Here’s the intro to this week’s Hoop Scoop column, which highlights one of the elite teams in Japan’s B. League:
The Utsunomiya Brex, who are built to win now, upgraded their roster in recent weeks.
The addition of veteran forward Jawad Williams, who played an integral role for the Alvark Tokyo in their back-to-back B. League championship seasons (2017-18 and 2019-20), and rookie point guard Kai Toews has bolstered the team’s talented rotation.
Utsunomiya has the luxury of not needing Williams or Toews to be primary scorers. Nor are they needed to shoulder the defensive load.
Instead, both can blend into the Brex’s overall game plan, utilizing their talents. Which has been demonstrated in the weeks since Williams and Toews made their Brex debuts on Dec. 28 and Jan. 15, respectively.
This season’s title chase, meanwhile, looks like a thrilling race to the finish line.
Four East Division teams have 25 or more victories through Sunday. The Brex and Alvark have 28-9 records, while the Chiba Jets are 26-11 and the Sunrockers Shibuya are 25-12. The Central Division-leading Kawasaki Brave Thunders are also 28-9. Can another playoff-bound team or contender, including the Ryukyu Golden Kings, Osaka Evessa, Shiga Lakestars, Kyoto Hannaryz and SeaHorses Mikawa, make a magical run?
For the Brex, limiting mistakes is one of their hallmarks. They have the league’s fewest turnovers per game (9.3).
Averaging 81.3 points per game (No. 5 in the 18-team league), coach Ryuzo Anzai’s squad also possesses a potent 3-point shooting attack (9.2 per game, No. 3 in the circuit).
Williams fits into the Brex system as a player who can stretch the defense. Since his debut for the Tochigi Prefecture-based club, the University of North Carolina alum has made 46.9 percent of his 3s (15 of 32).
In 16 Brex games, all coming off the bench, Williams, who turns 37 on Feb. 19, is averaging 7.0 points and 3.1 rebounds. This includes 17- and 16-point performances against the Golden Kings on Jan. 4 and 5.
Toews, who was second among NCAA Division I players in assists last season (7.7 per game, trailing only current Memphis Grizzlies rookie Ja Morant) as a freshman, has appeared in nine Brex contests. The 188-cm backcourt catalyst is getting about 11.5 minutes of playing time per game. He’s averaging 6.4 points and 2.3 assists.
This enables him to provide a burst of energy here and there. It also gives the 21-year-old Tokyo native opportunities to study the game up close while observing the team’s successful backcourt players, including Makoto Hiejima, Yusuke Endo and Hironori Watanabe.