Rod Benson is just one of the many big men playing well so far this season.
Watching and/or reading the boxscores from last night's games solidified a theory I've been developing - centers and power forward are owning this league so far this season. That's not to say that there haven't been guards and swingmen also performing well, it's just that around the league, there are a lot of big guys doing solid-to-excellent work. A lot of shooters and slashers are playing overseas rather than the D-League this year, and the guys in the middle are taking advantage.
Update - the play by play data isn't available, but you can now find a PDF of the LA/Reno boxscore here. I go through it at the bottom of this post.
Erie BayHawks 109, Sioux Falls Skyforce 107 (OT)
Here's a good example of what I was talking about up top - John Bryant. The guy is killing it for Erie. He has double-doubles in all four games he's played so far, and in those four games he's shooting 60.8 percent from the field. Last night was probably his best performance yet - 26 points on 12-17 shooting, 16 rebounds (eight of which came on the offensive end) and a team-high four assists. If there's one thing he could improve on, it's getting to and converting from the free throw line. This was his first game with more than four foul shots and he went just 5-9 (he's shooting 53 percent on the season). If he ever figures that part out, he'll be a monster.
It wasn't just Bryant for the BayHawks. Donell Taylor made 14 of his 22 field goals on the way to 28 points (and had eight rebounds), Cedric Jackson finished with 19 points and eight rebounds off the bench and Jackie Manuel grabbed seven boards of his own. Still, Bryant has been this team's driving force so far. Sioux Falls got a solid performance from their own big man, Greg Stiemsma, who had 15 points on nine shots, 11 rebounds and seven blocks. Stiemsma hasn't shot the ball all that well, but his rebounding has been solid so far and he's now averaging a little over five blocks a game. Reggie Williams with 33 points, David Bailey with 10 assists and only one turnover, Joe Krabbenhoft with 10 boards - this team fought back from an 18-point halftime deficit to tie it at the end of regulation, but Leemire Goldwire missed the potential game-winning three at the end of overtime. Fun game.
The rest of last night's action is recapped for your convenience after the jump.
Rio Grande Valley Vipers 94, Tulsa 66ers 89
Garrett Temple had his best all-around game of the season thus far with 24 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals. He shot only 1-4 on threes, but given the rest of it, I'm willing to say whatever (which is different than the will to whatevs). The guys up front also played well, with Joey Dorsey collecting 12 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks and Mike Harris scoring 22 points. Ernest Scott was key off the bench for the Vipers with 13 points on 5-8 shooting, including making three of six three-point attempts.
This is hyperbole, but DeVon Hardin is killing this Tulsa team. The overall rebounding numbers are there, true, and he had seven last night, but he gets lost on defense and overeager to block shots and allows his man to score too easily (did you see Dorsey's and Harris's numbers in the preceding paragraph?). He also doesn't have the burgeoning offensive repertoire that Byron Mullens does; all Hardin can make at this point are dunks and layups, and even then he blew several layups in this game. I haven't really seen anything from him to justify his starting spot or the 28 minutes-per-game that he's averaging. I've said before that he's talented, but the 66ers have two other talented power forwards, Keith Clark and Latavious Williams, who deserve playing time as well. Williams played just under eight minutes last night, all in the first half, and finished with six points, two rebounds and a steal. He also made both of his free throws, whereas Hardin went 1-4. Even giving Hardin somewhere around 20 minutes a night, upping Williams to 10-12 minutes (consistently, no more of this DNP stuff) and keeping Clark at his 15-17 average (rather than the six minutes he played last night) would help improve all of those players' games in the long run and maybe even send a message to Hardin that he needs to focus.
But enough of my DeVon Hardin rant. Mullens played fairly well, with 21 points and nine rebounds, and Larry Owens had nine rebounds, five assists and four stealas. Mustafa Shakur struggled in this one, though, with 15 points on 12 shots and eight turnovers, and overall the 66ers shot just 2-12 from behind the arc and got just 14 points from their bench (six of which came from Williams, remember). They've played six games in the last 10 days, so maybe they just need some rest.
Austin Toros 104, Albuquerque Thunderbirds 103
This one was close all the way through. Malik Hairston had 20 points at halftime for the Toros, but scored only seven more in the second half and fouled out in 35 minutes of playing time. Alonzo Gee also had a better first half than a second, but he finished with 19 points and nine rebounds. Dwayne Jones had 13 points and 10 rebounds, but he was also limited by some foul trouble. Justin Bowen played well, 14 points on 6-9 shooting, and Curtis Jerrells picked up seven assists, but this team still has a three-point shooting problem, and they finished just 1-7 as a team (the one make being Hairston's) from behind the arc.
Kevin Pittsnogle got sent to the bench for this game (he still played, he just didn't start), which was a good move not just because he missed all of his field goals (again, which is kind of remarkable to write), but because his replacement in the starting lineup Cory Underwood played relatively well and finished with 10 points and eight rebounds. Yaroslav Korolev chipped in on the boards, grabbing 13 (five offensive) to go along with 11 points. The Thunderbirds were really led by Carlos Powell, though, who had 28 points, including 8-11 shooting from the free throw line, four rebounds and a pair of assists.
