Hungry Jack's NBL
R15 Preview: NZ Breakers v Adelaide 36ers
When: 8pm (AEDT), Saturday 12 March, 2022
Where: Adelaide 36ers Arena
Broadcast: ESPN; Kayo; Sky Sports NZ
Who won last time?
Adelaide 98 (Hannahs 25, Johnson 22, Withers 16) d New Zealand 85 (McDowell-White 27, Besson 25, Wetzell 20) – Round 2, Adelaide Entertainment Centre
After back-to-back losses to South East Melbourne to start the season, the Breakers rolled into Adelaide looking to get their season rolling, and when they led 33-15 early in the second behind a red-hot Hugo Besson, Yanni Wetzell and Will McDowell-White, that mission was well on track. But Dusty Hannahs caught fire from outside, and Daniel Johnson and Cam Bairstow dominated inside as the home team won the final 28 minutes 83-52.
What happened last start?
After going 4-3 to start the new year, the Breakers have crashed on a four-game losing streak – with an average margin of 18 points – as injuries have taken their toll. The dam wall broke against Brisbane last Monday, but in some poetic good news, their three leading scorers from the last meeting with Adelaide all return to the line-up this Saturday.
New Zealand weren’t the only team to get hammered last week though, the 36ers down 16 at half-time against Perth as they struggled for muscle, grunt, interior scoring and pick-and-roll defence with Cam Bairstow absent. The good news is the Bear’s back on board to reignite Adelaide’s run of highly-competitive performances before illness struck last round.
Who’s in form?
Tad Dufelmeier – He appears to be ahead of Dusty Hannahs in the rotation so he needs to continue to earn those minutes, but he's certainly doing that right now. Adelaide are +22 in the past six games with their feisty back-up point guard on the floor, and -60 with him on the bench. He is only receiving less than 13 minutes per game while the 36ers negotiate with an import point guard and Hannahs isn't get a lot of court time either with under 15 minutes against the Wildcats. The coaching staff need to have trust in what’s under their noses.
Chasson Randle – For all the doom and gloom of New Zealand’s offensively inept past two performances, one of the shining lights alongside Next Star Ousmane Dieng was Randle, who accumulated 38 points at 57 per cent from two-point range and 10/10 from the foul line. This is a man who once scored 20 on the Chicago Bulls and 25 on CSKA Moscow, and the Breakers need him in that form on Saturday.
Who needs to be?
Sunday Dech – The man to shadow Randle is likely Dech, who after a high-quality defensive season to date had his colours well and truly lowered by Bryce Cotton last week. There’s no shame in that, but Church will be looking to bounce back at both ends, after shooting a wayward 2/20 from deep in his past two outings. He was 8/15 the two games before that.
Tom Abercrombie – When Tommy rolled out against Brisbane it was just his second game in more than 300 days, and there are few players New Zealand can less afford to be without. While Abercrombie’s offence will likely take time to come back, his spacing, smart reads, defence and particularly rebounding are important against a 36ers side that crashes the glass.
Who’s statting up?
- The 36ers are grabbing 74 per cent of defensive rebounds and 32 per cent of o-boards to be the NBL’s second-best rebounding team behind Melbourne. Against Perth they grabbed 83 per cent of d-boards and 37 per cent of o-boards even without Bairstow
- New Zealand pull in 70 per cent at the defensive end and a league-low 22 per cent on the offensive glass to be clearly the NBL’s worst rebounding team. Last time against Adelaide they collected just 62 per cent of d-boards and nine per cent of o-boards
- Adelaide scored just 24 points in paint against Perth without Bairstow, their lowest total of the season. Across all other games they’ve averaged 37.8 in the key
- In games where Wetzell was missing or got injured, New Zealand are 0-5 with an average differential of -19.2. In their other 12 outings the Breakers are 4-8 with an average differential of -5.9
Who’s matching up?
Yanni Wetzell v Cam Bairstow – What a battle this shapes to be. Whether either player will be at 100 per cent remains to be seen, but in form both are a handful. Prior to getting injured in Melbourne, Wetzell’s previous three games delivered 20.3 points at 62 per cent, 9.3 rebounds, 3.7 steals, 3.3 assists and 1.3 blocks, with the Breakers winning two of those.
Prior to illness striking early in the South East Melbourne clash, Bairstow was enjoying a nine-game run where he averaged 12.4 points at 52 per cent inside, 9.8 rebounds, 3.7 o-boards and 2.2 assists. While Adelaide showed they could cover his board work against Perth, they had a gaping offensive hole inside, making just 19 two-point baskets at a horrid 39 per cent.
Who’s talking the talk?
The game is called basketball, and 36ers assistant coach Jamie Pearlman knows if you don’t put the ball in the basket good things aren't going to happen.
“I actually felt like we had enough good looks at times,” he said after his team shot a woeful 30 per cent against Perth.
“I felt like around the basket if a couple more finishes had gone in, if we had a made a couple more of those threes we could have stayed closer.
“On top of that there are still some execution issues there.”
The reality is the 36ers have been a work-in-progress most of the year. Originally built around the size of Isaac Humphries and Cam Bairstow, the loss of ‘Ice’ stripped them of the ability to be a dominant interior scoring side.
Then there’s the fact their perimeter scorers have been woefully inefficient. Mitch McCarron is shooting 33 per cent from the field and Sunday Dech 34 per cent. While Todd Withers has been efficient, his reluctance to shoot has been costly.
Then there’s Dusty Hannahs, who while his three-point game hasn’t been as advertised, has converted at 50 per cent inside the arc and averaged 13.6 points in just 23 minutes per night.
“It’s about finding that balance between scoring the ball and being a defensive team,” Pearlman said.
“Todd brings that defensive utility-type player and Dusty’s really the scorer-type player, and it’s trying to get that balance between offence and defence.”
Yet while Dusty’s defensive deficiencies have been the reason his minutes have been curtailed, the Adelaide coaching staff continue to play Daniel Johnson 32 minutes per night despite being targeted on a weekly basis.
“We need those five-men, those dominant, rim-protecting, defending bigs so that DJ can do what he does best, and that’s score the ball at the other end of the floor,” Pearlman said.
“We try to keep DJ in that four-spot, because when DJ’s got to go and guard fives, and is responsible for guarding a lot of pick-and-roll action, and then we’re asking him to score down the other end as well, it’s a massive load for him to carry.
“We need him to get most of his energy and effort into scoring the ball for us, and we’re running out of bigs.”
While Bairstow returns and Kai Sotto has recovered from his corkie, Adelaide have underutilised Withers as a strong defensive, stretch four-man this season.
That move would allow more minutes for Hannahs as one of the few 36ers who can consistently create his own shot, but instead the coaching staff have left a fatigued Johnson to play the role of turnstyle for opposition bigs.
Of course, Adelaide are not the only team that has been unable to lock down their identity due to injury and COVID disruptions – New Zealand have the mother of all disrupted seasons.
Against Brisbane they were without three key players, and with Tom Abercrombie just feeling his way back into the game, and it showed.
“We’re in a tough situation on a lot of fronts,” coach Dan Shamir said.
“It’s tough to see (positives), in all honesty, it’s tough to even stop mentioning everything we’re going through, we’re just in a very bad moment with even the simplest things.
“Everybody cares, everybody is doing the work, we hopefully will have some hope with getting some energy from players who will come back in the next few days.
“Hopefully we will be at full strength soon with Will, Yanni and Hugo coming back and Tom, who was obviously on minutes restriction today, and playing for the first time in a very long time.
“Hopefully that will give us a boost.”