The New Zealand Breakers' late Christmas present has arrived.
As reported last week, the Breakers have confirmed that centre Rakeem Christmas will become their third import, joining guards Edgar Sosa and DJ Newbill as the Breakers continue to push for a playoff spot.
The Breakers currently sit in third place on the ANBL ladder, but hold the same 12-6 record as the the teams above them on points differential, the Perth Wildcats and Melbourne United.
Yesterday's 82-69 win over the Cairns Taipans kept them in the race for the top spot, and maintained a buffer over the 11-8 Adelaide 36ers, who sit in fourth.
However, their recent form - three wins in their last eight games - has led coach Paul Henare to feel the need to bolster his roster.
"We always had that import spot up our sleeves, probably more as injury cover for our local spots, but we feel we need an injection to our group, someone who can provide a presence for us at both ends of the floor, fit in and complement the group we have," said Henare.
"We are not a desperation team trying to make the playoffs – although it is a bit of a dog fight trying to get in there. It was more trying to find someone to complement and make our group a whole lot better."
Christmas is a strong addition, having played for the Indiana Pacers last season, taking the court in 29 games and averaging two points and two rebounds in seven minutes per game.
Christmas was waived by the Pacers in July, then signing in Turkey with Galatasaray. He averaged 7.5 points and four rebounds per game with them, but parted ways with them in November.
In the ANBL, the 26-year-old should provide a strong defensive presence and efficient production at the rim. While it is hard to glean much into his lack of gametime in the world's biggest leagues, Christmas was a star during his college career at Syracuse - averaging 17.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in his senior year - a pedigree that should translate well to the ANBL.
Henare thinks Christmas will provide a point of difference to the Breakers' current big men.
"He provides some real athleticism and a target at the rim, which we want to utilise with the shooters we have on the floor."
Christmas received handy advice from former New Zealand NBL standout Eric Devendorf, as well as current Breaker DJ Newbill, as he made his decision to join the Breakers.
"I know a couple of people in the States that have played against the Breakers, either from College or the G League. But I talked to DJ Newbill, I know DJ from going to high school in Philly and we have the same agency, and he told me a lot of great things about the League and the Breakers. Both he and Eric spoke highly of both."
Christmas described what he will try and bring to the Breakers.
"I am a physical player, I try to do the little things to help set screens, pick and rolls, bring a defensive presence, rebound, and I am a lob threat. If I have to score down in the post, I will happily go do that."
With Christmas coming in, the Breakers have had to release centre James Hunter, who played just eight minutes this season.
"Releasing Jimmy was extremely hard, he is a victim of circumstance," said Henare.
"It would have been much easier if he was a dickhead and didn't deserve his spot and didn't train hard. But he does all of those things and has still been waived. It is extremely difficult."
Christmas arrives in the country today, and will train with the Breakers tomorrow ahead of their game this Saturday against the Illawarra Hawks.