Sunday, March 8, 2009

Penney MVP, Phill Best 6th Man

MVP: Kirk Penney
This article is courtesy of

The New Zealand Breakers may have come up short in their quest to make the Australian NBL's Grand Final, but received a pretty decent consolation prize with news that star player Kirk Penney had been named the league's Most Valuable Player.

On top of that, as the final series between the Melbourne Tigers and South Dragons was locked at one game apiece across the Tasman, the New Zealand club completed a rare double with Penney's team-mate, Phill Jones, named the league's Best Sixth Man.

Penney's MVP award is richly deserved, even if it did come as somewhat of a surprise after he failed to guide his club to an historic appearance in the Grand Final. The Breakers shooting guard led the league in scoring, averaging 24.2 points a game, and also had 4.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists as he completed a second straight standout season in the ANBL.

But with the Breakers falling 0-2 to the Tigers in the semifinals, and squandering a 20-point lead in the second game at home, many - including Penney himself - had presumed the judges (in this case the league's coaches) would look for someone from one of the two finalists.

However Penney's resume spoke for itself and when the likeable Tall Blacks star was announced as the first ever Kiwi MVP winner at the club's awards dinner on Friday night, he had to admit it was somewhat of a bittersweeet moment to receive the ultimate individual accolade at the end of a season where the team fell short of its main goal.

Describing an emotional awards night as a "celebration of the season we had and the history we made", Penney conceded that there were mixed emotions as he reflected on a campaign where the Breakers went into uncharted playoff territory.

"We, the players and coaches, definitely had a bit of a sour taste in how we lost to the Tigers. We felt like we should have played better and had a chance of winning the series," Penney told Fairfax Media in an exclusive interview.

"I guess it is a little [bittersweet] because you want to win a championship, and they're the memories that never leave you. But as a personal accolade it's just a huge honour."

Just in case he needed reminding, Penney's outstanding team-mate CJ Bruton wandered by, nudged his backcourt partner and told him that was now three MVPs he'd played alongside.

"Clearly he's claiming responsibility for it," added Penney with a broad grin. "He is a big part, and not just CJ, all the little pieces we had that put us in a place to finish third in the regular season, which was great progress for this club. To have a home semi, so many positives came from it, but once you get there your goals all change, and suddenly you're looking at a championship. You can smell it, because it's right under your nose."

Penney's right to throw a little love Bruton's way, for his team-mate also had an MVP-type season, curtailed perhaps only by injury that slowed him through the middle stages. Bruton averaged 15.4 points to finish 15th overall in scoring, but was second leaguewide in assists (5.4), third in steals (1.7) and had the best free-throw percentage (88.1) and third top three-point percentage (47.1).

Jones also richly deserved his Sixth Man award, the southpaw shooting ace coming off the bench to average 14.7 points, 3.6 boards and 1.4 assists an outing. His long-range percentage (42.4) was also fourth best in the league.

The sad part of Jones' accolade is that the Breakers are struggling to find a place for him on their roster for next season, though their thought processes may have to be revisited.

Having already secured Bruton, Penney, Forman and youngster Thomas Abercrombie for next year, and with the league reverting back to international-standard 40-minute games, club officials are battling over whether they have either the minutes or salary cap space to retain Jones who also carries close to the maximum points rating.

But Penney issued a heartfelt plea that the club retain as many pieces of the puzzle as they could as they look to continue their emergence as one of the Aussie NBL's premier sides.

"I feel like continuity is so important," said Penney. "This has been a really good year but it's important to build on it and decisions now are crucial."

It's inevitable, though, some players from this season will not return. With the league undertaking a makeover there could be some key new personnel available.

"It's also likely the club will look to replace import Rick Rickert at centre, while the disappointing Adam Tanner is one and done and Tim Behrendorff's spot may also be in doubt. Classy veteran Tony Ronaldson still has to negotiate another contract, but it's likely he'll stay on board.

"There's two steps above where we've been," said Penney. "Right now we've got a little ways to go obviously because we didn't get it done this year. As a player you're never satisfied and as a team we've got to keep working."

But both Penney, and Jones, spoke about the "special" bonds this team had formed. "I've never been on a team like this before, and I've played all over the world" said the league's MVP. "You touch it in college a bit because it's so pure and no one gets paid but in the pro ranks like this it's unheard of."

