The first round series between the Tulsa 66ers (owned by the Oklahoma City Thunder) and Texas Legends (ran by the Dallas Mavericks) in the NBA D-League Playoffs encompasses almost exactly what the D-League is all about.
Each team's top player has been called up since the regular season ended (Texas lost point guard Antonio Daniels while Tulsa lost glue guy Larry Owens), but each team still features a hodgepodge of players the casual basketball fans are familiar with who fell off the NBA map along with the up-and-comers that typically round out the D-League rosters.
The coaching match-up is also interesting, featuring Tulsa's Nate Tibbetts and the Legends' Nancy Lieberman. Tibbetts has the most D-League head coaching experience of anyone in the playoffs with this being his second season at the helm of the 66ers after previously serving in the same capacity with the Sioux Falls Skyforce since 2007. Lieberman's story is known quite well as the Hall of Fame member was able to lead Texas into the playoffs after earlier this season becoming the first woman to coach men under the NBA banner.
Position by position breakdown after the jump.
PG: Tulsa's Jerome Dyson vs. Texas's Justin Dentmon
While both of these players are more scorers than distributors, each will be counted on heavily to distribute the ball to their team's scorers this postseason.
Dyson had been the 66ers' scorer off the bench, but when Tweety Carter decided to take his talents to Latvia, the rookie from UConn was forced to become more of a distributor. Dyson's assist totals haven't increased much since becoming a starter, however, and the 66ers are just 5-5 with the 6-foot-3 scorer in the starting lineup.
Dentmon has been overlooked all season in the D-League -- which isn't all that surprising consider the big names playing around him -- but the 6-foot standout will have all eyes on him following the departure of starting point guard Antonio Daniels. That might not be a bad thing, either, as Dentmon averaged 20.2 points and 4.2 assists last month while making 26 of his 53 three-point attempts.
Edge: I like what Dyson does defensively, but have to give the edge to Dentmon after noticing his recent surge in production.
SG: Tulsa's Robert Vaden vs. Texas's Dominique Johnson
This could be a fun little match-up considering both players have shown an elite scoring prowess from beyond the arc off the bench, but haven't been given too many opportunities in the starting lineup.
Vaden, a 6-foot-5 wing out of Alabama-Birmingham, is property of the Oklahoma City Thunder since they acquired him with the 54th overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. Vaden doesn't really contribute anywhere on the court aside from his outside shooting, but considering he's shooting 39 percent on 189 attempts, he isn't a terrible weapon to be able to bring off of a D-League bench.
Johnson is a former NAIA Player of the Year out of Azusa Pacific who I've heard reminds people of Flip Murray. He was cut by the Idaho Stampede in the preseason, went to a few tryouts with D-League teams without any luck, but the Legends picked him up and he's done pretty well ever since. In 27 games this season, he's averaging 12.5 points in 25 minutes while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Edge: I'm going to give it to Vaden, but wouldn't be surprised if Johnson has a couple of breakout games.
SF: Tulsa's Elijah Millsap vs. Texas' Rashad McCants
This will be a nice offense vs. defense match-up, probably the most intriguing of the series.
Millsap, a 6-foot-6 rookie out of Alabama-Birmingham, is the brother of Utah Jazz power forward Paul Millsap and a player that Kevin Durant was hoping to keep around the Oklahoma City Thunder during training camp. His defense shows up every night -- and it's usually pretty good -- but Millsap's 15.2 point average was ultimately due to the lack of consistency he showed this past weekend, following up a six-point performance in 28 minutes by scoring 30 points in 27 minutes the following night.
As far as McCants goes, the former lottery pick seems to have found his stride again after sitting out a few months recording rap music and attempting to get signed by a team in China. I've written about him plenty and you should know about him already so I'll just end this little brief by mentioning that he's averaging 19.4 points while shooting 57 percent from the field and 44 percent from beyond the arc over his past five games.
PF: Tulsa's Ryan Reid vs. Texas' Joe Alexander
Is this even a match-up? Both players are quite a bit different in what they bring to the table.
Reid came out of nowhere to become the 57th overall pick of the Thunder this past draft after averaging 6.8 points and 4.0 rebounds as a senior at Florida State. With the 66ers, the raw big man has upped those totals only slightly to 8.5 points and 5.8 rebounds. There really isn't much else to say about him, as he does the dirty work but doesn't typically stand out while on the court.
Alexander, on the other hand, is the highest NBA Draft pick currently in the D-League playoffs after being selected with the eighth overall pick during the 2008 NBA Draft. Since then, his career has been on a bit of a roller coaster ride (mostly the downhill part), but a move to playing mostly at the power forward position this season seems to have given his a career the resurgence that it need after being cut this preseason by the New Orleans Hornets. During the regular season, he averaged 20.9 points and 8.9 rebounds, though those numbers are a bit skewed considering he averaged over 41 minutes of playing time.
Edge: Alexander unless Reid's able to bully him down low and put the ball in the hoop.
C: Tulsa's Cole Aldrich vs. Texas' Sean Williams
This is probably the most relevant NBA match-up of this series so it better be a good one.
Aldrich is on assignment from the Oklahoma City Thunder after being selected with the 11th overall pick of this year's NBA Draft, but his workman-like playing style hasn't led to standout results while spending a decent portion of his season in the D-League. In 21 regular season games for the 66ers, Aldrich averaged 10.3 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks while making over 80 percent of his free-throw attempts. Since the Thunder shouldn't need the big man anytime soon, his playing in the D-League playoffs should definitely help him get ready for whenever he is needed down the line.
Williams is, at this point, perhaps the a more NBA-ready player than Aldrich. Unfortunately, a series of off-court issues has seemingly caused him to be all-but-blackballed from the big leagues. The former first round pick averaged 14.4 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.9 blocks this season, though his high turnover rate probably didn't help endear himself to NBA decision makers.
Edge: The last time these two met, Williams finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks while Aldrich managed 10 points, 5 rebounds and five fouls. I've got my money on Williams.
Bench: Texas' Chris Roberts, Ronald Allen, Matt Rogers and Booker Woodfox Vs. Latavious Williams, Matt Bouldin, Marcus Lewis, Brandon Brooks and Garrett Williamson
If Williams and Bouldin are both healthy, I have to give the edge to them. Woodfox and Rogers are two pretty good players that the Legends are able to bring off the bench in their own right, however.
Series Pick: Legends in three.