Quietly and confidently, Jeff Newton remains the anchor of the defending bj-league champion Ryukyu Golden Kings.
He hasn’t put 50 points on the board in a game this season like he did in the Western Conference playoff final last May. Nor has he had an epic 40-point, 30-rebound effort like he did in a game in November 2008.
But Newton’s clinical efficiency on defense is an integral part of the team’s success this season.
Newton is The Japan Times’ Defensive Player of the Month for December.
The Golden Kings are 16-4, the best record in the Western Conference, as the calendar switches to the Year of the Tiger, and Newton will continue to lurk inside the paint and on the perimeter with a singular goal: to be a defensive nuisance every step of the way.
Newton is tied with Anthony McHenry for the team lead in blocks (29) and is equally effective as a rebounder and ball thief.
In addition, he remains committed to not making stupid mistakes. Consider: In 299 December minutes, Newton was whistled for only six personal fouls.
It’s a clear-cut reminder that Newton is one of the league’s most fundamentally sound defenders. (Just ask any of the league’s 13 head coaches.)
Team success follows; Ryukyu played in six games decided by nine points or less in December. Newton’s squad won five of them.
As the weather cooled down, the Niigata Albirex BB heated up in December, and they’ll begin 2010 as one of the bj-league’s most improved – and most dangerous — teams.
A trio of steady performers — center Paul Butorac, forward Antonio Burks and point guard Akitomo Takeno — deserve much of the credit for making that happen. They are The Japan Times’ Offensive Players of the Month for December.
Butorac, who played collegiate ball at Eastern Washington University, averaged 20 points per game in the month as his team went 7-1 and made a dramatic turnaround from its seemingly disastrous 2-8 start.
The 208-cm center began the month with a 32-point (13-for-16 from the field), 15-rebound performance against the Tokyo Apache on Dec. 7. He had six more double-doubles in the month and leads the team with 17.7 ppg.
Burks, one of the league’s top outside shooters, drained two or more 3s in six December games. He was 6-for-9 from downtown with 22 points in a 10-point victory over the Takamatsu Five Arrows on Dec. 19.
Earlier in the month, Burks was 3-for-5 with 18 points in a two-point triumph over Tokyo, followed by 4-for-7 from long range with 20 points in a blowout win over the Evessa. On Boxing Day, he dropped 22 points on the Lakestars, including 4-for-6 from 3-point land. All told, he drained 24 3s in December, stretching the defense and creating havoc for opposing defenders.
What’s more, he leads the league in 3-point shooting accuracy (43.5 percent).
Takeno, one of the league’s youngest standouts, handed out 48 assists against 18 turnovers in the month. Simply put, Takeno, who turned 24 in November, has been instrumental in guiding the team back to respectability.
In December, he had five games with five or more assists and scored in double digits in all eight contests.