When a team has a deep bench, a coach has a better set of options to choose from.
For the Alvark Tokyo, it’s abundantly clear that new coach Luka Pavicevic has this luxury. And having two bona-fide stars in Joji Takeuchi and Jawad Williams at power forward is a good “problem” to have.
The Alvark are benefiting from the veteran leadership and excellent fundamentals that are the foundation of both men’s game.
Exhibit A: In Tokyo’s most recent game, an 82-57 shellacking of the Yokohama B-Corsairs in Tachikawa on Sunday, Takeuchi, the starting power forward, and Williams, a former teammate of LeBron James on the Cleveland Cavaliers, combined for 27 points, including 11-for-11 at the free-throw line.
Tokyo (5-1) is tied with the Chiba Jets Funabashi, SeaHorses Mikawa and Ryukyu Golden Kings for the best record in the 18-team B1, and it’s no secret that the 32-year-old Takeuchi and Williams, who is 34, have helped set the tone.
Williams, a University of North Carolina alum who spent parts of the 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons with the Cavaliers, is averaging 12.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. Takeuchi’s totals: 10.8, 5.5 and 2.5.
Takeuchi, who suited up for Japan (along with his twin brother Kosuke) at the 2006 FIBA World Championship, has scored 13 points in three consecutive games. He works well in tandem with playmaker Daiki Tanaka, with each showing a keen sense of where the other is as a play unfolds.
Not only did Tanaka dish out nine assists in Sunday’s rout of Yokohama, he made Takeuchi a primary target of his passes.
Takeuchi converted 4 of 6 shots from the floor, getting good looks repeatedly.
Pavicevic praised the job that Tanaka did in setting up Takeuchi and other teammates.
“Look, it is very simple. Tanaka is the main generator of offensive creativity in our game,” the coach said. “We have our inside game situations to balance it . . .”
With Tanaka emerging as a rising star since the league’s inception, the new-look Alvark also feature a dynamic duo at power forward.
Just ask Pavicevic.
“I feel that we have two really quality players and persons at the power forward position,” he said.
“They are giving us a really high-level quality on the position that’s very important on both ends of the floor, defense and offense.
“I know that offense is always easier to see and in our game almost all the offensive readings are being broken through our forward position, so we trust both Joji and Jawad to run our decision making of our offensive game.”
Williams, who played for the JBL’s Rera Kamuy Hokkaido during the 2007-08 season, demonstrated his high hoop IQ in breaking down the B-Corsairs’ zone defense on Sunday. Poised and confident without wasting energy or motion, he was a model of efficiency in 23-plus productive minutes.
“For me, I was just trying to find out where I could get a personal advantage, like a 2-on-1 situation on the back side,” Williams stated.
Pavicevic isn’t shy about admitting that he has high expectations for his team.
“There are still a lot of things that we need to face and we need to adopt and we need to solve in our basketball game,” Pavicevic said. “But the basics of our game are there, and now we need to expand it as we go through the league.
“Hopefully, losing as little games as possible.”
Second-division spotlight on . . . Hiroshima Dragonflies
Under new coach Jamie Andrisevic, the Dragonflies have earned four wins in their first six games.
Andrisevic, who served as an assistant under Kyoto Hannaryz bench boss Honoo Hamaguchi last season, considers defense the team’s strong suit right now. In an interview, he described defense as the team’s defining trait to date.
“Through six games I think our halfcourt defense has been pretty good,” Andrisevic told The Japan Times. “We had a quarter and a half in the first Fukushima game (an 89-75 loss on Oct. 2) when we didn’t defend, and then the first quarter of the second Kumamoto game (a 75-69 loss last Friday) we didn’t defend. Other than that it’s been pretty good. But at this point we have to win games with our defense and that’s how we’ve won the four games that we have.”
With the long season on his mind, Andrisevic knows that the schedule can pose challenges for his club. Knowing how to manage his roster will be a key.
“The first thing we need to do right now is get guys healthy so we can practice and get better,” said Andrisevic, a former Arizona State forward who served on the NBA Development League’s Santa Cruz Warriors’ coaching staff from 2013-16.
