Game Notes: Tulsa 66ers 92, Austin Toros 90

Alonzo Gee and the Toros couldn't get it done last night against Tulsa.

Okay, so I also got this one wrong.  For those of you who are reading RU for the first time this season, I live in Austin and try to hit up a couple of Toros games throughout the season to check out both them and other teams around the league.  I go, take notes, write up a recap that's way too long, and hopefully everyone learns something along the way.  Tulsa won't be back in town until the end of March, so I wanted to catch them while Mullens and Hardin were around.  Reading back over my notes a lot of them are pretty negative, but Mustafa Shakur, Dwayne Jones, Lewis Clinch and Squeaky Johnson all played pretty well.  Onward!

Actually, let's start at the end of the game.  Mustafa Shakur hit the game-winning jumper with 1.1 seconds left, and while Austin had a chance to tie it, Byron Mullens did a good job of denying the inbounds pass and forced the Toros to call a timeout.  When they came back, they threw it into Curtis Jerrells, who shot from at about three feet beyond the three-point line (it didn't go in, obviously).  I'll get to both Jerrells and Mullens in a bit, but staying with Shakur, I was pretty surprised to look up at the end of the game and see he finished with a game-high 26 points.  It's true that I didn't see him miss a whole lot, and he was a pretty good scorer in Europe so the result itself isn't the surprise, he just didn't stand out a whole lot to me.

The Toros had some problems defending the three-point line, namely that the guys guarding the perimeter (usually Lewis Clinch or Russell Carter) kept leaving their men, and Tulsa was usually able to move the ball around well enough that Shakur, Moses Ehambe and Cecil Brown got some nice looks.  Brown in particular was able to either get open or get to the rim pretty eaily (he finished with 19 points).  Larry Owens was pretty active defensively for the 66ers, but terrible offensively.  He missed some easy (and I mean like three feet from the hoop easy) shots, finished 3-12, and he also has bad hands.  When he drives to the rim it's pretty easy to poke the ball away from him, and in a lot of cases the defender didn't even have to touch him or the ball.  He did hit a three-pointer late to tie the game at 90, though.

In addition to Shakur's scoring, I was surprised to see that Byron Mullens finished with 11 rebounds.  Almost all of them came on the defensive end, and I'm sure some of them fell to him more than were actively rebounded by him, but that's still a pretty good night.  He was matched up against Justin Bowen early, which was an offensive advantage for each side.  Mullens doesn't have great moves, but the fact that he's six inches taller than Bowen meant that he could do a lot of work in the post.  On the other end, though, Bowen could basically just dribble past him.  Mullens also had a hard time guarding Dwayne Jones in the post, though, so I'm not sure what the answer is for him in that regard.  Mullens also needs to work on his conditioning, as he looked pretty winded late in the game (in fact, he was pretty much the only one sucking wind with three minutes left, even though four other guys played more minutes than he did).  Updated: I had this in my notes but forgot to transfer it over to this write-up.  There were a few possessions where Mullens did a nice job of going out to the midrange and hitting a few shots.  Dwayne Jones has had problems with stepping out on shooters and/or playing defense outside the paint, and this was a nice feature of Mullens's offensive game.  He's not always going to have that advantage, but it worked a few times last night.

DeVon Hardin is, in a word, bad.  There's certainly potential there, but if the D-League kept plus/minus stats (hint, hint), Hardin would've been minus, like, a lot.  I'll cut him a little slack since he's only been with the team for two days and so hasn't had time to practice all the plays and such, but he has bad hands, gets lost on defense, at this point can't do anything other than dunk, and oh by the way did I mention that he bricked two dunks?  I'll give you three lays to support my claim.  Tulsa had a 3-on-1 early on with Hardin and someone else around the basket and Shakur coming down court.  Shakur passed it to Hardin, who wasn't ready for it.  He had been expecting an alley-oop, you see.  Not just a regular chest pass.  Despite the fact that he was watching Shakur as he executed a chest pass, and had enough time to get his hands in position.  Example two: the Toros had the ball, had moved it around and had gotten an open three.  Hardin ran out to the perimeter and leapt to block the shot, only it went over his outstretched arm.  The shot missed, only Hardin had taken himself completely out of the play and his man, Dwayne Jones, had no one around to prevent the putback.  Example the third: Hardin finally got a legitimate alley-oop chance when Jones wasn't paying attention to where the ball was, only when he leapt to try and catch the ball Hardin knocked it out of bounds instead.  What I'm saying is that DeVon Hardin needs work.

Alonzo Gee had a pretty quiet night, 10 points on 3-10 shooting, and it wasn't all because of Larry Owens's defense.  I've implied before that Gee isn't a good shooter, and that's not entirely the case; he has a very nice shot when he spots up or when coming off of screens.  He's not very good shooting off the dribble, however.  There was an instance early in the game where he was getting double-teamed, but went up in the air without having decided whether to shoot or pass to an open teammate, and as such he lost the ball.  He also got a dumb (really dumb) goaltending penalty in the second quarter, so perhaps his focus wanes a bit when he's not playing well.

Curtis Jerrells dominated the ball tonight, and I don't mean that in a good way (if there is a good way to mean it).  he finished with seven assists, true, but he also took a bunch of ill-advised shots and turned the ball over six times, and there were way too many possessions where it was clear that he wasn't looking to get his teammates involved.  It reminded me a little of DeMarcus Nelson, only Nelson is a lot better at finishing and also is smarter about not driving into clusters of defenders.  Jerrells does a decent job of running the pick and roll, with a few caveats; first, the vast majority of the time he shoots a long two when coming off the pick rather than going to the basket, even though he's not only better at driving than at shooting but also good at drawing fouls.  The other caveat is that he shoots right after coming off the pick, as in, he's almost shoulder-to-shoulder with the guy setting the pick.  It doesn't provide a lot of space between him and the defender, and as a consequence he takes a lot more contested shots than he otherwise might.  He also was pretty terrible defensively, as a lot of Shakur's points came from just driving right by Jerrells, who also fell for the minor-est (not a word) of crossovers and fakes.  Jerrells is indeed talented, he just had a really poor game.

Dwayne Jones has clearly been working on his post moves in the offseason, and while they're still not great (he missed several close shots and dribbled the ball off his foot in the fourth quarter), he looks a lot more fluid executing them, and against Mullens and Hardin he could basically do whatever he wanted down low.  In addition to the spin move he "had" last year he's added one where he goes underneath the basket and lays it in from the other side, which was pretty effective.  He finished with three blocks, including one that was beautifully timed and ended with him just taking the ball away from the guy trying to lay it in (I can't remember who it was...Yemi Ogunoye maybe?).

As for the rest of the Toros...this might end up as Quin Snyder's greatest coaching job yet, at least as the roster is presently constructed and assuming they make the playoffs.  Bowen, Clinch and Carter are all capable of contributing offensively, and Clinch hit some tough shots late, but they're by no means polished and also tend to get lost defensively, as I mentioned earlier.  I still think Jerrells should've looked for his teammates more (mainly Gee), but I could also see why he might be hesitant.  Carter in particular missed some easy shots.  Backup power forward David McClure looked really bad.  He's active, but too active, in that he's in such a frenzy to double the ball or pressure the perimeter or whatever that he leaves his man open.  Here was a comical/sad sequence.  He was guarding Hardin but lost him, leading to a Hardin dunk.  Then when running back up court he wasn't paying attention and ran into Hardin, sending both of them to the floor.  Then when Tulsa got the ball back he fouled Hardin.  This team needs bench help.

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