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NBL Plus Minus - Round Six
In which questions about NBL basketball are asked, and answered.
Should Alex Pledger be this open? (Plus)
The New Zealand Breakers have the most potent backcourt in the entire NBL, and Alex Pledger is loving every minute of it.
In their back-to-back wins over the Perth Wildcats this round, Pledger consistently found himself with the kind of space you’d expect to find only in the Kiwi countryside.
With the starters on the floor, Pledger was left free to pop the wide-open shot above the key or roll to the basket with ease.
As Shea Ili and his instant offense stepped on the court, Pledger found himself rolling to the basket unguarded once again.
By the time the Breakers’ high-powered ball movement matched their tone-setting defense in Sunday’s rematch, Perth’s defense looked exposed. Applying their renowned full-court press proved as ineffective as trying to trap New Zealand’s guards in the half-court.
If Trevor Gleeson‘s plan coming in was to let Pledger shoot, that certainly backfired. Not only did he improve from one game to the next – 8 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks on Thursday followed by 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting Sunday – but his energy on the boards helped the Breakers to a lot of second chance opportunities.
Crunchtime Sunday night and his ability to knock down shots meant that the Wildcats’ defense finally had to close out on Pledger, leaving the dominant DJ Newbill open for three.
Moments later and heroic sixth-man Ili closed the game in the pick and roll with the confident Pledger.
Coming into Round 6, Pledger had made a living scoring in and around the paint (averaging just 7 points per game) and pulling down boards (5.6 average). Lesson learned, he is not the man to leave alone if you want a crack at the best team in the league.
How do you win eight in a row? (Plus)
The shots that New Zealand are choosing to take spell long term success. The confidence and consistency with which Paul Henare has his team playing means that teammates are finding each other in rhythm with open looks that suit a player’s skill set.
Following a league-wide trend, the Breakers don’t shoot a lot of mid-range shots. More importantly, when they have, these have been clean opportunities for select players. Put simply, if you’re not Alex Pledger and shooting 8-of-10 from beyond the free-throw line then you’re not looking for long-range twos.
The exception to this would be point guards Shea Ili and Édgar Sosa who pull up from mid-range for easy daggers and a bit of something different than just getting a layup every time.
The Breakers get most of their damage done in two areas: in the paint around the restricted area or out beyond the three-point line.
Their players move well without the ball, finding each other around the basket or in position to grab one of their league-best 13 offensive rebounds per game.
When working off dribble penetration they exploit the weak-side, swinging passes with deadly consistency and drilling the deep ball. For the season, Ili, Newbill, Sosa, Kirk Penney and Thomas Abercrombie are all shooting 34% or better from beyond the arc.
It would be easy to dismiss the Breakers’ dominance of late a round or two ago, but after this weekend’s double-header against Perth things look built to last.
Can this kind of shooting last? (Plus)
It’s been six full rounds of NBL basketball and some incredible shooting has gone on longer than you’d think possible. More three-pointers are being taken than ever, and it's time to give a shout out to the players who are knocking them down at astronomical rates.
Rotnei Clarke has to top this list. Even if he is the only one on it shooting below 50% (a miserable 48%), he’s taken just about twice as many (30/63) as anyone else shooting at a similar clip.
Kirk Penney was at the top of the list of questions surrounding the Breakers’ 2018 campaign. That was until he lit it up from downtown on 56% shooting.
Daniel Kickert, like Penney, is another player extending his career through knockout shooting. His 12-for-21 shooting from deep – an even better 67% if you don’t count his attempts from the corner – is a welcome presence for a Breakers’ side that attempts the fewest threes in the league.
Perry Ellis might be the one thing that’s gone right so far in Sydney this season. The undersized stretch-forward has gone 14-of-26 (54%) from deep, and has put defences at his mercy from all spots as a result.
Kyle Adnam rounds out this list as another reserve guard who has caught fire in games for Melbourne United. He’s made half of his 24 attempts from distance, part of a United squad that leads the league in both three-point attempts and percentage.
These are some serious makes.
Who are Dayshon & Nnanna? (Minus)
The injuries continue to mount in Cairns, with Michael Carrera back out of the line-up after landing in obvious pain early against Melbourne this week. While every man’s man Alex Loughton has done his share of the lifting in the absence of Nathan Jawai, the Taipans clearly need more out of their starters.
Some rendition of the ‘Gliddon, McCarron and Weeks’ Show’ is going to provide a steady barrage of shooting and well-executed half-court offense every game. But for Cairns to get back on the right side of .500, Dayshon 'Scoochie' Smith and Nnanna Egwu are going to have to find their place in Aaron Fearne’s system and make the difference for the Taipans.
There’s something so satisfying about watching a good fundamental scoop from Smith – his ability to use his body to create space between himself and the defender mid-air for a layup.
The problem, however, has been his consistency and ability to run an offense. Will he go for 16 points, 6 rebounds and 3 steals like he did against Melbourne, or will he find himself watching from the bench during a second half run only to come back on the floor and get burned by the point guard he’s meant to be replacing this season?
For Egwu, the opportunity to start at center has yet to put his shooting (just 40% overall) or his shot-blocking on display with any sort of consistency.
Cairns are in desperate need of an interior presence on defense, but Egwu has struggled to keep his 6’11” frame in the post and block shots. He frequently finds himself drawn out to the perimeter, even attempting to trap opposing guards in a double-team.
When Egwu steps off the pine, it seems that the absence of his mere potential to block shots makes it open season for the opposition.
If the big-man was staying home close to the hoop, surely he would help his own cause in not coming over late to block shots while also finding himself in position to help remedy the Taipans’ rebounding struggles.