Make Or Break: Ekene Ibekwe and Cedric Jackson

Photo Credit: New Zealand Breakers Last week I ordered some "replica" jersey's online. They were a combination of NBA, NFL and MLB kit. I generally wear them to the gym to support a team or a player I have an affinity with; like when I watched the Super Bowl last year and I sulked, alone (which I'm glad I did - Bloody Broncos). I'm not frugal, but when it comes to "replica" tops, I'm more inclined to scrounge for a bargain, as opposed to buying the "real thing". My math goes like this; USD $109 for one, or USD $24 and a handful. Enter Ali Express. I ordered said tops, XL (one larger for Asian goods), with express shipping and a sense of enthusiasm. Eight days later, my bundle arrived from China, neatly packaged and mirroring the pictures (eureka!). There is an element of the unknown when importing goods and services. A gamble of such, you can scout all the photos and film from your computer, but how do you know that what you are getting is legitimate? How can I know for certain my Andray Blatche jersey will arrive with Blatche on the back, or Baltche? This is a question the New Zealand Breakers, whether they like it or not, will be asking regarding their two imports for 2014/2015: Ekene Ibekwe and fan favourite, former league MVP Cedric Jackson. Are they getting a 'Blatche' or a 'Baltche'? Ekene Ibekwe

Photo Credit: Rize Management A plethora of strong imports to the NBL has this season conjuring up some serious excitement. Following a successful 2013/2014, the league is going from strength to strength, part of which is to be attributed to imports such as James Ennis. As well as aging players such as Josh Childress, Daniel Kickert and Jackson, the NBL is enticing the young guns like DeAndre Daniels and Jahii Carson. If a team played in my city, I would be a member. Perhaps, its time to move. Ibekwe (ee-bek-way) and Jackson are coming (and in Jackson's case returning) to a franchise fresh off an 11-17 season, with high club and nationwide expectations to play at a championship level. With a league that now boasts multiple quality imports, the spotlight is fixated on players and clubs to succeed. How will these two stack up?


Ibekwe

What I Like: Ibekwe is a journeyman. He's played in Israel, Turkey, France, Puerto Rico, Iran, Germany, Spain and now New Zealand. The 29 year old has a wealth of experience and has played against and with some of the best in the world. At 6'9" and a massive 7'6" wingspan, Ibekwe is an imposing figure with a penchant for blocking shots. He averaged an impressive 1.5 blocks per game for San Sebastian whilst only playing 16.9 minutes. His Per 40 average is 3.7 blocks per game! With interior defense being a concern for the Breakers last season, Ibekwe has shown he can be a difference maker in limited court time. He is athletic and a quick look through his highlights, you can see he has the ability to finish around the rim. This should quantify him a distinct advantage in the low-post against most NBL front courts, as length is rare. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHUFtJyIkY8 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72Dx7Th18TY Ibekwe is not surprisingly, very strong on the glass, averaging 12.3 rebounds Per 40, with 4.2 coming on the offensive end. With the Breakers (and NZ basketball in general if you caught the Tall Blacks in Spain) heavily relying on an outside game, Ibekwe's rebounding will provide them with more second chance opportunities and an inside threat to keep the defense honest. Speaking of an outside shot - 'E-Beks' is a more than capable outside shooter, recently shooting at 35% from long range whilst in the Spanish League. His Mechanics? see for yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQRo3GVwGq4 Of Concern: For a big-man who makes his living in the paint, Ibekwe shoots a rather low percentage. Power Forwards and Centers who don't take a lot of jump shots tend to hover around the high 50-60% mark as essentially all they are doing is dunking, put-backs, layups and short range jumpers. His 51% shooting indicates that he struggles to finish from close range despite his mammoth reach. 'E-Beks' is stick thin. He is a modest 94 kgs and is going to struggle guarding and scoring on heavier and stronger players (Daniel Kickert is 108 kgs). Lets not forget how rugged Australasian basketball can be. Without a reliable jump shot and ability to defend bigger players, he could be a liability on both ends of the floor. Free throws - the bane of every big-man's life. Unfortunately for Ibekwe, there is a correspondence between shooting and free throw percentage. Throughout college he was a 60% shooter and whilst we're not at Andre Drummond levels - he most recently shot at 64% playing in Spain. From the perspective of a Coach, that is too many points to leave at the line. Consensus: More Baltche than Blatche - The potential to be a solid bench contributor.


Jackson

What I like:

Jackson is a proven commodity. An MVP in 2012/13, he has dominated the NBL and carried the Breakers on numerous occasions. Yes he is coming off a disappointing season with Union Olimpija, but players rarely fall off a cliff whilst still in their primes.

Jackson averaged 15.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg and 7.1 apg in 2012/2013 with a weaker Breakers squad. The team this year is arguably stronger - Corey Webster was a revelation for the Tall Blacks in Spain, showing an ability to score effectively from the outside, Thomas Abercrombie has developed into a consistent two-way player and Tai Wesley is a stretch-4 who will command double teams in the post. These players along with glue-guys like Vukona and Pledger, will enable Jackson to ease into his role and not force him to carry the team.

Familiarity was something Jackson missed in Slovenia. Playing with primarily European players and coaches, Jackson was thrust into the unknown, not only in terms of language but also in style of play and team culture. The Breakers are known for their family atmosphere - a culture that Jackson thrived in. He has chemistry with a lot of the players and staff, knows the style of play and schemes and has the blueprint for success in the NBL.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0RIB8zgerqo Of Concern: Jackson really struggled in Slovenia. Battling injuries, he managed just 16.3 mpg, 4.1 ppg, 2.8 rpg and 3.1 apg, making for ugly reading. Playing in what is essentially a weaker league, Jackson failed to reproduce the success he had in the NBL. It is slightly worrying that a player who left the NBL at the top of his game, was unable to establish a European career, especially when being defended by dudes who make James Harden look like Bruce Bowen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K257QVmeXxc With the NBL season fast approaching, the rust factor is going to be in play. How long is it going to take for Jackson to get into game-shape? How long can the Breakers support him until he starts firing? If he starts firing at all! The NBL Blitz took place last weekend and a snap-shot of Jackson's first outing indicates rust - 1/10 shooting from the field. Jackson's full stat line from his first game back read 26 minutes, 8 points, 2 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals, 3 turnovers, 1/10 from the field, 0/2 from three and 6/8 from the line; minus the shooting, that is an impressive 2013/14 debut. His shooting should improve and it is encouraging that they got the W despite his woes. Consensus: Blatche on steroids - If Jackson can negate the high expectations the community has for him and play the game he knows how, this signing can be a success. Will he bring the Breakers a title this year? Can he regain his MVP form? The answer is realistically somewhere in-between. Success would be an improved Breakers outfit that makes the play-offs and a Jackson who is back to playing at an all-star level. It is not going to be easy, but it will be one hell of a ride. Buckle in.


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