Basketball: Jackson needs to take lead role again

By Kris Shannon

Cedric Jackson has been less influential at the Breakers this season. Photo / Getty Images
Cedric Jackson has been less influential at the Breakers this season. Photo / Getty Images

With his back-court mate earning so much acclaim, it's easy to forget these Breakers were once Cedric Jackson's team.

The American's return to the Kiwi club last season was triumphant - placing second in most valuable player voting while guiding his side to their fourth title - and merely a continuation of the form he had always displayed during his time Down Under.

Three seasons, three championships and three top-four MVP finishes added up to an unimpeachable legacy that left Jackson near the very top of the Breakers' best imports.

But this campaign has been a different story. Whether the victim of the high expectations of his own making or whether a result of the large shadow cast by Corey Webster, it's hard to escape the feeling Jackson has been lacking his usual influence.

While his assist and rebounding totals compare favourably to seasons past, Jackson's scoring has taken a noticeable tumble.

And that tumble has coincided with a campaign that sees the Breakers sitting sixth in the league in points per game, having finished in the top two in each of Jackson's previous three years.

There are myriad issues the Breakers must amend ahead of this afternoon's encounter with Illawarra and, in fairness, the point guard has been far from the chief problem during the current slump.

But if the defending champions are to lift themselves out of their three-game slide and push for a playoff place over the final month, Jackson will need to play a prominent role.

As the leader of the offence, the onus is on Jackson to drive the Breakers' team assist totals, a particular bugbear of coach Dean Vickerman during the last month.

The champs have averaged only 13 assists in their last five games, four of which were defeats, which is well below their season averages during Jackson's previous years, which sat between 16.6 and 17.5 a game.

The ball is not being shared like it once was and, when Webster or Tom Abercrombie are double-teamed, the offence can appear clogged. Jackson, then, must find the right balance between attacking the basket and, when appropriate, finding the right receivers - and he knows it.

"I'm feeling all right," he said of his personal form. "But my turnovers and assists can be better, so hopefully I can spread the ball and do a better job.

"It's just about getting the ball to the right guys in the right spots, letting the offence flow and just taking the first opportunity."

That opportunity has often fallen to Webster this season, the shooting guard who's leading the league in scoring with 23.1 points per game.

While Webster was always a key contributor during Jackson's time in Auckland, particularly last season, playing alongside a destructive offensive force must have taken some adjustment.

But Jackson denies the suggestion his own job description is vastly different, he just must be mindful of when to use Webster and when to find the open man.

"[Opposition teams] are doubling on him now so we just have to counter what they do and hopefully we can do that," Jackson said.

"It doesn't really change my role but it does give other guys opportunities when they're wide open. It comes down to whoever's in that wide-open spot. We just have to get them the ball and they have to finish."

That will be a necessity this afternoon as the Breakers face down a season sweep against Illawarra. They have avoided that fate against the Hawks franchise since the second year of their existence and, if that streak is to continue, Jackson must lead the way.

- Herald on Sunday

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