Updated picture thanks to my good friends at the D-League office.
Typically, I do my best to shield myself from ever being wrong. This morning, though, I'm opening myself up to that very notion thanks to the suggestion from Basketballogy for me to break down the D-League playoffs. I was going to consult Jon L to come up with an RU consensus, but figured I'd go off the cuff instead - first instincts are always right, right?
That said, I'm ready to rank the playoff teams in order of how I'd bet on them to win a D-League championship if I were able to bet on such things. All of this will probably change knowing that this weekend includes quite a few match-ups between potential playoff teams (series' between Iowa @ Tulsa, Utah @ Austin, Dakota @ Rio Grande Valley and a win-or-go-home game Sunday between Tulsa and Reno for the D-League season finale) along with the mass e-mails I'm prepared for from angry fans/GM's/etc.
The way I'd rank the playoff teams right now in terms of how they'll do in the playoffs (not necessarily caring about in-season play) is:
1. Austin Toros - They have to be the favorites - the combination of Curtis Jerrells, Marcus Williams and Dwayne Jones is almost certainly the best 3-man team in the D-League. If San Antonio assigns Alonzo Gee (and/or Garrett Temple) to the mix, they get that much better. With Quin Snyder coaching and a lot of guys (Squeaky Johnson, Eric Dawson, Williams and Jones) that have been in the system for awhile, I can't pick against them.
2. Sioux Falls Skyforce - Sioux Falls boasts the best frontcourt in the league with Alexander Johnson, Greg Stiemsma, Raymond Sykes and the recently assigned BIG Nate Jawai - and it's really not close. Will be tough for almost every team to match-up with them and if Kirk Penney can score like he did last game, it opens a lot of things up.
3. Rio Grande Valley Vipers - In ranking them here, I'm assuming they get Mike Harris back on assignment from the Houston Rockets. They don't have anyone that can play down low, though, which worries me (though I'm told newly-acquired Rich Melzer can score in the pain). They've been great all season, but I think the call-ups just happened too often for them to be great in the playoffs.
4. Dakota Wizards - They have veteran leadership at every position on the court (Maurice Baker, Renaldo MajorCorsley Edwards and among them), are playing great defense and have had, essentially, the same core-team all season. They'll miss the scoring of Romel Beck, but are much better on defense with Major starting.
5. Tulsa 66ers - The 66ers just beat Austin with Mustafa Shakur and Larry Owens, their top two players, combining for 14 points. Consider they could get DJ White assigned and that's a pretty dangerous team.
6. Iowa Energy - Without Cartier Martin, and already missing Othyus Jeffers and Courtney Sims, I don't think they have enough firepower. They're scrappy, but Earl Barron isn't enough of a consistent presence and Curtis Stinson has been attempting to do too much already.
7. Maine Red Claws - They have too much eye candy. The roster certainly looks nice (six players with NBA experience), but they're just not gelling right now. Maybe this changes in the playoffs when call up chances are almost zilch, but right now I don't think they care about winning as much as they do about their own numbers.
8. Utah Flash - I just don't see it. Losing Carlos Wheeler hurts them, because I'm not a fan of fellow big man Luke Nevill and recently re-acquired Brian Jackson doesn't seem to be in basketball shape after not playing anywhere else this season. They don't seem to have great leadership (they lead the league in technical fouls) and unlike the Jazz, they're not a great defensive team - especially after losing Dontell Jefferson for the season.
Left out: The Reno Bighorns are looking good right now, but it seems to be too little, too late for the second year in a row.