2016/17 NBL Season in Review: New Zealand Breakers
At the conclusion of the 2016/17 NBL season, The Pick and Roll takes an in-depth look at each NBL franchise to see where they went right and wrong, plus what they should be investing into in the future.
What went right?
It was a wild season for the Breakers but Paul Henare scratched out a win-loss record that reads quite well when considering some of the adversity he came across in his first NBL season as Head Coach.
Kirk Penney defied age, Alex Pledger was far more spry than 2015-16 as he played out the entire season, whilst Rob Loe was a plus-minus star in his first Breakers stint (surprisingly, these numbers were mostly due to the defensive end – 101.9 DRtg on court per spatialjam.com)
Finn Delany’s star potential was on full show as the brute force and athleticism that he plays with brought about a bunch of memorable moments. Overall, he still made plenty of rookie errors as he searched for his place in the league and wasn’t a consistent contributor to winning basketball but he looms as the Mika Vukona replacement in the future.
Elsewhere, Shea Ili did well to not let a delayed start to the season derail his first full-time pro contract in the NBL, whilst his injury replacement, Isaih Tueta, did well to prove himself in his minutes at backup point guard.
The Breakers defense was strong again as they forced misses and gobbled up defensive rebounds (2nd in Defensive Rating and 1st in Defensive Rebound Percentage) and Kevin Dillard had the offense ticking along at an above average rate during his nine game run.
What went wrong?
Kirk Penney ended up playing 240 more minutes than any other player on the team (despite being in his mid-thirties) as injuries and roster turnover cruelled the squad. Only a handful of five-man units played 50 or more possessions together all season (each of them had a positive net rating) as Tom Abercrombie played just 21 games, Corey Webster 15, and three import point guards were cycled through as their offense never hit its groove for any extended stretch.
The offense was where they needed to (and were predicted to) improve from 2015-16 with added shooting being added to the roster in the off-season. The end result due to the constantly moving parts though was a bottom of the league type overall offense and a league worst Turnover Percentage. In the brief time that Dillard, Penney and Abercrombie spent time together on the court, the Breakers pumped out an Offensive Rating of 119 – what could have been.
The legend Kirk Penney just kept producing as he logged significant minutes at age 36. He put forward 17.6 points, hit over 40% of a high volume of threes, got to the free throw line for 4.2 attempts a game and dished 2.4 assists to wind up with one of the best on/off court plus-minus ratings in the league (+11.3 per 36 minutes). The quickness of his shot release, the preparation of his body and the smarts are all still there as he continues to bend defense's like no other.
Corey Webster. It was an absolute disaster of a season for Corey as his continual growth of previous seasons came screeching to a halt as he fell from stardom in 2015-16 to it now being reported that he’s unlikely to be returning. Shoddy shooting percentages, trouble off the court and injuries ended a season that is certainly one to forget. Let's hope Webster is back to his entertaining best in 2017-18.
Kevin Dillard’s play-making and shot-making produced a number of highlights and one can only wonder where they may have finished with 28 games of his production at point guard. His mid-range game winner takes the cake as the best moment.
Akil Mitchell's eye injury was nothing short of awful and accurately described as one of the worst things seen on a basketball court. The Breakers follow up game against the free falling Sydney Kings where they were destroyed by 27 points capped off an ugly incident.
Paul Henare can definitely coach and the New Zealand playing core is still solid so they’ll be competitive again next season but there are some questions that need addressing.
Getting an import point guard with the production of Kevin Dillard for a full season is the obvious priority whilst finding a solution to Corey Webster's form (or a replacement) to help ease the burden on an aging Kirk Penney is going to be a point of emphasis.
In the front-court, deciding on the re-signing and minutes of the high impact Rob Loe, as well as the skill-set of an import big, will be worth serious thought given the other locals they already have locked up in this position of the court. Finn Delany is poised for a huge season in the New Zealand NBL during the Breakers off-season so if he comes back with just enough polish to his game then the transiton from the great Mika Vukona to Delany can begin.
Weirdly enough I had the Breakers pegged at 14 wins prior to the season and, despite the roster shenanigans, Henare managed to get them to exactly that. The imports were hit and miss just like the offense but the development of the youngsters and the defense was decent enough. Given their past history and the mediocre nature of their win-loss record, I can't give any higher grade than this.