NZ Breakers still figuring out the Kirk Penney-Corey Webster one-two combo
Corey Webster's muted, two-word response spoke volumes on the delicate situation the Breakers are juggling at shooting guard early in this Australian NBL season.
Coach Paul Henare has a pair of world-class two guards in his squad this year in the form of Webster and Kiwi hoops legend Kirk Penney, and right now he can only find room for one in his startling lineup. Even he appears a little conflicted on just what the pecking order should be.
Through the first two games − an outstanding home victory over title favourites Melbourne and an agonising two-point road defeat in Perth − Henare has started the veteran Penney and brought Webster off the bench. Though notably Webster has played slightly more collective minutes (56:43 v 53:00) than Penney and was also the "finisher" each time.
But Webster clearly is less than enthused about his new role. His body language, at training and in games, hints at some unease, and when Fairfax Media asked him about his sixth-man assignment, his response was a telling "no comment".
But he did admit it was something he had to get his head around, and said he had confidence that he and Penney could work out a way to co-exist in the best interests of the club.
"It will be something we'll figure out as times goes on," Webster said. "There's only been two games, and we've got a long season to go. We'll figure it out."
It is an interesting, and important, dynamic that Henare has to resolve. These are two game-winners in his arsenal, and at the moment they're more pop-gun than heavy artillery.
The Breakers have made a mostly impressive start to this new season and in a seriously upgraded, and even, league look as good as anyone running round so far.
But if the coach is looking for easy upside it has to come at the two-guard position.
Last year Webster averaged 19.57 points a game as the starter for the Breakers, and Penney went for 20.37ppg in the same role for the Illawarra Hawks.
Through the first two games of 2016-17, Webster is going at 10.0ppg at 38 percent from the floor, and Penney 10.0ppg at a 29 percent clip. Both are much, much better than those numbers reflect, and Henare's challenge is to elevate their levels while continuing to find ways to allow both to get their looks.
Henare said he's backing a "natural progression" to allow both players to "find their niche". He adds he's not bothered by the early teething problems. "There's just a feeling-out stage with this lineup. We've only played two games together, they need to find their groove, and as a coaching staff there's so much more we can get out of those guys.
"I still believe it's a strength of ours."
Asked if he might reconsider the pecking order, Henare's response indicated at least a degre eof uncertainty.
"No ... I mean, yes. I'm not really tied up on it. I think we in New Zealand get so tied up in starting lineups. It's not rugby, where the starting group plays 70 minutes and then the guys come in for one-eighth of the game.
"The guys play pretty similar minutes, and it's possibly more about picking how the game is going rather than a regimented subbing style. We'll keep working on it."
The Breakers host the 2-1 Sydney Kings on Thursday night at the NSEC with confidence levels well placed after going so close to a road win in Perth. They're not far off the top mark in this league, and they know it.
They had a couple of looks to win the Perth game late (they lost 75-73) and, a 25-11 second quarter apart, put in a very honest night's work. Giving up 40 points in the paint, 15 turnovers and losing the rebound battle were the main laments among a number of positives.
"If we had taken care of those areas alone we would have had a better chance of winning that game," said Henare. "But we gave ourselves a chance. The review of the last five minutes showed some good things there and some things we have to work on to close out games better."
The Kings present another significant test, with or without Kevin Lisch who took a head knock in the second half of their home win over Cairns last Saturday night but is considered a chance to play Thursday after passing subsequent concussion tests.
"They've got a lot of talent, they've got big bodies, and have threats across the floor," added Henare. "Andrew Gaze's system is one of ball and player movement which gets everyone involved. It's going to be a big job for us to make sure we're solid with our core defence."
A step up from their two big scorers will help, too.