Sunday’s BBL Playoff Final between the Riders and the London Lions will be a showcase of the best talent the UK’s premier basketball competition has to offer.
Elite talent on both sides inevitably means great one-on-one battles across the court. Basketball is a team sport at its heart, but just ten players occupying the floor at one time means that beating the opposite man carries a lot of impact.
Here are the individual battles to look out for this weekend.
Carrington Love vs. Jordan Taylor
Carrington Love Stat Line: 7.65 PPG/5.52 APG/1.30 SPG/39.51 FG%
Jordan Taylor Stat Line: 9.04 PPG/5.22 APG/0.74 SPG/44.62 FG%
Look for Love and Taylor – two of the league’s flashiest ball handlers – to dictate the action on Sunday evening.
Both like to dish the ball to open teammates but have the ability to score points of their own, although expect the Lions’ point guard to attempt more shots from deep compared to Love, who typically drives down the lane.
If Love wants to get the better of his fellow American, he needs to maintain the high standard of on-ball defence he’s displayed since joining the Riders.
Taylor is one of the most efficient guards in the BBL when it comes to limiting turnovers, but if Love can pilfer a steal or two, that could be the difference between winning and losing.
Patrick Whelan vs. Aaron Best
Patrick Whelan Stat Line: 13.29 PPG/45.41 FG%/43.75 3P%
Aaron Best Stat Line: 11.86 PPG/48.99 FG%/41.45 3P%
The battle of the sharpshooters comes between shooting guards Patrick Whelan and Lions’ captain, Aaron Best.
The Brit and the Canadian are both hitting over 41% of their shots from three-point range and provide a constant threat from beyond the arc.
There is a chance that Whelan and Best will cancel each other out, but if Whelan can get hot, the impact will carry further than his points total.
The Warrington native has the ability to spread the Lions’ defence, opening lanes for the likes of Mackenzie and Jackson.
If Whelan can make that corner spot his own early, the Riders could build an all-important first-half lead.
Zach Jackson vs. Miye Oni
Zach Jackson Stat Line: 15.86 PPG/5.88 RPG/52.30 FG%
Miye Oni Stat Line: 7.94 PPG/4.17 RPG/39.42 FG%
A quick glance over the stat lines paints a dominant picture in favour of Zach Jackson. The Riders’ wing forward is outperforming his American-Nigerian opponent in every key category, but discounting Oni could be perilous.
The 6’5” guard brings impressive pedigree, winning the 2019 Ivy League Player of the Year as a member of Yale University before playing 80 regular season games and 10 playoff games in the NBA for the Utah Jazz.
On his day, Jackson is one of the dynamite scorers in the BBL, dropping over 25 points in seven games since joining the Riders, but has never scored more than 20 against the Lions.
If there’s a time for Jackson to get one over on his man and shine offensively, it’s now.
Darien Nelson-Henry vs. Josh Sharma
Darien Nelson-Henry Stat Line: 8.07 PPG/6.13 RPG/0.51 BPG/58.65 FG%
Josh Sharma Stat Line: 9.20 PPG/5.12 RPG/1.78 BPG/61.87 FG%
We finally move onto the big men, as 6’11” Riders’ captain, Darien Nelson-Henry faces up against the 7’0” Josh Sharma, voted into the ‘All-British’ and ‘Defensive’ teams of the year.
Nelson-Henry, playing in his final game before retirement, has been a different animal during the playoffs. The tough American has averaged 12 PPG and 7.75 RPG in the last four games, vastly improving on his regular season totals.
Nelson-Henry’s relationship with Love looks to have hit its peak, and his movement into the paint has allowed him to find space for an easy shot where others wouldn’t.
He will need to call upon all of his experience and guile to match the 7-foot brick wall in Sharma.
The Lions’ centre often comes off the bench for London, but his impact is nothing short of seismic. He often puts up more than 10 points in a game and held his own block party against the Giants, knocking down six shots on the way to a big win.
The O2 Arena will be rocking this weekend – from the noise of the crowd and the sheer force between this heavyweight clash.
Kimbal Mackenzie vs. Luke Nelson
Kimbal Mackenzie Stat Line: 12.55 PPG/3.86 APG/46.38 FG%/89.25 FT%
Luke Nelson Stat Line: 10.61 PPG/4.32 APG/42.72 FG%/74.29 FT%
The final matchup that could shape the story of the game comes from two spark plugs off the bench, who may not directly face each other.
Mackenzie and Nelson will both bring energy and impact during the game, and how and when they are utilised by coaches Rob Paternostro and Ryan Schmidt will be interesting to see.
Mackenzie is all-energy and a true leader on the court. He may not start the game, but with his ability to step up in the clutch, be sure that he’ll finish it. Expect to see him play aggressively with the ball in his hands, driving to the basket regularly to force the Lions into foul trouble.
Nelson is a true playmaker who can put up points when he needs to. The British combo guard displayed this in a February win over Cheshire, dropping 21 points on the Phoenix while also handing out nine assists.
The two guards will provide quality play off the bench.
Should the starting line-ups cancel each other out, whoever wins this matchup may decide the outcome of the game.