In an analysis stretching back to September, there have been a number of important accomplishments during the B. League’s inaugural season.
The league has witnessed the steady growth of coverage from traditional media outlets plus online platforms. And there’s been the encouraging, ubiquitous presence on social media from players, teams, fans and the league.
The season-opening series in September featuring the Alvark Tokyo and Ryukyu Golden Kings at Yoyogi National Gymnasium and the festive All-Star Game on Jan. 15 at the same venue delivered well-organized, entertaining spectacles.
Fan interest has grown. A number of teams have shattered previous attendance marks from their days in the now-disbanded circuits that produced the merger, the NBL (the JBL’s successor) and the bj-league.
Teams have raised the bar for business, and there are expectations to keep shattering attendance marks. For instance, the Toyama Grouses drew 5,545 for Wednesday’s Golden Week afternoon game against the visiting Kawasaki Brave Thunders, and 7,327 were in attendance for the Chiba Jets home game against the Akita Northern Happinets at Chiba Port Arena on the same day.
On the other hand, the officiating has been inconsistent, sometimes really bad (to be addressed in an upcoming column). And the disparity of talent across the first division is significant.
Consider this: 11 of 18 B1 teams will finish with 30 or more defeats in the 60-game campaign, including five of the six West Division squads.
In the 18-team second division, nine teams have 30 or more defeats, and three more could still finish exactly at .500.
Elite Japanese talent is spread too thin, with too many key starters and top backups filling spots on a handful of rosters.
What’s the root of the problem?
There’s no annual draft in Japan, meaning the wealthiest franchises have had the greatest success at grabbing the best talent from the collegiate ranks, year after year after year. It’s almost a monopoly.
To help address the problem, the Japan Basketball Association should work with B. League executives to develop plans for an annual draft. The sooner, the better.
Require all teams to participate in the draft and to pick players. (The bj-league had a draft, but teams often didn’t bother to make any selections and brought in players for individual tryouts and then signed them often at reduced salaries.)
There’s no magic formula to guarantee a competitive balance, but an overhaul of this outdated system would be progress.
Furthermore, teams would be competing with one another to make smart draft picks. And teams would need to develop smarter, bigger scouting departments and front offices to make this happen.
The league’s future is tied to the next generation of players and how they can step in and spark fan interest. And if the best of these players aren’t evenly distributed, or something close to that, among the teams, sustained success will be harder to attain.
The annual draft is a big deal in North America’s major four pro sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL), and talent evaluation is a year-round project. And there’s a prestige factor at play for the most highly sought baseball prospects each year before the NPB draft, too.
Additional media attention in the build-up to the draft, draft-day coverage and follow-up reports on draftees would increase the visibility of the B. League and raise awareness about its teams across the nation.
The final weekend of the regular season features the following matchups: Kawasaki vs. Shibuya (starting on Friday, and the rest of the action a day later), Kyoto vs. Nagoya, Mikawa vs. Shiga, Hokkaido vs. Chiba, Sendai vs. Tochigi, Akita vs. Tokyo, Niigata vs. Yokohama, San-en vs. Toyama and Ryukyu vs. Osaka.
Through Wednesday, here are the top-flight leaders in key individual stats: Kawasaki’s Nick Fazekas (scoring, 27.5 points per game), Tochigi’s Ryan Rossiter (rebounding, 13.4), Toyama’s Naoki Uto (assists, 4.3), Shibuya’s Kenta Hirose (steals, 2.0) and Osaka’s Josh Harrellson (blocks, 1.9).
Mikawa’s Kosuke Kanamaru sits atop the chart in 3-point shooting accuracy (42.7 percent) and free-throw shooting (91.4 percent).
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