It's finally time for the final D-League playoff series to begin. Scott has the Vipers winning in two games and Mike Gansey likes them in three, while I've picked Reno to take the series in three games. Controversy!
The game tips at 5 pm ET and can be watched live on Futurecast.
These two teams are a little more familiar with each other than some of the other playoff matchups, having faced off four times in the regular season. RIo Grande Valley won three of those games, including a 109-76 shellacking (I love that word) back in February. The Vipers' roster has been fairly fluid all season, though, with multiple guys going back and forth to and from the NBA. Reno has made a few trades, notably swapping point guards with the Maine Red Claws. Reno has won 12 of their last 15 games, while RGV has gone 8-7 over their last 15.
Scott declared Austin/Dakota to be the best matchup of the first round, and game 1 was very good at least. I think this also will be a good series with some hard-fought games and interesting matchups. Hit the jump to see what I mean.
PG: Will Conroy vs. Will Blalock - Blalock has been getting his game and himself back in working order after suffering a stroke in 2008. He's been inconsistent this year, although his assists and shooting percentages all have picked up since the trade to Reno. Conroy got a call-up with the Rockets earlier this season, and probably deserved to have some team sign him for the season. His scoring is down this season, but so are his turnovers, and his assists and shooting percentages are both up. RGV has the definite advantage here.
SG: Antonio Anderson vs. Desmon Farmer - Anderson also received a call-up this season, with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He's known primarily for his defense, though reality probably lags a little behind the reputation. He's still pretty solid there, and he also picks up a fair amount of assists and rebounds for a shooting guard. His offense comes and goes, though. Farmer finished fourth in the league in scoring at a little under 24 points a game. He battled turnover issues throughout the year, though, and didn't always have the best attitude. His turnovers have declined over the last month, and he's been scoring fairly efficiently. This should be an interesting matchup to watch.
SF: Ernest Scott vs. Mo Charlo - Scott is a good three-point shooter who has improved in that area every season he's been in the D-League; he's up to 41.4 percent this season. He rebounds a little bit, but otherwise doesn't add much else to the box score and isn't that great inside the arc. Charlo is an excellent rebounder for his position, although he's curiously fallen off a bit in that area lately. He doesn't provide much on offense, nor should he probably try.
PF: Stanley Asumnu vs. Doug Thomas - Asumnu is actually shorter than Scott, but he plays more inside and so has gotten the starts at this position. He's okay. He's mostly played well lately, though he's not always very efficient or consistent. Thomas is another good rebounder who as developed some consistent offense in March and April. He has a great beard and can dunk, so that's fun.
C: Julian Sensley vs. Rod Benson - Like Asumnu, Sensley is okay, I guess. He's played well at times, but overall I feel underwhelmed whenever I watch him. Sensley averaged fewer rebounds per-game this year than many non-centers like Charlo, Conroy and Coby Karl. Both per-game and per-minute his rebounding numbers are pretty close to Kevin Pittnogle. Need I say more? Rod Benson really should've gotten a call-up this year. He had some injury issues earlier in the year, but he's a very good shotblocker, rebounder and pick and roll defender, with a burgeoning offensive game. Benson should (should) be able to handle Sensley with few problems.
RIo Grande Valley Bench: Guard Jonathan Wallace often plays alongside Conroy and Anderson (or whomever the two starting guard is). His numbers have picked up since March, though some of that may have come with increased playing time. He's a smart player who helps facilitate the offense, although he's also capable of shooting 2-6 at any time. Mickell Gladness is the backup center, and he rebounds even less than Sensley does - but is supposedly known for his defnse. I do like Craig Winder, who's a pretty capable scorer off the bench, but beyond these guys the Vipers roster tends to be more flotsam than anything else. It should be interesting to see what Rich Melzer can do after a couple of practices with the team.
Reno Bench: The Bighorns bench has been playing very well over their run the last few weeks. D.J. Strawberry is a good, big backup point guard and a good defender, though his offense comes and goes. RIchie Frahm is a good shooter who has made 47 percent of his three-pointers since he came back from Europe in late February. Cezary Trybanski is a talented shot-blocker. Yaroslav Korolev is athletic and can contribute in multiple areas, although he's still a bit inconsistent. I think Reno has the edge here.
Coaches: RGV's Chris Finch is in his first year after serving as the head coach of Britain's national team (I guess he's still their coach, so "concurrent with"). The Vipers have their first winning season in the franchise's history, although some (maybe even a lot) of that has to do with having so many NBA prospects on the roster. Finch is running a variation of the Rockets' system, but it also has taken advantage of his players' strengths. Jay Humphries hasn't always impressed me this season, although it certainly seems as if the team has come together recently. Again, though, that may be attributed somewhat to roster construction.
Score prediction: These teams will have had almost a week off, which can leave teams either rested or rusty. I think it will be the latter in RGV's case, and Reno has multiple players who can rebound their missed threes. I like the Bighorns in this one, 97-88.
Random prediction: Team shooting woes aside, I think Conroy drops a triple-double.