For that reason alone there will not be a major overhaul of this Breakers roster, with maybe one or two bigs on the shopping list, and not too much else.

Penney says he'll take a break over the off-season, spend some time touring New Zealand (he's keen to check out the South Island) and then probably head to the States to get himself ready for the next campaign.

But one thing's clear. The way it finished, for Penney who didn't get to show his best stuff against the Tigers, and for the club, there is plenty of fuel for the off-season fire.

"Over the last week certainly you wonder what more could you have done," shrugged Penney. "That's why I'm so glad that the coaching staff and most of the players will be back. So we're all on the same page starting off, and we all know the feeling we had at the end of the season, and know exactly what we've got to do to be successful."

Penney succeeds the Tigers' Chris Anstey as MVP. But with Anstey still battling for another title in Melbourne, it was more than clear which prize the Kiwi shooting star really wants.

Awards roll call:
Australian NBL MVP: Kirk Penney (NZ Breakers)
Best Sixth Man: Phill Jones (NZ Breakers)

Breakers club awards:
MVPs' MVP (voted by season ticket-holders): Penney
Player's Player of Year: Paul Henare
Club Player of Year: Penney


Eric said...

Question JR -
Bruton was second in the league in assists this year at 5.4 per game?

Why can't Australian PGs rack up high assist numbers? We play 48 minutes, yet the second best pro PG in Australia gets only 5.4 per game?

Eric said...

Seriously I just noticed this - the games are going down to 40 minutes? This is a painfully stupid decision by the LFKATNBL (league formally known as the NBL).

Is each team going to charge us fans less money for tickets considering that they are giving us 8 minutes less of play each game?

What about the comparisons of the records from the NBL through the 90s when they moved to the pro standard? This is just foolish.....

Anonymous said...

Well the game needs to adapt to the rest of the world (besides NBA)
ALL FIBA ran leaugues are 40 minutes.....I think it should have been done a long time ago....

Eric said...

Wasn't it 40 minutes in the early NBL and then they switched over to 48? I dunno man, I think it's a backwards step. Nearly 17% of your playing time gone like that. I really want to know if ticket prices are going to drop nearly 20% as a result. Really, why should coming in line with FIBA matter? After all, I don't think it's going to hurt Bogut, Jawai and eventually Mills playing 48 on a regular basis. It obviously didn't hurt the gold medallists much.

DJ Rod said...

It's all about the TV package Eric. 40 mins fits into a 1hr show

Anonymous said...

how come the NBL didn't release awards publically before this article?

NBL stats are not recorded properly, nor are they recorded like nba stats.

Anonymous said...

Eric are we talking about the worlds best in Kobe, Lebron and Wade? Getting gold that is? I think my point is the NBL is a game which hurts our international competition. The game in Australia is only played that Australia. Run and gun and so on. Wanna know why we have never developed a true point guard like all the euro teams that continually kick our arse internationally? Cause they all wanna score in the 48 minute free flowing game you call the NBL. Come international competition we dont have the Lebron's and Kobe's coming from the NBL who can adapt! I mean our league leader in assits was averaging how many? 6? Each to their own, I take your point in stride to. As for the 48 to 40 will the price drop point. The time difference is not too much more drastic. The possession's in a 40 minute game become much more vital from the get go thus leading to more fouling and time outs. Just look at the Olympics for as an example. All in all id rather adapt our game to the Euro game, which to me is pure basketball, not the NBA!

DJ Dudd said...

Paul Henare is total crap. He should be booted off the team next year to make way 4 Phill Jones.

David Barlow should of been the leagues MVP, he had a good allround game consistantly all year, unlike Penney.

Best announcer/music player this year was Andrew Parkinson, followed by DJ Rod getting the wooden spoon.

Anonymous said...

yeah thats my votes too.

You hit it right on the money there Duddly my friend.

Nathan said...

Hang on, the article says that he wasn't sure if the League coaches would vote on Penney for MVP because of their poor playoff showing. As a regular season award that shouldn't happen anyway, but the idea that is alluded to - that this playoff collapse may taint the coaches' view of Penney's season is total crap isn't it? Like aren't the MVP votes tallied game by game?

Eric said...