Utah Flash 104, Bakersfield Jam 99
This game was a little closer than I expected, but then Bakersfield getting 34 points and eight rebounds from Jared Newson will make that happen. Of course, Newson fouled out after 37 minutes of playing time, so it wasn't all positive for him. The Jam also got nice contributions from John Williams (16 points on nine shots, five assists) and Reece Gaines (18 points), but the talent gap was just too great, especially on the boards. Backup center Terrance Gamble had six rebounds, but otherwise no one other than the aforementioned Newson finished with more than three. Utah didn't have that many more rebounds as a team (31-28), but they got solid contributions in that area up and down the roster.
Andre Ingram shot the ball pretty well for the Flash, with 24 points on 8-12 shooting (including 4-7 on threes), and he added five rebounds and three assists. Dontell Jefferson missed all three of his three-point attempts but otherwise played well, finishing with 18 points, eight assists, five rebounds and three steals. Orien Greene also had 18 points, but he turned the ball over seven times. Jason Richards was again nice off the bench, with four assists in a little over 20 minutes, and Carlos Wheeler had 13 points, seven rebounds and two blocks.
Idaho Stampede 131, Dakota Wizards 99
What makes the Stampede's total even crazier is that it came on 98 possessions. Anthony Tolliver didn't have a great outside shooting night but got to the line and was able to finish with 19 points on 10 shots and 10 rebounds. Idaho owned the boards, in fact, outrebounding Dakota 49-32, and the disparity matches up with the Stampede's 17 offensive rebounds. Mildon Ambres had nine boards, Cedric Simmons and Emmanuel Jones each had seven and Sundiata Gaines added six to go with his 27 points and seven assists. Tolliver aside the team shot the ball well, with Lanny Smith making all three of his outside attempts, Gaines going 3-6, Ambres 4-9, Roberto Bergersen 2-4 and Mike Gansey making three of his four three-point shots. That's hard for any team to beat.
Romel Beck missed all of this threes but still managed to score 14 points on 22 shots, and David Bell had 24 points despite missing five of his eight three-point attempts. Jason Straight played well off the bench with 20 points on 6-10 shooting, though he also had three turnovers and didn't contribute much else. Connor Atchley played in his first game for the Wizards, getting 12 minutes off the bench, shooting 1-3 and picking up three fouls. You know what? Latavious Williams should get some of his minutes, too.
Maine Red Claws 115, Springfield Armor 89
Hey, so uh...these NBA guys are pretty good. They should, like, play in the NBA, or something. Trey Gilder has been coming off the bench for Maine, something he's not unfamiliar with, but he scored 20 points in 17 and a half minutes last night. 12 of those points came in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter, and a lot of them came from the free throw line. Maurice Maxwell just couldn't guard him, and picked up a lot of fouls (he eventually fouled out later in the game). Noel Felix was almost as good, scoring 13 points in 16 and a half minutes. Bill Walker had 17 points and five rebounds, Darnell Lazare also had 17 points, Billy Thomas had 12 points on five shots, and the last time the Armor had the lead was when the score was 5-4.
JamesOn Curry had another nice scoring night, with 20 points on 7-15 shooting, and he added eight rebounds. Of course, he had just three assists (and four turnovers), which helped contribute to a team-wide ball distribution problem; Springfield finished with just eight assists on the night. Major Wingate helped out on his end with 17 points and nine rebounds, although I'm not sure it can be called "help" when no one else was really doing anything. Kentrell Gransberry was limited to playing a little over 17 minutes because of foul trouble, and the other backup center James Cripe had more turnovers (four) than rebounds (three). The Armor fell to 0-4, and I really don't know what the answer is for them, other than maybe "acquire a real point guard." But hey, professional basketball is back in Springfield, MA, am I right?
LA D-Fenders 117, Reno Bighorns 111 (2OT)
This looks like a tough loss for Reno, because several things went right for them. Foremost among them was Desmon Farmer's game. Not just the 37 points and six assists, but also the three turnovers, which is a drastic reduction from what he's done so far this season. The team got double-doubles from Rod Benson (13 points, 10 rebounds) and Marcus Hubbard (11 and 10), Cezary Trybanski had four blocks in 20 minutes, and Doug Thomas gave some solid contributions with 6-7 shooting and six rebounds off the bench.
LA got some nice contributions of their own, obviously. Diamon Simpson played well again with 17 points and 14 rebounds, six of which came on the offensive glass. Michael Fey had 20 points and eight boards while coming off the bench, and Dar Tucker had a good shooting night (for him), 15 points on 10 shots, including going 3-5 from outside.
A lot of guys were in foul trouble, though, and while I didn't see this game and don't know whether that was a function of all the minutes or because the refs were calling it close, I'm inclined to believe the latter. Benson fouled out in less than 38 minutes, Thomas fouled out in less than 25 and Deron Washington fouled out in 32. Trybanski, Hubbard, Russell Robinson and Horace Wormely all finished with at least four fouls, and they played 20, 33 and a half, 34 and 33 minutes, respectively. Plus, James Jackson, Mo Charlo, Farmer and Reno coach Jay Humphries all got T'd up (and the three players got them at the same time), so there were either some jumpy whistles last night or this game was real chippy.