampton’s tough shooting night.
Unfortunately for Hampton, the Breakers looked a lot better when he was off the court for much of the third quarter, and the more experienced Webster was the focus of New Zealand’s offence in the second half. This is an issue that should get ironed out over time as the pair get accustomed to one another, but playing alongside a ball-centric guard like Webster will some adaptation on Hampton’s part, and vice versa.
There were some bright playmaking patches from Hampton late in the game. During the third quarter, he was the architect of a terrific passage of play, threading a perfectly weighted pass to a running Webster who in turn found the open shooter.
Hampton’s potential is well known in the basketball community. Hopefully, he is able to learn from his first NBA experience and put the lessons into practice in the NBL.
2. Offensive chemistry is a work in progress
Team chemistry is a work in progress for the revamped Breakers. With many new faces on the squad, as well as a new coach, New Zealand is still in the feeling out stage, and this was incredibly apparent in the first half.
The first half was ugly for New Zealand. Possessions lacked urgency and often broke down early, compounded by a bizarre inability to make shots. In the first quarter, the Breakers only shot a hair above 24 per cent for a total of 14 points. The offence gradually improved in the second period. Jump shots remained inconsistent but New Zealand was able to penetrate more often as their spacing relaxed and their awareness of each other’s movements sharpened.
The second half saw significant improvement, as the Breakers’ collective neural pathways began to strengthen. This was triggered by their efforts on defence, from which they were able to counter-attack on the fast break and punish the backpedalling Grizzlies. New Zealand also became a lot more aggressive with their shot selection, showing greater trust in one other and a willingness to take what the defence offered, instead of just numbly running through the motions as they did in the first half. As a team, they finished with 21 assists, an impressive number given how events started.
2. Webster salvages a good game from a rough start
Against Memphis, Corey Webster showed why he is still the man in Auckland. Despite the final numbers, it wasn’t an amazing game from the Tall Blacks’ World Cup hero. However, the confidence Webster had to stick to his guns was impressive, and showed why he is so valuable to the Breakers.
From a numbers perspective, Webster had a night out. He finished with 19 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 steals and 3 blocks. Beyond the box score, Webster was the cold-blooded presence the Breakers badly needed, and in the third quarter, he helped lift his team to within six points of the Grizzlies.
Webster’s ability to turn a bad start into a good game is a rare skill, and is the attribute of someone with supreme confidence in his ability. In a New Zealand team filled with new and young faces, having a go-to-guy with a short memory, who is willing to put the team on his back at any time is an incredibly important asset, and a dependable leader on the court.