Basketball / B. League | B. LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Toyama bouncing back from dismal season

by Ed Odeven

Looking at where they are projected to finish this season, several squads can be described as turnaround teams.

In other words, they are on pace to compile better won-loss records than they did in the B. League’s inaugural season.

Most notably, the Ryukyu Golden Kings, who went 29-31 last season are 23-7 through last weekend and lead the West Division. The Kyoto Hannaryz, who sit a distant second in the West standings, have also made solid improvements under longtime bench boss Honoo Hamaguchi. The acquisition of Julian Mavunga and Joshua Smith and the continued development of young playmaker Tatsuya Ito have all paid big dividends. The Hannaryz, coming off a 25-35 campaign, are 16-14.

Not to be overlooked, the Levanga Hokkaido have risen as well. Coach Kota Mizuno’s club, fueled by the all-around contributions of All-Star Marc Trasolini and the steady production from Ryota Sakurai, Asahi Tajima and others, are 17-13 at the midway point of the season. Hokkaido went 27-33 in the 2016-17 campaign.

Furthermore, the Toyama Grouses (15-15) have demonstrated that last season’s woeful 2-23 start was not indicative of the team’s talent and potential.

With Naoki Uto continuing to grow in his role as the team facilitator, his numbers have grabbed people’s attention. Uto is sixth overall in the league in scoring (16.1), second in assists (7.0) and tied for sixth in steals (1.37).

Last season, led by Toyama’s veteran nucleus, including ex-NBA center Dexter Pittman, Yu Okada, Sam Willard, Drew Viney and Takeshi Mito, the Grouses overcame the absence of team star Masashi Joho, who now plays for the Niigata Albirex BB, down the stretch to finish at 18-32, then fight off relegation in Bob Nash’s final chapter at the helm. (Pittman arrived a few weeks before the All-Star break last season and immediately made an impact with a major presence inside.)

New coach Miodrag Rajkovic had the pieces in place to demand consistency from the get-go.

While the Grouses have won exactly as many as they’ve lost, they have the foundation in place to solidify their game.

It starts at home, where Toyama is 10-7 overall.

Toyama is currently riding a three-game winning streak.

Viney is second on the team in scoring (13.6 points per game) and second in assists (3.3), while Willard is the leading rebounder (8.1), followed by Pittman (5.9).

The Grouses reached the bj-league title game two seasons ago, and now they are aiming for more consistency. A .500 record is a decent starting point.

Notable statistics

With the 36 B1 and B2 team stats stacked side by side, a few interesting tidbits stand out.

Only one team (SeaHorses Mikawa) is shooting better than 50 percent from the floor this season. The SeaHorses have made 50.5 percent of their shots.

One team (Ryukyu) is holding foes to less than 40 percent shooting — 39.3 percent to be precise.

Seven teams are handing out 20 or more assists per game: Gunma Crane Thunders (20.3), Kanazawa Samuraiz (20.9) and Rizing Zephyr Fukuoka (21.6) in the second division and top-flight clubs Kawasaki Brave Thunders (20.0), Hokkaido (20.4), Ryukyu (20.4) and Mikawa (20.5).

Buoyed by B2 rebounding leader Reggie Warren’s 12.8 boards per game, the Kagawa Five Arrows are No. 1 in that category among the three dozen clubs (42.4 per game).

Childress perspective

The Ringer, Bill Simmons’ latest online sports and culture website, recently profiled former NeoPhoenix star and NBA player Josh Childress.

A Stanford University product, Childress now plays for the Adelaide 36ers in Australia’s National Basketball League. The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis visited Childress to gain an insight on the veteran player’s life Down Under.

As Curtis described in his article, Childress was vocal during practice when teammates appeared obsessed with perfection.

“Damn, stop thinking it’s got to be perfect! Just make the extra play!” Childress said, according to The Ringer, during a dispute about defensive assignments.

Asked to describe his role on the 36ers, Childress put it this way: “Just a veteran contributor. I’m not expected to go out there and try to get 30 a night.”

Curtis asked Childress if that’s a “happy role” for him.

He responded in realistic terms.

“Ummm, it’s just the reality,” Childress commented. “I’m pretty sure I’m the oldest import in the league. Thirty-four, man. I remember when I was the young guy on the team.”

Childress gave an insightful answer to Curtis about how his game has changed over the years, how he’s a different player at age 34 than he was when he was 22.

“Much less athletic,” he said. “I just have to move at my own pace. In a way, it’s good because it slows me down. But I just realize I’m not where I used to be. I told (36ers coach) Joey (Wright) that.”

Upcoming games

This weekend’s competition commences Friday with the Kawasaki vs. Chiba series opener. On Saturday, it’s Niigata vs. Mikawa, Kyoto vs. Shibuya, Tochigi vs. Hokkaido, Tokyo vs. Shiga, San-en vs. Toyama, Yokohama vs. Nagoya and Shimane vs. Osaka. Nishinomiya plays host to Ryukyu on Sunday to kick off the series.