The Kyoto Hannaryz have endured a roller-coaster ride in the first 35 games of the season.
Will this be the defining characteristic of their final 25 games?
Let’s review what’s led to their current 18-17 record.
Longtime bench boss Honoo Hamaguchi’s team opened the season with six straight wins. The Hannaryz then lost three in a row, followed by back-to-back victories.
Then the bottom fell out from under them.
A 13-game slide, the team’s worst-ever run under Hamaguchi, who became coach in 2011, began with an 88-61 setback against the Chiba Jets in the teams’ series finale on Nov. 3. It was followed by losses of 32, 40 and 22 points. Then there were three closer games — defeats by six-, 10- and six-point margins. And then many more blowout losses — by 20, 20, 20, 21, 21 and three points in succession.
At that point, the Hannaryz had an 8-16 record. The epic losing streak ended on Dec. 29 against the San-en NeoPhoenix as the Hannaryz recorded a 75-61 triumph, starting a seven-game win streak.
Indeed, Kyoto has turned things around, winning 10 of its last 11 games, including its last three.
Veterans David Simon, Julian Mavunga and Keijuro “K.J.” Matsui have important roles on the club. Three 22-year-olds, guards Taichi Nakamura and Ryo Terashima and rookie center Jessie Govan, are also among the vital members of Hamaguchi’s rotation.
Among the team’s shortcomings to date are the following: The Hannaryz are allowing 80.2 points per game, the third-highest total in the 18-team first division; they are tied for third from the bottom in turnovers (13.3 per game); and they are the third-worst rebounding team (33.8 per game) through Sunday.
The Hannaryz returned to .500 with a series-opening, 73-70 road win over the Akita Northern Happinets on Saturday.
Speaking to reporters after the game, Hamaguchi concluded that his team “was able to endure the game with patience and persistence.”
Mavunga said he’s encouraged by the progress the team has made since its 13-game slide.
“We’ve been playing well because we’ve focused on playing to our strengths and improving our weaknesses, which are rebounding and transition defense,” Mavunga told The Japan Times on Wednesday. “We are building chemistry every single day and the addition of the young guys has given us a boost because they’ve come in and worked extremely hard and brought us new energy.
“We’re working hard and following our coach’s lead and it’s paid off.”
Govan, who wrapped up his college career under Patrick Ewing’s tutelage last spring at Georgetown University, has helped shore up the team’s rebounding and improved its interior defense. The 211-cm New York City native had 25 points and 21 rebounds in his fourth game for Kyoto, an 82-81 win over Akita on Sunday.
Govan began the season with the NeoPhoenix. In a combined 17 games for both teams, he’s averaging 18.5 points and 12.0 rebounds.
Simon and Mavunga are two of the league’s top-10 scorers. Simon is second in points (22.9), third in blocks (1.42) and seventh in steals (1.35). Mavunga, who runs the offense as the point forward, is eighth in scoring (19.5) and leads by a large margin in assists (8.9).
The 34-year-old Matsui, a key offseason acquisition, leads the league in free-throw shooting accuracy (94.7) and is second in 3-point shooting percentage (47.0), while contributing 12.6 points per game.
Terashima, a Tokyo native nicknamed “Flash,” has appeared in 11 games and made his first two starts of the season last weekend against Akita. The former Tokai University captain, who scored a season-high 16 points on Jan. 15 against the Shimane Susanoo Magic, has a 7.5 points-per-game average. The rookie made his pro debut in late December and has helped energize the team with his youthful exuberance.
Nakamura, who hails from Yamaguchi Prefecture, has been a fixture in the lineup, starting all 35 games. The combo guard is contributing 5.9 points and 2.7 assists per contest, while getting extensive playing time for the first time in his four-year pro career. He appeared in one game for the SeaHorses Mikawa in the 2016-17 season, one game for the Toyama Grouses in 2017-18 and 43 games (three starts, 8.3 minutes per game) for the Yokohama B-Corsairs last season.
On Saturday, Kyoto faces the visiting Sunrockers Shibuya (23-12) to open a weekend series that is expected to be a good measuring stick for Hamaguchi’s squad.
Jets are flying high
The Jets extended their winning streak to 10 on Saturday, hammering the Shimane Susanoo Magic 79-64 in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture.
After a slow start, Chiba (25-10) has once again positioned itself as one of the league’s elite teams.
Coach Atsushi Ono’s squad leads the top flight in blocks (3.4 per game). The Jets and SeaHorses are tied for No. 1 in shooting from the field (48.3 percent).
What’s more, the Jets are the circuit’s highest-scoring team (84.3 points per game), with point guard Yuki Togashi handing out 6.6 assists a game, the league’s second-best average.
Chiba finished as the championship runner-up in each of the past two seasons, losing to the Alvark Tokyo both times.
The Jets play host to the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins (14-21) in a weekend series.