New Zealand Next Star nabs career-best outing

THE National Basketball League (NBL) hosts a number of young guns and NBA hopefuls through its Next Star program, with one New Zealand Breakers prospect excelled in his side’s emphatic win over the Cairns Taipans over the weekend.

Hailing from Europe, Mantas Rubstavicius has been settling into the competition over the past couple of months after missing the opening rounds through injury. However, he was given his first start on the weekend, and repaid the faith with a marvellous scoring performance.

The Breakers took on the Taipans at the Cairns Convention Centre on Friday night despite the wild weather in North Queensland, and needed an improved performance to knock off one of the form sides of the league. Cairns had finally found the answers on the offensive end, while New Zealand was sliding down the standings after a form slump.

However, the Breakers delivered their best showing of the 2023/24 season, completely outplaying the Taipans on both ends of the floor. It was the best New Zealand had looked with ball in hand all year, and showed the talent the team possesses, with three players scoring 20 or more points. The Taipans simply had no answer, and were restricted to just 82 points as the visitors claimed a 29-point triumph.

One of the most pleasing aspects of the win from a New Zealand perspective was the performance of Rubstavicius, who showed his capabilities with an offensive explosion.

Cairns Taipans (82) def. by New Zealand Breakers (111)

Mantas Rubstavicius – 21 points, eight rebounds, three assists, one steal

It was far and away the Next Star’s best performance since joining the league, making the most of extra opportunity.

Rubstavicius was given a start for the first time in his NBL career, hitting the court for nearly double his normal minutes and playing with a new sense of freedom as a result.

He was one of a trio of New Zealand players to tick over the 20-point mark, finishing with 21 for the match. Rubstavicius shot 5/8 from the field, but his biggest strength was his ability to draw contact. He played with an improved level of aggressiveness, particularly when New Zealand tried to press and put pressure on the ball-handler.

Instead of passing out, Rubstavicius drove at the defence and by putting them on the back foot to stop his drive, forced fouls at a consistent rate. He went a perfect 9/9 from the charity stripe, overcoming the vocal crowd as they tried to put him off, but his mental maturity was on show.

New Zealand had struggled on the glass of late, and often sustained a loss when it was bested in the rebounding battle. Rubstavicius stepped up on this front in an effort that was reflective of the Breakers as a whole in this game.

In his first eight games, the forward pulled down eight rebounds in total, but he doubled that tally after Friday’s match. It was evident that this was an area that was highlighted coming into the game for New Zealand, and Rubstavicius absolutely answered the call.

It was a breakout performance for the NBA Draft hopeful, as Rubstavicius showed exactly what he can do if given the opportunity.

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