Every new sports league encounters challenges related to its competitive structure.
For the B. League, nearing the end of its second season, the biggest challenge is to create a more competitive balance among the teams: 18 in B1 and 18 more in B2.
There are six top-flight teams with 30-plus victories through the 47-game mark on Wednesday: SeaHorses Mikawa (39-8, winners of 15 straight), Ryukyu Golden Kings (36-11), Alvark Tokyo and Chiba Jets Funabashi (both are 35-12), Kawasaki Brave Thunders (32-15) and Kyoto Hannaryz (30-17).
Meanwhile, in the second flight, just three clubs have 30 or more victories: Akita Northern Happinets (43-4, riding a 21-game win streak), Rizing Zephyr Fukuoka (39-8) and Kumamoto Volters (34-13).
Wins and losses alone don’t paint the complete picture of the league’s structural woes. What it really comes down to is the ability of teams to hoard top-notch talent without having to deal with an annual draft for domestic players.
What should change? I suggest the league, if it’s honestly seeking to create a better across-the-board product for the future, adopt these policies immediately:
1. Each team is able to put five Japanese players’ names on a protection list for the 2018 offseason; all of the others have their names placed onto a big list for a one-time dispersal draft of up to 200 players. The draft will enable teams to build their teams by selecting already proven veterans. Any player not selected among the 200 becomes a free agent.
2. Begin an annual summer draft of players who’ve just completed their college careers in Japan. Make it a requirement for teams to draft players. By holding a draft, there will be greater competition among team management to evaluate talent and to strategically plan how they are going to build their teams for the present and the future. These steps will further professionalize the sport in Japan.
As it currently stands, too few teams have a collection of established Japanese stars on their rosters. This creates overwhelming dominance by a few teams (see SeaHorses and Northern Happinets, for instance) and less realistic chances for other teams to build championship-contending teams.
This reality is a relic of the old JBL/NBL era, when players essentially received lifetime employment deals, and the nonstop expansion that marked the bj-league’s 11 often-wild seasons.
It’s time to redistribute a large chunk of that talent among the 36 teams in B1 and B2.
If not, there’ll be more of the same. And the status quo isn’t good enough. Yes, the product is exciting, but cracks in the league’s foundation can’t be covered up.
The Shimane Susanoo Magic, who have lost 21 consecutive games, possess a 7-40 record, or 32 less triumphs than Mikawa, which boasts a nucleus featuring two longtime national team stars in Kosuke Kanamaru and Makoto Hiejima.
And with 13 games left in the regular season, the need for a more competitive balance could not be clearer.
Take Wednesday night’s Akita-Iwate showdown, for instance. The Happinets trounced the Big Bulls 99-49.
It’s obvious that smaller-market teams like Iwate (6-41) need more opportunities to build their rosters with a system that enables savvy front offices to make smart draft picks and for veteran and emerging talent to infuse energy and make an impact.
To spark light-hearted conversation about players and coaches competing in Japan pro basketball, here are a few nickname suggestions from Hoop Scoop:
J.R. Sakuragi — The (Old) Professor
Yuta Tabuse — Timeless Hero
Ryuichi Kishimoto — The Ryukyu Kingfisher
Masashi Joho — The Gutsy Gunner
Honoo Hamaguchi — The Little General
Nick Fazekas — Sure Shot
Yuki Togashi — The Pride of Niigata
Tatsuya Suzuki — Smooth Operator