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Kawasaki Brave Thunders Have a Knack for Forcing Turnovers

Nearly one-third of the way through the B.League season, the title-chasing Kawasaki Brave Thunders lead the 24-team circuit in steals.

For the Kawasaki Brave Thunders, an abundance of steals and points from turnovers are key components of their recipe for success.

Since the 2023-24 B.League season tipped off in early October, Kawasaki's defenders have been feisty and consistent in making things as difficult as possible for opponents. Call it a steady dose of defensive disruptions.

Through games of Sunday, December 3, the Brave Thunders are No 1 in the 24-team league in steals (133, or 8.3 per game).

Defensive acumen and defensive hustle are, of course, complementary characteristics in basketball. Without one, the other doesn't make as big of an impact for individuals and teams. 

The Brave Thunders (13-3) have demonstrated throughout the season that they are at their best when their overall performance is defined by smart defense along with high-energy play while guarding the other team.

Take Kawasaki's latest win, for example. In a gritty 80-77 overtime road triumph over the Nagasaki Velca on Saturday, December 2, the Brave Thunders' defense produced one of the defining elements of the series opener.

"We got off to a good start, but it was a difficult game with interruptions," Kawasaki head coach Kenji Sato told reporters. "I think we were able to defend well in the end, which was a big factor."

The Brave Thunders built a 24-11 lead entering the second quarter, withstood the hosts' comeback effort, and made enough defensive stops in OT to secure their sixth consecutive victory.

Kawasaki Brave Thunders
Kawasaki Brave Thunders big man Nick Fazekas looks to score against the Nagasaki Velca on December 2. (B.LEAGUE)

Star Power Helps Lift the Brave Thunders

In the three-point triumph over Nagasaki, frontcourt linchpin Nick Fazekas paced Kawasaki with 20 rebounds and nine assists. He also poured in 18 points. Teammate Jordan Heath had a 23-point night, including 9-for-9 shooting from inside the 3-point arc. Veteran guard Yuma Fujii was the team leader in steals (three). 

All winning streaks come to an end, and Nagasaki bounced back with a 92-85 victory on Sunday. The Velca, in their first season in the B.League's top flight, aka B1, after earning promotion from B2, improved to 10-6.

Now, nearly one-third of the way through the 60-game season, the Brave Thunders look poised to contend for the title.

Only the Alvark Tokyo and San-en NeoPhoenix, with identical 14-2 records, have more wins through the 16-game mark. 

The Nagoya Diamond Dolphins and Utsunomiya Brex also took 13-3 records into Wednesday, December 6, when all 24 teams were in action.

Kawasaki Brave Thunders
Brave Thunders teammates Nick Fazekas (left) and Rosco Allen apply tight defense against Nagasaki Velca star Yudai Baba on December 2 in Nagasaki. (B.LEAGUE)

Capitalizing on Opponents' Mistakes and Forcing Turnovers

As noted above, points from turnovers have helped fuel the Brave Thunders' success this season.

In their first 16 games, they amassed 291 points from turnovers, turning foes' miscues into baskets. That's nearly 18.2 points per game. And when you consider the fact that Kawasaki has only outscored its opponents by a combined 106 points so far, the significance of their defensive productivity as a catalyst becomes even more magnified.

Fujii and Rosco Allen share the team lead with 1.3 steals per game, with Fazekas and American newcomer Thomas Wimbush, a veteran forward, averaging 1.0 per match, followed by guard Yuto Nohmi at 0.9.

Kawasaki Brave Thunders
Thomas Wimbush (20) and Nick Fazekas of the Brave Thunders help set the tone for the team on defense on November 4 in an 85-81 road win over the Susanoo Magic. (B.LEAGUE)

On three occasions this season, the Brave Thunders have scored 20 or more points from turnovers. That includes 37 in an 84-63 triumph over the Gunma Crane Thunders on November 11 and 31 against the SeaHorses Mikawa in a 93-82 win on October 15.

Looking back at the blowout win over Gunma, Wimbush said Sato's verbal instructions to players paid off.

"Coach always says 'be ready,' but I think I needed to be prepared on the defensive end, and that led to my steals today," Wimbush said in a news conference, citing his game-high and season-best five-steal effort.

An overall all-around effort was a staple of the November 11 victory, according to Sato.

"I think the reason we won the game was that the whole team fought together for 40 minutes no matter what the situation was," Sato told reporters.

Kawasaki Brave Thunders
Reiya Nozaki in action against the Shinshu Brave Warriors on November 8 at Todoroki Arena. (B.LEAGUE)

It's just a shoe!

Aiming to Make an Impact

Veteran guard Reiya Nozaki came off the bench in each of the Brave Thunders' first 16 games, providing a spark as a backup. He had his best back-to-back offensive performances on November 8 and 11 with 15 and 13 points, respectively, against the Shinshu Brave Warriors and Crane Thunders.

Looking back on his play, which included a seven-point effort, against the SeaHorses in the game noted above, Nozaki underscored the team's commitment to turning takeaways into points.

"I think that I was able to contribute to the team by playing to my strengths with my drive," Nozaki said on October 15. "And I was also able to contribute to the team on defense with my layups from steals, so I think it was a positive thing for the team."

Allen and Fujii had a combined seven steals, spearheading that aspect of Kawasaki's successful game (its fourth of the season).

Kawasaki Brave Thunders
In additional to his formidable inside presence on offense, Kawasaki's Jordan Heath is an effective shot blocker. (B.LEAGUE)

Protecting the Rim: Kawasaki's Interior Stalwart 

Playing aggressive defense and gambling to make steals can lead to a team giving up wide-open shots as an opponent adjusts on the fly and capitalizes on split-second mismatches. It can, of course, also produce the desired results for the defense.

Generally, steals are not made above players' heads, though passes are sometimes intercepted high above the floor.

That said, tenacious defensive tactics that lead to steals and points from turnovers are bolstered by a team's rim-protecting presence. There's some inherent risk-taking involved in attempting to make steals.

Which is why a player like the 208-cm (6-foot-10) Heath is so valuable on defense. He is No 2 in the B.League in blocked shots (1.6 per game), including two or more in 50% of the team's games through Sunday.

In the 2022-23 season, the Brave Thunders won 40 of 60 games. Their success to date in the new campaign appears to be a strong link between a solid offense and a quality defense.

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Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.

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