Will Hudson injury will test the Breakers
Get ready for an overdose of small ball from the New Zealand Breakers as they deal with the first significant injury worry of their bid for an Australian NBL title three-peat.
The Breakers today had confirmation the knee injury suffered by backup centre Will Hudson in Sydney on Saturday night will rule him out for a significant period.
The 23-year-old American big man was diagnosed with a medial collateral ligament (MCL) tear of the left knee and it's expected his recovery period will be four to six weeks.
There are six weeks remaining in the ANBL's regular season and the result was close to a best-case scenario for the Breakers who hope to get Hudson back on court well ahead of the playoffs.
"The damage is localised to the MCL with no signs of damage to other structures around the knee," said Breakers physio Anousith Bouaaphone, confirming that doctors hoped to have Hudson back in action closer to the earlier end of the time-frame.
There is hope he could return as soon as the March 7 home game against Cairns or the March 10 visit to Melbourne.
The Breakers will be relieved that Hudson's injury is not more serious, given the timing.
League rules stipulate replacement players must feature in seven regular season games to qualify for playoff rosters.
The 19-3 Breakers have only six games left as they look to wrap up a third straight minor premiership - so could not have qualified a replacement player in time.
Starting big Alex Pledger (fresh off an ankle injury), power forwards Mika Vukona and Dillon Boucher and swingman Leon Henry will have to carry the bulk of the extra responsibility.
That will mean that whenever Pledger gets his rest the Breakers will morph into a hoops version of the Smurfs - small but extremely colourful.
Vukona will play some centre, Boucher too, and these under-sized power forwards will have to pull out every trick in their books to limit the damage at the defensive end.
But on the other side of the coin, opposing big men are going to have potential nightmares dealing with the silky skills of Vukona, Boucher and even Henry who will take them places they're far from comfortable with.
Coach Andrej Lemanis hopes the upside of small ball will be greater than the downside as he juggles his resources as best he can in the absence of Hudson.
"The strength of our group is our depth and the ability for everyone to come in and play," he said yesterday.
"We saw when Will missed a game earlier we were able to adjust.
"Pledge [Pledger] can carry a few more minutes, Mika [Vukona] and Dill [Boucher] can certainly play together no problem, and Leon [Henry] being able to play that four spot gives us that flexibility to give teams a different look as well.
"It's certainly a group that presents some challenges to the opposition, particularly from a scouting perspective as they wouldn't have spent that much time dealing with it.
"Someone like Leon who's a great three-point shooter suddenly being in one of the big spots, we've already found he ends up with wide open threes just because of the way they've scouted us."
Lemanis was confident his small lineup would bring enough with its ability to disrupt up the floor than it might concede in the half-court.
"I don't think we're going to go get posted up. We've got enough flexibility in our schemes to deal with that."
What Hudson's injury has done has thrown a clear challenge the Breakers way at a time when they've won 12 straight games, and seven in a row on the road.
A season they looked to be doing in a cakewalk has now got decidedly tricky, and we shall see on Friday night at the NSEC when the Wollongong Hawks come to town just how well they deal with it.