Hungry Jack's NBL
Off-Season Report: New Zealand
HEAD COACH Dean Vickerman 2015/16 SIGNED PLAYERS Alex Pledger; Cedric Jackson (import); Duane Bailey; Mika Vukona; Reuben Te Rangi; Tai Wesley; Tom Abercrombie FREE AGENTS Corey Webster; Ekene Ibekwe (import); Rhys Carter Last season: 19-9, second in regular season, NBL Champions Points For: 84.9ppg, second Points Against: 81.0ppg, third Field Goal Percentage: 44.4%, second Defensive Field Goal Percentage: 41.1%, first Free Throw Percentage: 67.7%, eighth Three Point Field Goal Percentage: 35.2%, second Defensive Three Point Field Goal Percentage: 32.3%, second Rebounds: 38.4rpg, third Assists: 16.6apg, first Steals: 6.9spg, first Blocked Shots: 5.4bpg, first Turnovers: 12.2tpg, fourth Defence. Led by superstar import Cedric Jackson on the perimeter and a genuine goalkeeper inside with Ekene Ibweke swatting shots and changing countless others, the Breaker D was a big key to their ultimate success in 2014/15. They led the league in steals and blocked shots, were tough as nails inside and gave opposing teams fits with their extreme defensive pressure at a number of positions and their ability to switch on-balls whenever they felt like it. Depth. They were an exceptionally deep ballclub and their versatility at a number of spots made them a very hard unit to deal with, especially come playoff time. Tai Wesley was a fantastic pickup, Rhys Carter showed once again why he’s one of the best backup guards in the league and they got good performances right down to the tenth man. At the end of the day, they came at you in waves and just wore people out. Cedric Jackson. He’s at that point now where you have to start getting him into the conversation as one of the greatest point guards in NBL history. He’s a transcendent floor leader, incredibly clutch, a great defender – Cedric is just a flat-out winner. He was the primary reason why the Breakers won their fourth crown in five seasons and the fact he’s returning makes New Zealand the early favourite to go back-to-back. Alex Pledger’s foot injury. Very little went wrong for the Champions last season, but Alex deserves credit for soldiering on with his extremely painful turf toe. This injury clearly restricted him for most of the season, and he just wasn’t as effective as usual. Fouls. Given their tremendous depth, they were lucky that foul trouble wasn’t the problem for the Breakers that it could have been, but they’ll be looking to make adjustments in that area before next season. Free throw shooting. Let’s be honest – the Breakers were horrific at times from the charity stripe. Again, as with the fouls, they were fortunate that their poor foul shooting didn’t cost them too much, and any improvement there will make them that much more formidable. Get Alex Pledger healthy. The health of the big seven footer should be a high priority given the point of difference someone of his size provides in the NBL. Alex is a quality pivot who still has a lot to offer at this level. Re-sign Ekene Ibekwe – or someone like him. He took a little while to find his feet, but once he established his role, Ekene was devastating at times last season. He won the Breakers a championship with his amazing turnaround jumper to finish off the Taipans in Game Two of the Championship series, and his combination of great length and athleticism made him a difficult match-up. It’s tough to recruit quality import bigs so getting him back would be huge – if he doesn’t return the Breakers should be focused on getting another frontline piece, especially with Tom Abercrombie now re-signed. Improve from the foul line. I’m sure Dean Vickerman, as good a coach as there is in the League, will be focusing on many things in the off-season, with free throw shooting close to the top of his list. It’s really this simple – having Cedric Jackson back means you talk about the Breakers as the outright Championship favourites and then you go from there. He’s just that good! Cedric makes everyone around him better, and you know that no matter what, New Zealand, a marvellous organisation both on and off the floor, will work extremely hard to build a powerful squad around him. As driven as Cedric is, and as undoubtedly competitive as he is, it’s tough to see a championship hangover being much of an issue for the Breakers. The rest of the League has the thankless task of trying to figure out just what it will take to knock off this brilliant unit in 2015/16. By Matt McQuade; NBL.tv commentator. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the NBL.