Basketball / B. League | B. LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

Shuto Ando’s role growing for Nagoya in third season

by Ed Odeven

Don’t discount the impact that Shuto Ando is making for the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins this season.

The evidence is in the numbers.

The backcourt dynamo has elevated his game in a big way this season, especially on offense. Without much fanfare, he’s become a go-to scorer alongside star newcomer Markeith Cummings, who had a game-high 42 points last Friday night in an overtime triumph against the Toyama Grouses, and frontcourt leader Justin Burrell.

Ando, a native of Mie Prefecture, averaged 3.5 points in 2016-17 while appearing in 21 games, in the B. League’s inaugural season, and 8.0 points in 2017-18. His 3-point shooting accuracy has also improved. He converted 23.9 percent of his long-range shots in 2016-17. Last season, that percentage rose to 36.3 when he made 32 starts and played in 56 games.

The 190-cm shooting guard is on the verge of being recognized as an elite player for the Diamond Dolphins (13-6), who are in a three-way battle for the West Division’s top spot along with the Ryukyu Golden Kings (14-5) and Kyoto Hannaryz (11-8). This season, he’s averaging 14.2 points and 2.2 assists and has started all 19 Diamond Dolphins games.

One game shy of completing one-third of the season, Nagoya relies on the 24-year-old Ando to be an ever-present perimeter threat. He’s attempted four or more 3-point shots in all but one match. He’s knocked down two or more 3s in 17 of 19 contests.

Some players would be dissuaded from shooting as frequently from beyond the arc. Ando, on the other hand, has the green light from coach Shingo Kajiyama — and for good reason. He’s No. 2 in the 18-team top flight in 3-point shooting accuracy (47.3 percent, 62 of 131).

Twice already this season, the Aoyama Gakuin University product has buried six 3s in a game, doing so on Oct. 27 and 28 against the Rizing Zephyr Fukuoka. He finished with 20 and a season-best 25 points, respectively, in those back-to-back games and made 12 of 22 3s.

Ando’s impactful scoring has helped produce positive results. The Diamond Dolphins are 5-1 in games that Ando has put 15 or more points on the board.

Opponents are also learning that Ando is not someone they want to send to the free-throw line repeatedly. He’s No. 6 in the circuit in foul-shooting accuracy at 85.2 percent.

Kajiyama has observed Ando’s maturation as a player, and is pleased with his productivity.

“His success in this season is really wonderful,” Kajiyama was recently quoted as saying by Basketball King website before adding, “it is full of confidence.”

Ando told Basketball King that he worked on improving his scoring skills in the offseason, including pick-and-roll situations. He acknowledged that the team relied on Takaya Sasayama for scoring in past seasons, but Ando seeks to shoulder greater responsibilities now. “I think that the burden of Sasayama is also decreasing,” Ando stated.

“(But) I want to decide to shoot with even more probability,” he added.

In other words, Ando doesn’t want to become complacent. Instead, he sees room for continuous improvement.

“I would rather not be satisfied with this situation,” he added, speaking of his offensive role.

All-Star starters revealed

The league on Tuesday announced starters for the third annual All-Star Game, which will be held on Jan. 19 in Toyama. Fans chose the starters by voting online and via social media.

For B. Black, it’s a Tochigi-dominated lineup. Brex guards Yuta Tabuse and Hironori Watanabe are in the starting five, with the frontcourt consisting of Tochigi teammates Jeff Gibbs and Ryan Rossiter and Tokyo’s Yudai Baba. Tochigi has a league-best 17-2 record.

For B. White, Chiba’s Yuki Togashi and Kawasaki’s Ryusei Shinoyama are the guards, Mikawa’s Kosuke Kanamaru and Toyama’s Yuto Otsuka are the forwards, with Kawasaki center Nick Fazekas also getting the nod.

On Dec. 4, full All-Star team rosters will be announced.