I ranked the Iowa Energy and the Utah Flash as the two worst teams in the D-League playoffs when I did my D-League Playoff power rankings post the other day, but that doesn't mean this series won't be exciting.
The Energy come in as the top-seeded team after finishing the season with a 37-13 record, but four of the major contributors that helped them achieve that record -- Othyus Jeffers (Washington Wizards), Kyle Weaver (Utah Jazz), Chris Lofton (Russia) and Courtney Sims (China) -- won't be with them in the first round of the playoffs as all have gone on to greener pastures.
As far as the Flash are concerned, they're a perfectly fine D-League team with a good first-year coach in Kevin Young, but I don't think they have the cohesiveness to be able to put together any sort of sustained run in the playoffs.
This is a match-up of players with a wealth of D-League experience, and success, but zero NBA experience.
Stinson has arguably been the best point guard in the D-League over the past three seasons, but has never received an NBA look. Part of that is probably due to the fact that he's unable to control his emotions, he can't shoot from distance and the fact that he's been atop -- or near -- the leaders in turnovers over the past three seasons. Still, as the starting point guard on the best team for three straight seasons, one would think the NBA might give him a look. During the regular season, Stinson averaged 19.3 points, 9.8 assists and 5.7 rebounds.
Kruger is the son of now-Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger and is playing his fourth season in the D-League. A game-manager, Kruger's typical role is going to be to set the offense up, pass the ball around the wing and then wait to see if he gets the ball back for an open three-point attempt. Surprisingly, his 38 percent shooting from beyond the arc was the lowest of his D-League career -- but still very good.
Edge: Stinson, though he can just as easily play his team out of a game.
SG: Stefhon Hannah vs. Andre Ingram
For a league that's supposed to be full of NBA prospects, this series' starting shooting guard match-up isn't a particularly compelling argument.
Hannah, a 6-foot-1 point guard out of Missouri, was moved into the Energy starting lineup late in the season despite shooting just 34 percent from the field including 28 percent from beyond the arc. He's what those in the business call a waterbug point guard in that he just zips around looking for steals. Aside from that, he's not very good.
As far as Ingram, he's been around the Flash for quite awhile as he's amassed 198 career games with the team. A 6-foot-3 guard who's played the point during portions of his time in Utah, Ingram is known mostly for his three-point prowess and defensive abilities. On the season, Ingram averaged 13.0 points while making 46 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.
Edge: Ingram, and it isn't close.
One of the best shooters in the league versus perhaps the best defender in the D-League.
Ehambe was acquired earlier this season when the Energy traded Kyle Weaver to the Austin Toros (for reasons I never did quite figure out). Another D-League veteran who spent the previous two seasons with the Tulsa 66ers after attending Oral Roberts, Ehambe has made 45 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc over the past three seasons. When you take into account that he's fired it up from long distance 604 times, that's quite an impressive percentage.
As far Greene, he was without a doubt one of the top two defenders in the D-League this season and has a passable offensive game to complement his defensive prowess. Greene has previously left the team for a 10-day contract with the New Jersey Nets as well as failed stint in China. One has to wonder how his teammates view his leaving them for more money to play in China during the middle of the playoff hunt. On the season, Greene averaged 16.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists but also turned the ball over 3.6 times per contest.
Edge: Greene, though Ehambe's shooting could certainly swing the Energy's momentum if they're in a hole.
PF: Michael Haynes vs. Tony Gaffney
Haynes is a 30-year-old veteran of the overseas circuit who's probably best used as a stretch-four in the D-League despite standing just 6-foot-7. On the season, he averaged 10.5 points while shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc. Against the Erie BayHawks earlier in the season, Haynes made 8-of-12 from beyond the arc to finish with 36 points.
Gaffney was a surprise end-of-season signing for the Boston Celtics last season as a rookie and probably should have been called up again by an NBA team to tend this season. Gaffney seems a bit undersized when one looks at him, but his ability to block shots, rebound and get his hands on a ton of loose balls would definitely place him near the top of my All-Overlooked D-League team.
Edge: Gaffney. His play is probably nearly as important as Greene's in this series due to the match-ups.
VanderMeer is a legit 7-footer who played his college ball at Illinois-Chicago, but doesn't exactly scream NBA potential. A solid player to have in practice, VanderMeer didn't play many games early in the season as Nurse typically went smallball when Sims needed a breather. When Sims left for China, however, VanderMeer was inserted into the starting lineup. VanderMeer averaged 7.9 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in eight games as the Energy's starting center.
Costner is a burly 6-foot-9 power forward out of North Carolina State. I don't think he'll ever be an NBA player, but his ability to stretch the floor at his size is at least intriguing. On the season, he averaged 15.1 points and 5.9 rebounds but made just 44 percent of his shot attempts. That last number, for a team's starting center, isn't exactly a good thing.
Utah got the edge in nearly every one of the starting lineup match-ups, but Iowa's bench is pretty impressive.
Edge: Iowa in a landslide.
Pick: Iowa in three.