He admitted the team’s recent six games in 12 days, including a trip to face the Iwate Big Bulls on Oct. 7-8, “took its toll on some our guys.” He cited the fact that two of the team’s starters (Daiji Yamada and Shogo Asayama) are 36 years old.
The Dragonflies rattled off four straight victories after the aforementioned season-opening loss to the Fukushima Firebonds. During the win streak, they allowed 66, 64, 54 and 65 points in succession.
Then they dropped their most recent game to the Kumamoto Volters.
And now the team is coping with veteran forward Kevin Kotzur’s absence. He sustained a right knee injury at practice and underwent surgery on Oct. 7 to repair his right medial meniscus.
Kotzur is expected to be sidelined for two months.
Two-time bj-league MVP Wendell White made his Hiroshima debut last week, and the veteran forward brings proven leadership skills and a winning mentality to his new team.
Andrisevic, meanwhile, has pinpointed what are keys for his team in the coming weeks.
“From a basketball standpoint, we have to keep improving on our rebounding and offensive execution,” he said. “Too many offensive rebounds (for our opponents) and too many turnovers.”
Overall, though, Andrisevic is pleased with his team’s performance.
“A lot of guys have made contributions so far that have helped us win.” he said. “(Veteran guard) Shohei (Nakama) has been a nice surprise. He’s really picked up our defensive system quickly and he’s a guy we can really count on to defend.”
Looking ahead, Hiroshima faces a good test against one of B2’s elite teams next week. The Dragonflies will play host to the Rizing Zehpyr Fukuoka (6-0), who are one of two unbeaten teams in B2 along with the Akita Northern Happinets, next Wednesday.
“Fukuoka has obviously gotten off to a really good start,” Andrisevic said. “They are probably the most talented team I’ve seen in B2 so far.”
He added: “Kumamoto is probably the biggest team and they’re very physical.”
Bambitious Nara coach Zeljko Pavlicevic displayed his fiery, passionate side during a news conference after Sunday’s 82-69 loss to the Sendai 89ers, which extended the club’s losing streak to four.
He pointed out that “(in) the last four minutes we showed how we can play,” Pavlicevic said.
“It was too late and too short.”
With a wholesale revamp of the team’s roster, Pavlicevic said patience is necessary but urged his team to keep pushing to build its identity.
“We have to make the core of this team . . . who feel for the team and who feel guilty when we lose the game,” the Croatian mentor said.
For the Bambitious (1-5), the first-year coach is setting a bold example.
“I’m ready to fight. I’m ready to give everything to be better every day,” Pavlicevic said.
By the numbers
Three weeks into the new season, it’s time for an update on individual statistical leaders in the top division.
Scoring: Kawasaki’s Nick Fazekas (27.5), Tochigi’s Ryan Rossiter (19.7), Hokkaido’s Marc Trasolini (19.3), Tokyo’s Alex Kirk (15.3) and Shibuya’s Robert Sacre (15.3).
Rebounding: Rossiter (14.0), Fazekas (12.2), Shimane’s Josh Scott (11.2), Toyama’s Sam Willard (10.3) and San-en’s Scott Morrison (10.2).
Assists: Chiba’s Yuki Togashi (7.5), Toyama’s Naoki Uto (6.3), Tanaka (5.8), Mikawa’s J.R. Sakuragi (5.7) and San-en’s Tatsuya Suzuki (5.3).
Steals: Trasolini (2.0), Nagoya’s Takaya Sasayama (2.0), Hokkaido’s Kohei Sekino (1.8), Toyama’s Yuki Ueta (1.7) and Kyoto’s Shun Watanuki (1.7).
Blocks: Shimane’s Brendan Lane (1.7), Tochigi’s Kosuke Takeuchi (1.3), Kirk (1.3), Yokohama’s Hasheem Thabeet (1.3) and Willard (1.3).
This weekend’s top-flight schedule tips off with two series openers on Friday: Kawasaki vs. Shibuya and Nishinomiya vs. Shiga. On Saturday, the following series get underway: Nagoya vs. San-en, Tochigi vs. Tokyo, Chiba vs. Osaka, Yokohama vs. Mikawa, Niigata vs. Hokkaido, Toyama vs. Kyoto and Shimane vs. Ryukyu.
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