Pledger has become NBL's dominant big man
Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis has lauded the coming of age of his 25-year-old centre Alex Pledger - a player he now rates as the most dominant big man in the Australian NBL.
There have been question marks over the 2.16m Pledger's readiness to assume the responsibilities handed him this season when Gary Wilkinson was jettisoned to allow for the Kiwi's promotion to starting duties.
But after a singularly dominant performance in Friday's night's crushing 93-63 victory over the Townsville Crocodiles, Lemanis is pretty sure those doubts can now be put to rest.
In just 22 minutes, the towering Tall Black they call 'Chief' made eight of 11 field goals to tie his career-high of 18 points, and added seven rebounds as the Breakers made it seven wins in a row to advance their league-best record to 7-1.
"When he plays as he played tonight, when he plays big and he's allowed to play big, and stays engaged in the game, he can be the most dominant player in the league," said Lemanis.
"He's got not only the size but mobility and skill level. He can run and catch and can move. I thought his team-mates did a good job of giving him the ball, and Chief did a good job of reading defences and finishing plays.
"Chief's understanding of the game has really grown. We all believe he's going to be a great basketball player and he's starting to show more and more signs of that."
Interestingly, Wildcats coach Rob Beveridge would probably disagree with Lemanis' assertion, the Perth mentor rating his own Matthew Knight the league's premier big man.
We should know a bit more about that this Thursday night when Pledger and the Breakers look to equal their best ever win streak at the new Perth Arena in front of nearly 12,000 fans.
Pledger's matchup against Knight will be just one of many juicy head-to-heads as last season's grand finalists go at it for the second time this season.
One thing not even Beveridge could argue is Breakers points guard Cedric Jackson's status as the best player in the league, and one of the best ever playmakers to have graced the NBL.
Jackson racked up his third straight double-double on Friday as he breezed to 10 points, 11 assists, four rebounds and three steals in a game that was a laugher from the second quarter on. He's the first player to achieve double-figure assists in three consecutive games since the league went to 40-minute games.
Pledger and Jackson have emerged as the pivotal players for the Breakers this season, especially while Tom Abercrombie, Mika Vukona and CJ Bruton are still searching for their rhythm.
Jackson is finding Pledger repeatedly on the roll to the rim, and the big man's finishing is enabling the point guard to run up those assist numbers in unprecedented fashion.
Lemanis said there was no doubt that Jackson, who's had three short stints in the NBA, was now among the very elite point guards to have played in the league.
"He had a very good year last year but he's come back even better," said the Breakers coach of his second-year player. "He's having more influence on the game -- part of it is understanding the league, the refs and his team-mates, but he's taken it up another level. He's very hard to stay in front of, reads play well and distributes the ball, but he's also into the defence."
Lemanis also highlighted a greater leadership role taken on board by Jackson who has put a lot of effort into his physical preparation. "He's demanding of his team-mates, he holds them accountable, and he holds himself accountable. He's someone who allows me to coach him, and is just a damn good player."
Pledger said he went into Friday's game determined to make better use of Jackson's uncanny ability to find him in traffic.
"Some of my finishing around the rim the last couple of weeks had been not quite what I wanted. I wanted to keep the ball high and shoot over people. It's something I did pretty well.
"It's awesome having a guard who can get pretty much get anywhere he wants whenever he wants and is very unselfish."
Lemanis was rapt with his team's best offensive display of the season and another strong defensive effort that restricted the Crocs to just 21 points through the second and third quarters. He also liked how his men kept their "foot on the throat" after establish their ascendancy early.
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