Abercrombie's recovery crucial for Breakers
This is a bit of a touchy subject at the Breakers, but they desperately need Thomas Abercrombie to find his mojo some time soon.
The sooner the better, really.
The Kiwi club is a real shot at an Australian NBL three-peat, but need to take their game up a level over the all-important silly season stretch. After tomorrow night's Vector visit by the Cairns Taipans, they hit the road to Adelaide, Cairns, Wollongong and Townsville over the pivotal Christmas-New Year period.
It's a crucial span that could define this season. The 8-3 Breakers are tied with bitter rivals the Perth Wildcats on top of the table, and cannot afford to take their eye off the ball over the holiday period.
As CJ Bruton likes to point out, Christmas time is when the good teams make their move and the bad ones get spat out the back. Make or break, in other words.
If the Breakers are to make a bit of a move, or at least keep their noses ahead of the Cats, they may need Abercrombie operating at a higher level than he has been. A big part of their upside rests on his shoulders - or should we say his tender ankle.
From the moment he went down in that agonising heap late in April's semifinal decider against the Townsville Crocs, the springy small forward has not been the same.
He limped through the epic finals series against Perth - making arguably the play of the series when he blocked Shawn Redhage's late layup in the decider - had microfracture surgery in the off-season and has played the first 11 games of the new campaign like he's still got his handbrake on.
His scoring is down (from 15 points a game to 10), as is his shooting percentage. Last season he shot 46 per cent from the floor and 43 from long distance. This campaign those numbers sit at 37 and 35.
Stats don't always tell the true story but in this case they're instructive.
Abercrombie's movement is clunky, his hops have suffered and his confidence appears at a low ebb. He's clearly frustrated by it, but says he's doing his best to play through a difficult situation.
Breakers veteran Bruton feels for his team-mate and says it's always difficult for a player coming off the sort of surgery Abercrombie had.
"That whole year becomes a tough year regardless of what you have going on in your mind," said Bruton who's had his fair share of "work" over the years. "It's hard to bounce back and be that guy you were [before surgery], even though you always have high expectations."
Bruton says he hasn't spoken to Abercrombie about it but figures it's something he has to work out for himself.
"This is the game of basketball. Every player goes through something like this. But when your stature goes up like Tom's has, then it becomes a little more weight and you start thinking about it.
"How do get yourself out of it? You go back to basics, you go through the stuff you did to get your rehab right to the stuff you do on the court to get yourself in a great frame of mind," Bruton said.
Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis is certainly not looking to up the ante on his Tall Blacks star. Abercrombie was just one starter who struggled last Saturday night in Sydney (3/11 FG, 1/4 3PT) when collectively they went nine-for-41 for just 27 points.
"Some of it's on us as a coaching staff putting him in good situations to succeed and some of it is on him to have that mindset," said Lemanis. "When he plays in an aggressive state of mind, like everybody, good things happen to him."
The Breakers have bounced back well off their three defeats thus far. Tomorrow night, when they celebrate Christmas with fans at their downtown arena, they would love nothing better than to unwrap the gift of Abercrombie back somewhere near his best.
- Perth Wildcats guard Brad Robbins yesterday announced he was retiring from the NBL, saying injuries and the demands on his body had forced him to call it quits.
The hard-nosed competitor has had some great battles with the Breakers over recent years and will be sorely missed as the Cats look to turn the tables on their Kiwi rivals.