BBL: Monthly awards for the top teams in the north

The first monthly awards of the 2021-22 BBL season have gone to representatives of the top two teams from the highly competitive BBL Cup North Group, with Lloyd Gardner and Jordan Johnson recognised for their early-season efforts.

Manchester Giants finished atop that group with a 6-2 record, and their play-caller, Gardner, wins the Molten BBL Coach of the Month award for September/October. Giants split their opening two BBL Championship games last weekend for an overall record of 7-3 so far, which is the club’s best start to a campaign since they returned to the BBL in 2012.

What will have particularly pleased Manchester’s fans – as they watch games in-person for the first time at the National Basketball Performance Centre – is that five of those triumphs have come in derby games against their rivals Cheshire Phoenix and B. Braun Sheffield Sharks, including going 4-0 against those opponents in the Cup.

Adding their last game in the league, they have beaten North West rivals Cheshire on three occasions already and two of those have been nail-biters, both on the road, as they firstly came through overtime to win their opening game of the season, and then in their last outing won 92-91 on a late free-throw. Giants also beat Cheshire handily at home, and will host the North West derby once more on Friday 12 November, live on Sky Sports.

The North Group was incredibly competitive, with the final placings only settled after the very last game, and Manchester finished top after also doing the double over Newcastle Eagles – the first time they had beaten Eagles back-to-back in nine years back in the top flight.

The groundwork for this award, and Giants’ good start, was arguably done over the summer as Gardner recruited impressively. Adding to his local core of North West talent, he made a huge splash with the signing of Great Britain captain Dan Clark, alongside fellow internationals Josh Steel, Jamell Anderson and Will Saunders; and added to that the dynamic American backcourt of Tyrik Armstrong and Martaveous McKnight, who between them are averaging a combined 29 points, eight assists and seven rebounds per game, shooting 39% from the three-point line.

Armstrong has featured three times in the weekly BBL All-Star 5, joint-most of any player so far, while Clark has featured twice and McKnight has been an off the bench selection on three occasions.

With shooters all over the floor, and making more than 10 three-pointers a game at a league second best 37%, Giants are the third highest scoring team in the BBL through the Cup games, and second in bench scoring – with that depth being a key emphasis of the new-look Giants.

Picking up the Molten BBL Player of the Month award to open the new season is Glen Luss Glasgow Rocks’ new point guard, Jordan Johnson, who joined in the summer following professional campaigns in the NBA G-League, the Netherlands and Kosovo, after graduating from UNLV where he posted a standout 14 points and six assists a game.

Glasgow were the only team to beat Giants in the BBL Cup group stages, twice, and Johnson was big in both of those games, firstly with 19 points, eight rebounds and eight assists at the Emirates Arena, and then with 15 points, eight rebounds and eight assists on the road, helping the team to a 5-3 start.

Rocks finished second in the group to progress to the BBL Cup quarter finals with a home tie, and overall for the months of September and October Johnson averaged 19 points, eight assists and six rebounds per outing, shooting the three at 37%, but perhaps more impressively showing his strength going to the rim as he shot 60% inside and got to the free-throw line five times a game, drawing the most fouls of any player and scoring the second most free-throws overall. Through the Cup campaign so far, he is second in the BBL in scoring and third in assists.

Perhaps his standout performance came in the 100-93 home win over Cheshire Phoenix that guaranteed second place in the North group, as Johnson posted a huge double-double of 21 points and 15 assists, including an astonishing 14 points and seven assists in a fourth quarter where Rocks scored 31 points to come from behind – they only scored three baskets in that fourth period that Johnson wasn’t involved in. He scored eight points inside the last three minutes, including the three-pointer that broke a tie and put Glasgow up for good in a key victory.

Johnson has shown great consistency, with more than 15 points and more than five assists in every game he has played, while he has twice been selected to the BBL All-Star 5 already this season.

This weekend will see the two prize winners clash as Giants host Rocks on Sunday at the National Basketball Performance Centre, although Gardner and his team must first negotiate another clash with local rivals Sheffield on Friday night.