While racking up the bj-league’s Most Improved Player honors last season and collecting a championship ring, Ryukyu Golden Kings guard Shigeyuki Kinjo emerged as a genuine hero for countless youngsters in Okinawa.
During the storybook season, he played an important role for the second-year franchise, especially as a dependable scorer (13.2 points per game).
It was a breakthrough season for the young pro.
Through six games this season, Kinjo is averaging a team-best 18.5 ppg. And he’s coming off a weekend in which he scored 20 points in a six-point win over the Kyoto Hannaryz in the opener and 18 in the rematch, a 17-point Ryukyu win, to earn the Circle K Sunkus Player of the Week award.
Fans in Shikoku will see two of the league’s brightest Japanese stars square off on Friday and Saturday, when Kinjo’s squad faces the Takamatsu Five Arrows. Yu Okada is scoring 20.3 ppg and has raised opposing coaches’ heartbeats along the way by collecting 23 steals in Takamatsu’s eight games.
Ryukyu (4-2) gives Kinjo room to operate on the perimeter, but doesn’t discourage him from infiltrating the interior or shooting runners or floaters. In other words, he’s able to operate in a free-flowing offense, and that suits him well.
Or as Golden Kings general manager and president Tatsuro Kimura told The Japan Times last season:
“He’s the best scorer among the Japanese players in the league. His penetration is so sharp (and difficult) to stop. He doesn’t hesitate to shoot under the basket with big men trying to block his shots. He is the fastest player in the league, and takes it all the way to the basket even right after the opposing team scores. With high 3-point shooting percentage, he is hard to stop.”
Kinjo can be a streaky shooter — he was 2-for-15 on 3-point shots in the season opener — but the law of averages suggests his shooting percentage will be much higher in most games. Thanks in part to the attention twin towers George Leach and Jeff Newton command from foes, Kinjo will get good looks at the basket.
It’s worth noting that Kinjo leads Ryukyu in free-throw attempts (39-for-45, six more shots than reigning MVP Newton has taken), a reminder that he doesn’t stand around on the perimeter and wait for the green light to take his shot.
Memo to opponents: Kinjo hasn’t reached his prime yet. He turns 25 on Nov. 23.
Call him an ideal catalyst for years to come.
The Five Arrows (2-6) have plenty of motivation to score an upset or two over the defending champs. Expect plenty of drama.
This week’s slate of games began on Thursday when the Rizing Fukuoka (3-5) played host to the Shiga Lakestars (7-3) in the first of two games.
Saturday’s openers are as follows: Sendai 89ers (6-2) vs. Tokyo Apache (4-4), Niigata Albirex BB (2-6) vs. Saitama Broncos (1-7) and Oita HeatDevils (2-4) vs. Osaka Evessa (3-3).
The Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (7-1), Toyama Grouses (4-2) and Kyoto Hannaryz (3-5) have the weekend off.
In addition to high-scoring Okada and Kinjo, there have been a number of Japanese players who have stepped up and embraced more prominent roles as scorers in the first month of the season.
Tokyo’s Cohey Aoki (17.5 ppg), Shiga’s Masashi Joho (16.7), Toyama’s Takeshi Mito (14.3), Fukuoka’s Kohei Mitomo (13.0), Kyoto’s Taizo Kawabe (11.8) and Toyama’s Makoto Kato (11.2) are making valuable contributions as scorers. (And this much is certain: The long-term success of the league will depend on the development and sustained popularity of Japanese scorers.)
Kawabe, playing alongside former NBA guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, a noted outside threat on the perimeter, has flourished as a long-range shooter. He’s 13-for-27 from 3-point range.
Around the league: Kevin Steenberge, a former University of Richmond (Va.) center, joined the Grouses last weekend. He played four minutes on Saturday against the Broncos and had a two-minute stint in the series finale. The 210-cm Steenberge, you may recall, suited up for the Golden Kings in their inaugural season. A strong inside force and a powerful dunker, he played in the Netherlands last season, averaging 7.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 1.1 steals per game for Aris Friesland. . . . Point guard Tsubasa Yonamine, a former HeatDevil, has made a nice transition to Ryukyu. He has 21 assists and five turnovers.