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Stats confirm steals often make difference between winning and losing

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Steals generate excitement for fans of all ages.

Fast breaks are often the result of these takeaways, whether they come from a tipped pass, a defender’s anticipation or a combination of things that create havoc. And steals are a stat that help measure a player’s hustle and productivity.

In the bj-league this season (through Sunday), six players are averaging 2.0 or more steals per game, thus making that figure the key benchmark for current excellence in this category.

Yokohama guard Draelon Burns and Toyama post player Ira Brown are tied for the top spot at 2.1 steals per game, and a fantastic foursome share the No. 2 spot at 2.0: Shimane’s Michael Parker, Iwate’s Masato Tsukino, a leading candidate for the Most Improved Player award, Ryukyu’s Anthony McHenry and Takamatsu’s Dexter Lyons.

Parker and Lyons both have 78 steals to date, Tsukino has 77, Brown 74, McHenry 72 and Burns 70.

Five of these six guys are on winning teams, while Lyons’ Five Arrows have made a quantum leap back into relevancy this season, going 2-50 last season (when Lyons played for Miyazaki) to 16-24 this season.

Steals create quick scoring chances and erase that opportunity in the blink of an eye for an opponent.

Parker’s four-year reign as steals king ended last season when then-Chiba star Jamel Staten snatched the crown (2.79 per game).

Free-throw shooting woes: Iwate big man Dillion Sneed has struggled mightily at the charity stripe in his two seasons in the bj-league. Playing for the league champion Ryukyu Golden Kings last season, Sneed converted 38 of 109 free throws (34.9 percent) while averaging 10.9 points in 27 games. He shot 56.4 percent from the field.

This season, Sneed is more of a go-to scorer for the resurgent Big Bulls, averaging a team-best 16.7 points in 37 games. The 202-cm veteran has made a league-best 60.9 percent of his shots from the field, including 38 slam dunks.

At the line, though, his shooting accuracy has reminded one of Ben Wallace, the longtime NBA big man who holds the league’s career mark for worst all-time shooting accuracy at the charity stripe (41.4 percent).

After an 0-for-17 Sunday stat line, Sneed is now 105-for-282 (37.2 percent) this season.

Keen insight: Shimane’s Michael Parker has been a star in the bj-league since the Rizing Fukuoka’s inaugural campaign (2007-08 season). He’s seen head coaches come and go, have success and stumble along the way.

But one thing Parker is certain of is this: Susanoo Magic bench boss Zeljko Pavlicevic is a special coach and a brilliant motivator.

“Coach is the most experienced coach I have ever played for or been around,” Parker said of Pavlicevic on Tuesday. “He sees the game through the eyes of someone who has so much experience. He’s not a real Xs and Os coach, and that allows the team to just flow. It works well when he has the type of players that blend together well.”

Pavlicevic, in his third season as the Shimane coach, speaks honestly and with clarity to his players, according to Parker.

“He will tell you when you mess up and at the same time tell you when you do good. You never know what he is gonna do, and that is what makes him successful,” Parker told The Japan Times. “Each year the team grows and builds off the previous year. I think that’s happened through the Japanese players getting so much better.”

Parker, who collected his second All-Star Game MVP award in January, respects Pavlicevic’s overall body of work, knowing his mentor has excelled at the highest level of the sport.

“He has coached at a very high level through his career,” Parker noted, “and he is always willing to tell you who he has coached and how he has made them better. You have to listen because of the names he says, like (Toni) Kukoc or (the late Drazen) Petrovic, they were top-tier players of the world.

“He has won Euroleague titles and coached national teams (including Japan), so his resume speaks for itself. He demands a lot from his players, but it is all for a reason and that is to win.”

Jets talk: Despite their lame-duck status — Chiba is playing its second and final season in the bj-league before defecting to the National Basketball League (the re-branded JBL) next fall — Jets players say this is not a distraction.

And does it affect their preparation for games?

“Not at all,” forward D’Andre Bell said after Sunday’s win over Shiga. “I definitely do not think it’s a distraction for us. We are playing for now, and focusing on the moment. We really desire a championship this year, and we’ll let next year take care of itself . . . and I’m sure everyone looks forward to it.”

Jets guard Hiroki Sato said, “The only focus for us right now is to focus on winning a championship this season, and when the time comes to think about next season, that’s when we’ll think about it.”

“It doesn’t really come up as a topic of conversation on the team (right now),” Sato said.

Quotable: “What he’s done for us is tremendous. You can tell the difference between him being on the floor and not being on the floor. He handles pressure pretty well and he thinks of making the right play He’s one of the guys who we saw putting in extra time (for preparation) always. He’s always working out, always doing something, whether it’s ball handling, working on the different kind of passes or taking extra shots. So all the credit that he’s accruing he’s due.” — Bell on Jets teammate Kensuke Tanaka, who is third in the league in assists (5.8 per game).

Upcoming games: This weekend, 16 teams are in action and preparing for the following two-game matchups: Chiba vs. Ryukyu, Saitama vs. Miyazaki, Gunma vs. Shimane, Kyoto vs. Akita, Osaka vs. Shinshu, Oita vs. Sendai, Toyama vs. Tokyo and Takamatsu vs. Fukuoka.

Feedback: Got a story idea about the bj-league? Send an email to edward.odeven@japantimes.co.jp