It’s time to look ahead to 2013 as each of the bj-league’s 21 teams search for ways to improve.
So here’s one columnist’s suggested New Year’s resolutions for all teams.
Ryukyu Golden Kings, league champions in 2011-12, are off to a brilliant start under first-year coach Koto Toyama, who had the unenviable task of replacing two-time, title-winning bench boss Dai Oketani in the spring.
The ultra-talented Kings (17-3 record through Christmas Day) remain the favorites to win another title.
Their resolution? To stay healthy, and get the same steady production from Jeff Newton, Anthony McHenry, Terrance Woodbury, Narito Namizato, Tsubasa Yonamine and Naoto Kosuge, among others.
Now, a look at the rest of the league, starting at the bottom:
Osaka Evessa (2-16) — The team needs an identity and anything resembling consistency. The post-Ryan Blackwell era — the former coach was shown the door after last season —has been, as expected, a total disaster.
Saitama Broncos (2-16) — A winning streak would be a start. Getting leading scorer John “Helicopter” Humphrey (back injury; he’s missed 11 games) back in the lineup would be significant. Anything else is gravy.
Miyazaki Shining Suns (3-19) — The loss of team leader Taishiro Shimizu to the Oita HeatDevils in the offseason has been one cause of the Suns’ shortcomings. Yuto Otsuka (12.2 points per game) has become an emerging standout for Miyazaki, and finding other players to step up is key.
Gunma Crane Thunders (4-18) — The expansion squad has won three of its last five games, turning things around after a disastrous 0-12 start. Making more adjustments to their defense is a step in the right direction for new Crane Thunders coach Blackwell’s squad.
Takamatsu Five Arrows (7-13) — The much-improved Five Arrows are desperate to develop consistency. Exhibit A: Three straight wins, followed by three straight losses entering this weekend.
Sendai 89ers (7-12) — Greater confidence is needed by the team’s players to go out and, well, believe it’s a better team than its record indicates.
Chiba Jets (8-12) — More scoring punch from Hiroki Sato (8.2 ppg), Shota Isshiki (6.6) and Kensuke Tanaka (6.3) to augment the potent production of Marquin Chandler and Joe Werner, who are averaging 19.4 and 19.3 ppg, respectively, is a big key for Shinji Tomiyama’s squad.
Tokyo Cinq Reves (8-12) — The team’s Big Two (center Jonathan Jones and guard Cohey Aoki) is averaging just under a combined 37 points per game. Getting Dennis Carr, Hirohisa Takada, Akihito Inoue, Rasheed Barrett and others to pick up their scoring could make the aforementioned duo even more difficult to contain.
Oita HeatDevils (9-13) — The cash-strapped franchise, currently operated by the league office, needs money and a long-term commitment from sponsors. Boosting attendance is absolutely necessary, but the team already gutted its roster, losing standouts Matt Lottich, Taj Finger, Wendell White, Cyrus Tate, Naoto Takushi and Kazuya Hatano before adding a few needed players, including Evessa castaway Andre Coimbra.
Kyoto Hannaryz (12-10) — A continuation of the team’s steady climb to respectability is at the top of bench boss Honoo Hamaguchi’s club’s wish list. The Hannaryz were 0-8 to start the season, but have found ways to become one of the league’s more balanced clubs in the weeks since then. Newcomers David Palmer, Gyno Pomare, Yu Okada, Marcus Cousins and Masaharu Kataoka have gotten comfortable within the team structure, and that has led to success.
Shiga Lakestars (12-10) — Too close for comfort. That’s the overall summary of the fifth-year franchise’s season to date, what with 33 more points scored than it’s allowed. The Lakestars have had 13 games decided by 10 or less points. So yeah, a few more points, a little breathing room, would be a good thing.
Shinshu Brave Warriors (13-9) — Reaching the playoffs in their second season is a reachable target for sideline supervisor Takatoshi “Big Bashi” Ishibashi’s squad.
Akita Northern Happinets (13-7) — Newcomer Dan Fitzgerald has missed 50 of 61 3-point shots since joining the club in early December. The team needs better long-range shooting from him.
Toyama Grouses (14-8) — Staying healthy, just like the mighty Golden Kings. Seven Grouses players are averaging 8.6 or more points per game, including Masashi Joho (14.4), Ira Brown (15.1) and Angel Garcia (15.9). Indeed, strength is in the numbers for Bob Nash’s charges.
Yokohama B-Corsairs (14-6) — Defensively, the B-Corsairs are potent and feisty, holding foes to 73.6 ppg. They took a six-game win streak into the series opener on Saturday against the visiting Cinq Reves. So what would be a resolution? Avoiding Murphy’s Law, if at all possible. In other words, more of the same.
Iwate Big Bulls (14-6) — Staying dominant on the road is certainly the target. The Tohoku team is 9-3 thus far in away games.
Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (15-9) — The Phoenix have a terrific one-two punch in Wendell White and Kevin Galloway, and Japan national team center Atsuya Ota is an X-factor who adds depth. But poor play on the road (four wins in 10 games) is cause for concern.
Shimane Susanoo Magic (15-7) — The incremental rise of Tatsuhiro Yokoo (8.5 ppg) and Koki Yabuuchi (8.9) as dependable scoring options is no fluke. The chance for both to be known on a national level as good players is a sign of the Susanoo Magic’s maturation in Zeljko Pavlicevic’s third season at the helm.
Rizing Fukuoka (15-7) — Veteran guard Jun Nakanishi knows the league as well as any player, having been a part of the fledgling circuit since its inception in 2005. For Nakanishi, more trips to the foul line would be a good thing; after all, he’s shooting 77.9 percent on free throws. And for macho forward Reggie Warren, more of the same — as in adding to his total of 17 double-doubles to date.
Niigata Albirex BB (15-6) — A trip to the Final Four. That’s a realistic goal by working hard and maximizing the talents of their deep roster.