Sometimes, new, different circumstances make you a much better player.
Under first-year coach Bob Hill, Tokyo Apache guard Jumpei Nakama looks like a completely different man on the floor and is enjoying a career year.
As a matter of fact, the 27-year-old has almost doubled his stats. At the bj-league All-Star break, he averaged 10.9 points and 3.8 rebounds, leading the team (12-8; third in the Eastern Conference) in minutes played (558) this season, while he had 4.5 points and 1.9 rebounds per game in the 2009-10 campaign.
But Nakama doesn’t necessarily think he has been reborn this year. Rather he feels he is playing better because of the system the Apache are running this year.
“I’m fitting into this system,” Nakama said after a 79-78 overtime win against the Takamatsu Five Arrows at Yoyogi Gymnasium No. 2 last Wednesday.
Nakama says Tokyo played more freely under coaches Joe Bryant and Motofumi Aoki in the previous five seasons. But this year’s team is the opposite and plays with a lot more discipline. He insists that what is required of the players on court is a lot clearer now.
“We know we can win games as long as we execute what we’re supposed to do,” he said.
Nakama explained that Hill has instructed the Apache to play more as the team, both on offense and defense.
Defensively, the players are required to always help each other out. Nakama says that defensively he doesn’t need to shut down whoever he guards to perfection, because he knows his teammates always come to his aid behind him.
“The only thing I need to be cautious of is how I’m overtaken, if I’m overtaken,” Nakama said. “When I’m overtaken and there’s another defender in that direction, that’s fine.”
Offensively, too, Hill emphasizes playing as a team, using big men Robert Swift, Kendall Dartez and Jeremy Tyler in the paint. If they can draw opposing players inside, then outside players can take advantage.
Nakama has certainly chipped in with his shooting skills from beyond the arch. He has sunk 44 3s in 115 attempts (38.3 percent) this season.
“I’m confident about my 3-point shooting and that is one of the areas where I’ve been playing well this season,” he said. “And because I can hit 3s, it makes other plays easier, such as attacking the basket. Until last year, when I had the ball, I would often pass it to other players. But this year I attack the basket more.”
But what Hill told Nakama entering the season was to become a better defender. And the former NBA coach did not expect much in his offensive production, because defense requires so much energy that there is little left for attacking.
But Nakama has exceeded Hill’s expectations. In the Jan. 16 game against the Shining Suns, for instance, Nakama had a team-high 20 points while defending athletic, 198-cm guard Jackie Manuel, in the Apache’s 89-74 victory in Miyazaki.
“He’s hitting big shots now. He’s getting in great physical shape. His individual defense is so much better,” Hill said of Nakama, who was promoted to be a starter after five games entering the season. “So he’s playing really, really well. He deserves a lot of credit personally. And I’m proud of him.”