With point god Cedric Jackson, sharpshooter Corey Webster and the legendary Mika Vukona as team-mates, Thomas Abercrombie can sometimes fly a little under the radar with the New Zealand Breakers.
He’s not, as Stephen Holt would say, the head of the snake
; his name rarely circled on opposition whiteboards or highlighted in scouting reports across the League.
That’s despite a basketball C.V. that includes four Championship rings, a Larry Sengstock Medal (2011), a spot in the All-NBL First Team (2012) and a couple of trips to the FIBA World Championships along the way.
His has been a remarkable professional career and at 28-years-old, the Breakers’ all-time leading scorer is currently operating at the peak of his powers.
Abercrombie’s all-court play was hugely influential in New Zealand’s 2-0 sweep of the minor premiers, Melbourne United, in the NBL Semi Finals.
After scoring a super-efficient 16 points in Game One in Melbourne, Abercrombie exploded for a team high 23 points in Game Two, sharing game high honours with NBL MVP Runner-Up Chris Goulding.
“Tommy was massive tonight,” said Breakers head coach Dean Vickerman following the series-clinching win.
“I just thought he really wanted the basketball at different stages and tonight you could just see there was an absolute confidence that he was going to make plays.”
Vickerman spoke after Game One about Abercrombie’s development into a player who seeks the big moments. He pointed specifically to the confident pull-up jumper that Abercrombie nailed over Daniel Kickert with around 3:30 remaining.
“I think that’s the difference in him over the last few years that he really does want those situations,” Vickerman said.
It’s a leap that close observers of the Breakers – like Sky Sports NZ Broadcaster Andrew Mulligan – have watched occur over the course of this season.
“He has been immense this season,” Mulligan said after Abercrombie’s impressive Game Two performance.
“He’s always showed promise but has always needed to be a little bit more aggressive. He has done the job this season.”
Abercrombie was 9-of-15 from the field at Vector Arena on Saturday night, including an outstanding 4-of-6 from beyond the arc. His 11 fourth-quarter points helped seal the win – and the series – for the Breakers.
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“We always look at Tommy’s numbers as an indication of how well we executed offensively,” Vickerman told nbl.com.au post-game.
“He’s not such a straight one-on-one guy or anything, he’s more of a systems guys and he’s always a great indication of how well we’re moving the basketball and how we’re executing stuff.”
Fox Sports analyst and two-time NBL Champion Tommy Greer, who matched up on Abercrombie numerous times throughout his career, considers the Breakers small forward one of the toughest covers in the entire NBL.
“With his athleticism and ability to attack you with his first step and leaping ability – as well as with the mid-range and the three ball – it’s almost impossible for defenders,” Greer said.
“He has all these weapons and is patient with them. He makes the right plays at the right times, taking advantage if a defender rests on defence for even a moment.”
He’s also an outstanding defender in his own right.
Abercrombie spent most of the Semi Finals restricting potential Melbourne X-factor Todd Blanchfield before Vickerman and Assistant Coach Paul Henare (who runs New Zealand’s defence) turned to him late in Game Two to guard Goulding, as United gave everything they had with their season on the line.
“He’s such a good defender that you can throw him on three or four positions. Tonight we put him on Goulding,” Vickerman said about Abercrombie post-game.
“Goulding got the better of him to start with and made a couple of real tough ones. But Tom’s size, length and agility made things pretty difficult for him over time.”
Meanwhile, Abercrombie was splashing triples down the other end.
“He’s such a team guy, he picks his moments,” Vickerman said.
“He’s gotten better over time at reading the game and calling his own number. He’ll come into time-outs and say ‘hey they’re playing me like this, look at this next play’. He’s gotten more demanding about wanting the basketball.”
With the series against Melbourne officially in the bag, the defending champs are now headed to the NBL Grand Final for the fifth time in six seasons. It’s a chance to add to the four Championship banners already hanging in the Breakers’ crowded rafters.
It may not be written on the whiteboard or in the scouting report, but Tom Abercrombie will be there every step of the way. Killing them softly at every turn.