The absence of the injured Justin Burrell, one of the elite stars in Japan pro basketball over the past decade, has forced the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins to make some adjustments.
The All-Star power forward is out of the lineup with a right-calf injury, having missed the past three games.
Nagoya coach Reggie Geary declined to give a timetable for Burrell’s return, but the current bye week comes at a good time for Burrell.
Last weekend, the Diamond Dolphins (21-15), who sit in second place in the six-team West Division behind the SeaHorses Mikawa (26-8), earned a two-game series split with the host Alvark Tokyo. Geary’s charges ended the weekend on a high note, winning 81-77 in overtime on Sunday.
Canadian center Jordan Bachynski, the B. League’s tallest player at 218 cm, was among the bright spots for the Diamond Dolphins in the series finale, contributing 14 points, 12 rebounds and a game-best five blocks.
“We have an All-Star on our team in JB and he is an amazing player, and because of that I’ve had to kind of take a back seat,” said Bachynski, who was the Pac-12 Conference Defensive Player of the Year as an Arizona State junior in the 2012-13 season.
Looking back on his role in Sunday’s dramatic triumph, Bachynski, who hails from Calgary, Alberta, had this to say: “Today I was required to play more minutes, defend more, rebound more, take more shots and that’s how my role changed.”
In Japan, Burrell is accustomed to having the spotlight shine brightly on him. A St. John’s University alum, Burrell took home the bj-league regular-season MVP honors during the 2011-12 campaign while starring for the Yokohama B-Corsairs, leading the franchise to the Final Four as an expansion squad. The frontcourt dynamo took his talents to France for the next two seasons before joining Geary and the Chiba Jets for the 2014-15 campaign and following Geary to the Diamond Dolphins before the start of last season.
Now, Bachynski has a chance to make his case for more playing time in the frontcourt along with Burrell, who’s averaging team-best totals of 18.1 points and 8.8 rebounds a game, Jerome Tillman and others.
Bachynski embraces the opportunity.
“Definitely,” he said. “A lot of guys will think, ‘Hey, this is my shot.’ So they’ll put too much pressure on themselves. I know the type of player I am. I know what I can do, and this is just an opportunity for me to show what I can do.”
Geary viewed the hard-earned victory as an important building block for the franchise.
“A win like this, an environment like this, a weekend like this, is so invaluable to our team as we develop individually and without Burrell,” Geary said. “So that when he comes back, we feel potentially that we can be even that much stronger.”
In Saturday’s 90-86 Alvark win, Bachynski notched a double-double (13 points, 11 rebounds) in nearly 28 minutes off the bench. He’s averaging 5.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 13.8 minutes in 28 games, with 35 blocked shots in the books.
Asked to define his role, Bachynski answered by saying, “A little bit of everything. I know I have a big advantage on the offensive rebounds and that’s what I do well, as well as getting the ball down low. I’ve shown that I can be effective down low.”
With more than half of Nagoya’s games completed, Bachynski looked ahead to the remainder of the regular season. He noted that the team’s objectives are quite clear.
“We need to continue to improve. . . . We improve every game, so one thing we have to remember is to take it one game at a time, and we can’t look too far into the future because then we lose sight of what’s in front of us,” said Bachynski, who suited up for the NBA Development League’s Westchester Knicks last season and played in Turkey in 2014.
He added: “I have to be more aggressive in asking for the ball. I have to continue to rebound well and block shots.”
Bachynski’s shot-blocking skills attracted major attention during his collegiate days. In a game against Cal State Northridge in December 2012, the Sun Devils big man swatted 12 shots. The next season, he led NCAA Division I players in blocks (4.0 per game).
Clearly, Bachynski pays attention to the ebb and flow of games, including a stretch on Sunday when his team regained momentum after a 15-0 run by Tokyo in the second half.
“Basketball is a game of runs and it’s how you handle those runs,” he said. “We go on runs and they go on runs, and it’s gonna happen. There are going to be times where we don’t do exactly what we’re supposed to and they take advantage of it.
“That’s the game of basketball, and you just have to learn to continue to control those runs and take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to us and play to our strengths and just do what we can in this second half of the season.
“We’ve got to keep our eye on what’s in front of us. We can’t look to the playoffs and think, ‘We’ve got to get there, we’ve got to get there.’ We’ve got to take it one game at a time. Look at our next opponent and prepare for them, and then go from there.”
In providing a big spark for the Diamond Dolphins at both ends of the floor on Sunday, Bachynski, whose younger brother Dallin played for the Sendai 89ers in the 2015-16 season, is confident he raised some eyes within the organization.
“It gave me an opportunity to show what I can do,” said Bachynski, who saw court time with the Detroit Pistons in October 2015 during the NBA preseason before being released.
“I know I’m a great player. I’m here for a reason and I just need to continue to take advantage of the opportunity that’s presented to me.”
Tillman, meanwhile, reflected on beating the title-chasing in Alvark by highlighting the team’s poise.
“It was huge for us,” the Ohio University product told The Japan Times, “especially in those situations where a bad possession here or there (can) cost you the game. So you’ve got to be fundamentally sound. Coach is always talking about ‘see what you’ve got,’ but slow down at the right point, at the right minute.”
Geary, the 2011-12 bj-league Coach of the Year, sets the tone for the Diamond Dolphins by preaching a commitment to fundamentals.
“People have this misconception that it’s a fiery demeanor,” Tillman said of Geary, a former NBA guard. “But he’s really a calm guy. He’s very meticulous in his craft at what he does. People might confuse that as being kind of a little outspoken and stuff like that. ..”
Attention to detail, Tillman said, is “huge, especially at the professional level. He called it a “key to winning games. That’s what the great teams do.”
Geary recognizes that utilizing his entire bench can benefit his team later this season.
“The whole time without Burrell has been a time of exploration for our team,” Geary told reporters. “Who are our go-to guys? When things are going difficult, where do we go? So we’re a little rudderless at times.”
He cited Sunday’s up-and-down performance as an example of struggles the team has had without Burrell’s rock-solid consistency to lean on.
In the series finale, the team was “looking and searching and sometimes it wasn’t the prettiest,” Geary stated. “But I thought more times than not we found a way and we were able to open the floor and get to our pick-and-roll game when our inside game wasn’t working.”
Geary admitted there was a sense of satisfaction that came with topping Tokyo in OT, but he’s focused more on the bigger picture.
“Our whole thing as of late has been tough-mindedness, that we need to be a tough-minded team,” Geary said.
A look ahead: After this week’s bye while the Japan national team faces Iran on Friday and Saturday in a pair of exhibition games in Sapporo, the league returns to action on Feb. 17, with Sendai vs. Shiga and Mikawa vs. Hokkaido in two series openers, and a full slate of games the next day.