It's finally here. The D-League Finals begin tonight at 5 pm eastern with the #2-ranked Rio Grande Valley Vipers facing the #8-ranked Tulsa 66ers - though unfortunately we won't be able to watch until midnight on Versus (which I don't agree with). Scott and I have have been previewing various aspects of this matchup for the past few days, and if you missed any of it you can find them here:
- Rio Grande Valley Vipers Season in Review
- Tulsa 66ers Season in Review
- RGV vs. Tulsa in the Regular Season
Today Scott and I have formed like a two-man Voltron to present our preview of how these teams match up by position. Join us (or at least me, Scott might be busy with GTLs Editor's Note: I might be, but who knows) tonight during the game as we get our live blog going in the comment thread.
PG: Will Conroy vs. Wink Adams - Moved into the starting lineup after the recall of Thunder assignee Mustafa Shakur, Adams came through for Tulsa in game 2 of the semifinals series when he scored 24 points with six assists and just two turnovers in over 35 minutes. Adams has played a total of 14 games for the 66ers (nine in the regular season, five in the playoffs), so he's likely still learning the team's offense. He also was more known as a scorer at UNLV, and while he apparently had a decent defensive reputation there, he's not the biggest guard around. RGV's Will Conroy was one of the best point guards in the D-League this season (if not the best), averaging 16 points, 10 assists and six rebounds per game. He also reduced his turnovers this year and even moreso in the playoffs. The Vipers have several players who can handle the ball, but Conroy is the guy who keeps their offense on track. Advantage: Vipers, unanimously.
SG: Jonathan Wallace vs. Cecil Brown - Actually, this is about as even as it's going to get with any match-up in the finals. Both are able to run the offense when called upon (Wallace has has a bit more experience as he played point guard at Georgetown), but are primarily in the starting lineup for stretching the defense. Consider that Wallace has shot an impressive 15-of-27 from beyond the arc during the postseason, though, while Brown has hit 7-of-9. Advantage: Draw. It's pretty difficult to give the edge to either player for me because even though one will outperform the other, it's tough to determine which is going to have the hot hand throughout. (Scott)
SF: Antonio Anderson vs. Deron Washington - This should be a very interesting matchup to watch. Washington began the year with the Los Angeles D-Fenders, and both there and right after he got to Tulsa he spent a lot of time shooting ill-advised shots, such as three-pointers and almost any two-point jumper outside of the paint. More recently, however, his offense has consisted almost solely of driving to the rim for a layup or a dunk while getting to the free-throw line in the process. Anderson is a good perimeter defender who's more of a shooting guard playing slightly out of position, although he has the size to do so, is a good rebounder for his position and also hands out a fair number of assists. He's athletic and was able to blow by his defender to get to the rim against Austin, but Washington might be better able to keep up with him. One thing to watch out for in this matchup is that Anderson picked up a few technicals arguing calls (or non-calls) in the Toros series, while Washington frustrated Iowa with his...let's call it ability to draw fouls. Advantage: Jon L is leaning towards the Vipers, but ultimately called it a draw. Scott will go withe Vipers.
PF: Mike Harris vs. Larry Owens - I think this match-up is a lot closer than it's going to be given credit for because both are combo-forwards in the D-League and vital - absolutely vital - for their team to win. However, Harris was named the D-League's Most Valuable Player and Owens was named a measly All-D-League Third Team forward. I would credit Owens for being the better passer with Harris being a much better rebounder. While both can score, Harris is more aggressive in this aspect - and that's not such a bad thing. Advantage: In the box score, it's going to be Harris - though I don't think Owens will look bad, either. (Scott)
C: Julian Sensley vs. Marcus Lewis - Sensley prefers playing out on the perimeter, and he averaged about three three-point shots per game this season. He has some rebounding ability, but is often too far from the basket to put it into practice. Mike Harris is closer to their inside presence anyway, so it's possible that Lewis will be matched up against Harris while Owens covers Sensley outside. Lewis is a decent player who doesn't put up huge numbers but who fits what Tulsa does both on offense and defense. He produced a little more in the Iowa series, but that may have been due to a minutes increase that came with moving into the starting lineup. Advantage: Jon L gave the advantage to the 66ers in this one, while Scott's apt to calling it a draw.
Rio Grande Valley Bench: Rio Grande Valley doesn't go as deep into its bench as it could, but we'll break it down anyway ... Craig Winder is the top option off of the bench as this is his third season for the Vipers and thus knows the ins and outs of the D-League quite well. Winder's not much of a shooter, but gets to the basket quite well and can be quite pesky on defense ... Rich Melzer is 6-foot-8 D-League veteran that brings frontcourt savvy off of the bench for the Vipers. While he's underperformed since being acquired late in the season for Rio Grande Valley, he seems to be finding his niche as of late. He also won a D-League championship with Albuquerque in 2005-06, which may or may not help ... Stanley Asumnu, affectionately known as "The Animal", brings what you would think a guy nicknamed The Animal would bring off the bench - energy. I'm not sure he does anything exceptionally well, but the 6-foot-5 forward isn't going to hurt the Vipers while he's on the court ... Ernest Scott is a 6-foot-7 three-point specialist. He isn't exceptional - or even very good - at anything else, but he's been pretty good from beyond the arc for the past couple of seasons in the D-League ... Mickell Gladness has appeared in three games this postseason, playing for nine total minutes and contributing two fouls, a block and two missed free-throws. While there isn't much need for him, the lanky rookie is a decent shot blocker when given the opportunity ... Sean Barnette is a guard you probably won't see unless there are injuries or foul trouble, but he did start his season for the Iowa Energy - so there's that.
Tulsa Bench: The 66ers bring several big man off the bench who could affect this series to varying degrees. The first is Latavious Williams, who was drafted by Tulsa straight out of high school and who was the second-best rebounder in the league this season. Really. If he can come off the bench to neutralize RGV's rebounding advantage at other positions, he can help Tulsa stay in the series. He also has started to develop a few offensive moves, though they're not at the point where they should be heavily relied on. The other is DeVon Hardin, who was drafted by the Thunder a few years ago and joined the 66ers after playing overseas. He's athletic, and can rebound and block shots, but he's very inconsistent and tries to block just about everything he can, three-point shots included, which often takes him out of the play. His offense at this point is probably less developed than Williams's. Their other two bench players are shooter Moses Ehambe and combo guard JaJuan Smith. I really like Ehambe, who made 46 percent of his threes during the regular season and 45 percent in the playoffs so far, though he doesn't really provide much else. Smith has been playing backup point guard with Adams in the starting lineup, but he also sometimes plays alongside Adams and is more of a scorer anyway.
Bench Advantage: Jon L says "as much as I like Williams and Ehambe, I probably will go with the Vipers, while Scott decided he's going to give the Tulsa 66ers the nod in this one. Oddly enough, we broke down the bench opposite of the team we picked though I don't know what that really says.
Prediction: Jon L says "Tulsa could pull one out if RGV can't stop, Latavious Williams dominates on the boards and either Cecil Brown or Moses Ehambe (or both) shoots the lights out, but I'm not sure that will happen. Vipers in two." Scott, on the other hand, doesn't have as much to say, but he's picking the Vipers in three. While his inkling says two, every postseason series has gone the distance - why change that now?