Wilkinson's place goes to 'good fit' Will Hudson
On the surface, this looks like a significant downgrade for the threepeat-chasing NZ Breakers.
They have swapped one of the league's most dominant imports, all-NBL second teamer Gary Wilkinson, for what appear to be the journeyman talents of ex-Gold Coast Blaze big man Will Hudson.
As import signings go, this one, confirmed by the club yesterday, is about as underwhelming as it gets.
The popular Wilkinson, now plying his trade in Estonia on the sort of upgraded contract the Breakers could not hope to match, was a major factor in both championships of the previous two seasons.
The big three-point shooting centre averaged 16.6 points and 5.8 rebounds last season, shooting 52 per cent from the floor, 40 from deep and 83 from the charity stripe. He was also mightily clutch in the big moments.
Hudson, a 23-year-old, is the same height as Wilkinson (2.06m) but with a vastly different game. The former Oakland University standout is an interior specialist whose scoring comes mainly via second shots and finishes round the rim. Last season Hudson went for 9.5 points and 6.0 rebounds for the Blaze, shooting 55 per cent from the floor and a less-than-stellar 55 from the line. He was largely a high-energy rebounder and defender who had few, if any, plays run for him.
But Breakers general manager Richard Clarke says the coaches believe Hudson will be a good fit for a different dynamic as Alex Pledger gets a deserved shot as starting centre.
"We're not trying to find someone to do the same things as Gary," said Clarke. "He needs to fit in with Pledge, Mika [Vukona] and Dillon [Boucher], play in that rotation, and also be comfortable in the role, not driven by minutes and stats.
"His job is to help us be good, and we needed a player who understood that."
Plus Hudson has the versatility to play power forward if need be.
"He's got good size, and is athletic enough to guard guys on the perimeter. He's going to help give us a whole lot of different looks."
Clarke said Wilkinson's decision to turn down a "similar" deal to last season was understandable.
"Gary was a huge part of both our championships and fitted in so well with the team. He was also crucial in Pledge's development."
But the points and salary cap and the Pledger upgrade made his retention almost impossible.
"Our philosophy has always been about developing local talent first. Pledge has learnt a lot off Gary ... and deserves a shot to play greater minutes now."
- © Fairfax NZ News