NZ Breakers keeping Casey Frank on the case
Casey Frank's summer job is turning into a doozey, with the Breakers to extend their fill-in centre's temporary assignment for at least another week.
With major question marks still hanging over the state of Alex Pledger's ankle heading into Thursday's Aussie NBL clash against the Sydney Kings at Vector, the Breakers will keep the 36-year-old Tall Black on their books.
It's a decision coach Dean Vickerman says is made easier by the way the naturalised American has fitted in since being called up on January 8 to provide injury cover for Pledger.
After fouling out in a club-record seven minutes last week against Perth, Frank bounced back on Thursday night with another positive display in the much-needed 106-101 victory over the Wollongong Hawks.
Though Kerron Johnson (21 points), Gary Wilkinson (20) and Tom Abercrombie (20) were the stars of a sparkling offensive night for the now 7-11 Breakers, Frank played a key hand off the bench, with six points, five rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block in just under 21 minutes at both centre and power forward.
"I'm so glad we made the decision to bring him in, and so glad he was in reasonable shape to contribute like he has," said Vickerman after his team shot a sizzling 56 per cent from the floor and 58 from beyond the arc.
"The passing out of the post was something I didn't know a lot about, but he sees people, understands where they are, his basketball IQ is high, and he's a good athlete. Although he's generally a five man we've been able to play him and Gary together which has been important."
Frank is loving an unexpected return to a league he has been in and out of for much of his career (including two previous stints with the Breakers), but he's an invaluable insurance policy while Pledger battles through his ankle issues.
Asked whether Pledger was likely to return against the fourth-placed Kings, a team the Breakers are hoping to haul in, Vickerman said he didn't know.
"He's seen the surgeon, and there are some things we're going to have to manage for the season. He didn't get through a full practice this week, and that's his next step - see what kind of pain he's going to go through."
Vickerman said Frank's presence meant Pledger could be managed through the process of returning somewhere close to full manoeuvrability.
Frank's national, and now Breakers, team-mate Tom Abercrombie hasn't been surprised by how effective the veteran big man has able to be.
"He a smart, veteran player who knows his game well, knows what he can and can't do out there, and he's really bought into his role. He's brought energy, been a good physical presence inside and really focused on doing a few things really well."
The Breakers clearly need Pledger's length, youth and presence to make a real run at the playoffs, but in the meantime they're getting by with a heck of a plan B. With Frank in their lineup they've won two out of three - an overall ratio they'd kill for right now.
Meanwhile Thursday night's victory over the Hawks was promising on several fronts, and negative on one.
The aggression and scoring down the stretch by Johnson was huge, the team's ball movement and shot selection all round was excellent, Corey Webster found his stroke again (13 points on five-of-eight shooting), Gary Wilkinson continued his heady play, Abercrombie bounced back excellently from an off night in Perth and Reuben Te Rangi's third-quarter cameo of three straight triples was massive.
The concern? Once again the Breakers' Pledger-less interior defence was inadequate, outscored 50-24 in the paint as Kevin Tiggs and David Gruber had a field day.
On Thursday they were able to shoot their way out of trouble. But that won't always be the case.