No panic for Breakers' struggling offence
Dean Vickerman calls them growing pains. Breakers fans might have another descriptor for the offensive struggles they've had to endure through the first three games of the new season.
The good news for the back-to-back Australian NBL champions from Auckland's North Shore is that they're 2-1 following a three-game home stand despite shooting the ball at times like it was made out of concrete.
That has to be a good sign heading into tomorrow night's road opener in Melbourne for an outfit that has shown a recent ability to figure out whatever challenges they've been presented.
The Breakers shot 44 percent from the field in their opening defeat against Perth, went for an unflattering 39 a week later against Adelaide and were a miserable 37 last week against Townsville. The fact that they won the last two games says a lot about the club's defensive fortitude and fighting qualities.
Assistant coach Vickerman understands the reason for the offensive woes but also gets that some answers have to be found - and soon.
"Our execution has got to be better," he said. "It's changing from that philosophy of spreading the floor with Gary [Wilkinson at centre] that gave everybody just a little more space, to now things being packed in a little more and the lanes aren't quite as wide."
It was one of the risks the Breakers took when they cut Wilkinson loose. His ability to step out and knock down the three was a big part of their offence, and clearly the balance on the court has now changed with the more interior-focused Alex Pledger and Will Hudson splitting time in the five spot.
"We're still adjusting to that," added Vickerman. "We probably haven't taken advantage of our posts enough in their mismatches, and we've got to keep throwing the ball inside. When Cedric [Jackson] put the ball on the floor and Tommy [Abercrombie] starting to get things going like he did the other night it's going to make some defences collapse."
Balancing their stodgy offence has been some pretty impressive defence, especially over the last fortnight. While the search for rhythm continues, it's this team's defining attribute.
"We felt like in the two games we won defence won us the games," added Vickerman. "We're still generating enough possessions with our defence and not converting them into cheap baskets right now. If we can do that we can start pushing the score from the 70s up to the mid-80s which is what we should be scoring."
But Vickerman figures on a different pace of game tomorrow night at Hisense Arena against Kevin Braswell and his Melbourne Tigers.
"They're not a pressing team, they're a kinda sit back, zone, quarter-court team. So, offensive execution is going to be massive for us."
Vickerman reckons the Tigers are more of a threat than their 0-3 record suggests.
"They pushed Perth, lost a game they probably should have won in Sydney and they've been right there. They are pretty big across the board, they start their import (Seth Scott) in the four spot at 6'10, so they've got some good size.
"Limiting their second shots will also be a big factor for us."
There was a lot made last week about the breakout performance of Mika Vukona - and rightly so, as the power forward won Player of the Week for his 15-15 double-double - but there were also signs CJ Bruton and Tom Abercrombie were close to getting back on track after slow starts.
Bruton caught fire just before halftime to lead the Breakers on a 10-0 run that was crucial in the final accounting, while Abercrombie made a couple of explosive moves that were promising, to say the least.
"CJ has always picked his moments, and I thought Tommy's first half was outstanding the way he lifted and got in the lane. His three-ball didn't go in the second half but that's just a matter of playing some more games to get his body ready for those shots.
"It was exciting to see him catching alley-oops again and doing some things we're used to seeing with him."
Vickerman also hinted at a potential return to normal service from a Breakers side that usually enjoys the chance to get on the road.
"In some ways we expected a little lull because we've stayed at such a high level for the last few years, and I think mentally there's just been a break.
"But we're starting to get it back. There's been an edge at practice where it's really feisty. That's where it was last year, and we will continue to build that up."
Vickerman was confident Pledger would shake off an ankle injury sustained against the Crocs to take his place in the starting lineup tomorrow night.
Tipoff is just after 9.30pm, NZ time, with coverage live on Sky Sport 2.
- © Fairfax NZ News