Anonymous, you may have a point, but seriously there's a few gaping holes there - Look at our best olympic results, 88, 92, 96. In 88 we had Phil Smyth, a more "pure" point guard. In the other two, against better competition, we had Shane Heal, a shoot first point guard as our main ball handler. We even ran Andrew Gaze for short stretches at the one. These guys both grew up in the era of the 48 minute running NBL, and were score first players. So the argument that the Aussie style 48 was responsible for the Olympic failures is a bit hard to swallow

Doesn't it really say more about our junior development than anything to do with the national league? Who is developing our distributors? Scoring well does not preclude a player from distributing adeptly either. Interesting to note that our most recent Aussie point guards (Bruton, Bruce, Mills) have all been NCAA 'trained' players, with Maher the one exception.

As for the international point guards that "kick our arse" in recent years - France has Tony Parker, Italy Marco Bellinelli, Spain Jose Calderon, Croatia has Ukic, who are all scoring point guards that have thrived in running systems, so I don't buy that scoring ability stymies distributorship.

Maybe we just don't place enough emphasis on developing anything anything except bigs and swingmen in this country? Perhaps THAT says more about it than anything? 16 of the last 20 NBL assist leaders have been American players. So I ask again....What is going on with our Aussie point guards?

I'd be interested in JR's take on the point guard situation....

Anonymous said...

No medal no success. Belinelli isnt a point guard, he plays the two. Calderon is a pure point guard.Parker is a mix as is Ukic. You cant say we have had success with any previous team at a world champs or olys. 4th is not good enough. Period.

Eric said...

But, you digress again, We can go back and forth all day but I'm still yet to hear WHY the Aussies can't produce a point guard who can distribute better than in the 6 assists per game ballpark.

Also, you've now just told me the Euro PGs who kick our arse are not really point guards and are actually score first guards which is what you were criticizing the Aussies for in the first place. A little hypocritical don't you think?

When you think that Argentina won gold without any point guard of note, says more about overall talent than the point player steering the ship to the gold medal.

Fact: Bellinelli IS a point guard and played there at the Olympics (despite what Tomfoolery Don Nelson has him doing in GS). I'd also argue the distinction between "pure" and "mixed" PGs are irrelevant in today's game. The pure distributor is a dying breed. As even the best distributor point guards in the world are still scoring threats.

What defines a pure point guard anyway? Is there some sort of assist to scoring ratio that I don't know about?

Finally, regarding 4th at the Olympics - I am completely convinced that a nation of only 23ish million people who are a relative minnow in world basketball and get a 4th at the Olympics is a massive accomplishment. Sure others may prefer medals, but 4th is not to be scoffed at.

Anonymous said...

Your totally right.
Whats the population of Croatia, Greece, Serbia, Lithuania?
Fact: Significantly less then ours.
Belinelli's ball handling is not good enough as it has not developed since 2004.(Im guessing thats the Olympics you are talking bout) That is why he doesnt play the point in League. Try find the stat of who has shot the most on the Boomers rosters since as far back as you can go. Either the one of the two man. True Point guards don't just collect stats. Pablo Prigioni from Argentina killed us by setting a tempo and getting everyone into their spots, along with getting the ball inside as much as possible. Our PG's race the ball up and shoot. Thats the point of difference I was making, and the NBL influences this style of basketball. And you mentioned those names not me. I was thinkin more of Calderon, Papadopolous, Prigioni, Id even go as far as Chris Paul and Deron in the Olympics. They barely shot the ball. Each to their own mate you make valid points. I agree to disagree. And you for one should know if prices of tickets drop more you won't have a league to support or sites like this to discuss the NBL.

Anonymous said...

Sorry I meant Thodoris Papaloukas not Papadopolous

DJ Rod said...

JR & I discuss the Aus PG situation in Episode Calvin Talford (#24). Have a listen

Anonymous said...

No need:)
Its not in that good shape....along with the 2 and 3 spot bar newley

Anonymous said...

Eric, assists are judged more leniently in the NBA, hence higher assist totals over there.

DJ Dudd said...

LOADS of comments on ep # 24 of the OT =

Not 1 comment as yet LMAO go the OT.

Anonymous said...

Yeah i much prefer the "T.O." show better.

Another episode will be up later this week. I cant wait 4 this video show.

Penny should not be the MVP. Phil Smyth done more than him this year, and hes not even in the league.