Grant Chapman: NZ Breakers' all-time greatest Kiwi line-up

OPINION: While the Australian NBL has seemingly dodged the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, its effects may yet linger into the next season.

Commercial uncertainty and slashed salaries may see some of the league's top talent looking elsewhere for more lucrative earning opportunities.

With that context, now would be a poignant moment in history to reflect on the best to wear the NZ Breakers uniform since they debuted in the competition 17 years ago, starting with our homegrown performers.

These are the names that have helped the club to four ANBL crowns, while blazing a trail for young Kiwis to follow through professional ranks.

Significantly, Newshub's starting five and sixth man all formed the nucleus of a team that captured the Breakers' first title in 2011.

Point Guard - Paul Henare

250 games (2003-11), 1320 points (5.28 av), 901 assists, 209 steals

Statistically, you won't find Henare near the top of many scoring rankings, although by the time he retired, he led the club in appearances and barely missed a game over his eight years.

He still holds the club's all-time assist record and was the first Breakers player to have his number retired, before moving into coaching ranks, where he guided them to the 2018 semi-finals.

Paul Henare in action for the Breakers
Paul Henare in action for the Breakers. Photo credit: Photosport

But his other strengths outweighed his lack of scoring - he was a smart and strong defender of opposition playmakers, and controlled the tempo of games masterfully.

Shooting Guard - Kirk Penney

160 games (2007-11, 2016-18), 3223 points (20.14 av), 650 rebounds

By the time he returned home in 2007, Penney had already established himself as one of the world's best shooters through college (University of Wisconsin), professional (NBA, Spain, Israel, Lithuania, Germany) and international (Tall Blacks) basketball.

His arrival helped turn the Breakers into real championship contenders, elevating him to the 2009 Most Valuable Player crown, three scoring titles and four All-NBL selections.

Surprisingly, he was on deck for only the first of their four titles, but his presence helped Andrej Lemanis consolidate his tenuous hold on the coaching role long enough to turn their fortunes around.  

Small Forward - Tom Abercrombie

331 games (2008-present), 3776 points (11.4 av), 1549 rebounds, 243 blocks, 226 steals

Abercrombie began his career as an uber-athlete and has matured into a multi-faceted performer with real leadership qualities.

Discovered as a teenager at Westlake Boys High, he was invited on a pre-season tour of China, but turned down a fulltime contract to take up a US college scholarship.

Returning to Auckland, he served his apprenticeship at the Breakers and was a surprise finals MVP, when they won their first title in 2011. 

His All-NBL selection the following season, when he averaged 15.3 points a game, was less of a surprise and while that has been the individual highlight of his career, Abercrombie has become the man for all seasons, adapting his game to whatever his team needs.

A career 36 percent three-point shooter, he connected on 46 percent last season - the league's best for players attempting more than four a game - and became the club's all-time leading scorer. 

Defensively, he's not just a high-flying shot-blocker, but often spearheads the Breakers press.

Power Forward - Mika Vukona

354 games (2003-08, 2010-18), 2583 points (7.3 av), 2386 rebounds, 653 assists, 252 steals, 102 blocks

If you don't understand the outrage over Vukona's number being gifted to a teenage pretender, you don't really understand what Vukona has meant to the Breakers, since he debuted in their inaugural season. 

Mika Vukona in action for the Breakers
Mika Vukona in action for the Breakers. Photo credit: Newshub.

Like Henare, he has never been a prolific scorer, averaging double-figure points only once in his 13 seasons, but has been an indomitable force of nature, often willing his team to victory through sheer hard-headedness.

Take his performance during 2010/11 semifinals, when he suffered a supposed season-ending knee injury, but rallied the Breakers from a series-opening home defeat to success over Perth and, ultimately, the title.    

Throughout his career, Vukona has been tough enough and smart enough to out-manoeuvre much bigger opponents.

He has won more ANBL titles than any other Kiwi player, worn the Breakers singlet more often than anyone else and his number must be retired as soon as he does.

Centre - Alex Pledger

238 games (2009-2018), 1762 points (7.4 av), 1293 rebounds, 254 blocks

At 2.13m, the 'Chief' is living proof of the old basketball adage that you can't coach height, but he's also a testament to the fact that coachable height is a rare and beautiful thing.

At his best, Pledger was perhaps the premier seven-footer in the league or, at the very least, a big body to counter anything other teams had at the time. His duels with former NBA centre Luke Schenscher pitted him against a worthy adversary of similar stature.

He was the Breakers' secret weapon during their championship era, with his presence around the basket allowing teammates to gamble on defence, knowing the club's best-ever shot-blocker had their backs.

Offensively, he had a variety of polished post moves, mobility enough to get to the ring for a pick-and-roll dunk and a surprisingly soft shooting touch on the pick-and-pop.

Pledger was quite nimble for someone of his size. More recently, his physical powers were eroded by injury, but he remained a fan favourite, and his departure was sad and premature.  

Sixth Man - Dillon Boucher

220 games (2003-05, 2008-13), 761 points (3.5 av), 939 rebounds, 640 assists, 288 steals

With his full arsenal of skills, Boucher is a perfect choice for the role of first man off the bench.

He had the playmaking ability of a point guard, the cunning of a defensive pickpocket (and club leader in steals), the courage to match up against bigger and stronger rivals, and shooting touch to… OK, maybe not that.

Most tellingly, the 2010 Defensive Player of the Year had the ability to help others around him play better and a vision for the game that may yet see him return as a coach one day.  

His charisma proved a valuable recruitment tool for the Breakers and made him a popular choice as general manager when he retired.

The Breakers were probably never more dominant than when Boucher and Vukona - warriors of very similar skill and mindsets - played tag team at the power forward spot.


Shea Ili

100 games (2014-19), 584 points (5.8 av), 207 assists

At point guard, Ili was also strong defensively, and a better athlete and scorer than Henare, but saw his tenure at the Breakers cut short with the arrival of American wiz kid RJ Hampton last summer. Hopefully, he'll be back.

Corey Webster

209 games (2008-11, 2012-18, 2018-present), 2292 points (11.0 av), 372 rebounds, 400 assists, 142 steals

The Breakers have been particularly well served at the shooting guard position over the years and Webster clearly has the potential to surpass Penney as our greatest, but 2016 club MVP hasn't quite cement his legacy and the clock is winding down.

Corey Webster in action for the Breakers
Corey Webster in action for the Breakers. Photo credit: Photosport

Phill Jones

97 games (2003/04, 2007-09), 1372 points (14.1 av)

Another of New Zealand's greatest shooters spent only three seasons with the Breakers, including their first, but won NBL Sixth Man honours in 2009, as Penney's back-up.

Aaron Olson

130 games (2003-07), 1800 points (13.8 av), 384 rebounds, 282 assists, 118 steals

The Canadian-born Kiwi was a rock-steady dependable combo guard, earning club MVP honours in 2004/05 and never missing a game over Breakers' first four seasons.

Pero Cameron

56 games (2003-05), 590 points (10.5 av)

The NZ hoops legend left the Breakers acrimoniously after the first two seasons, with the general manager infamously comparing him to a sack of potatoes. Fair to say, he was never quite able to recreate his Tall Blacks form in the Aussie league.  

Pero Cameron in action for the Breakers
Pero Cameron in action for the Breakers. Photo credit: Photosport

Tai Webster & Issac Fotu

Both passed through the Breakers development ranks, before heading to the States on college scholarships.

Now that they have developed into world-class performers at point guard and power forward respectively, the club would love to lure them back home from Europe and may get that opportunity, if coronavirus wreaks havoc on the professional market over the coming year.

Grant Chapman is Newshub online sports editor