The 2012 NBA Development League's regular season ended Saturday night, team's picked their opponents on Easter Sunday afternoon and just three days later the D-League playoffs are beginning. It kind of snuck on us, to be honest, but Ridiculous Upside has come through with our revered playoff predictions once again.
I'm once again your loving host, but we've unfortunately lost a lot of great contributors from year's past. Mike Gansey is busy with a real job (Be sure to direct all of the credit to him for the call-up of Lester Hudson to the Cleveland Cavaliers) and Aisander Duda and Jon L have disappeared away from the loveliness that is the D-League blogosphere.
That said, since I've been doing this since way back in 2009 (2010 here and 2011 power rankings here because I let Gansey do predictions), it made sense to keep the tradition going. To cover my bases, I enlisted the services of the always awesome Ryan Ripley to help me out with predictions.
No. 1 Los Angeles D-Fenders vs. No. 8 Iowa Energy
Eric Musselman led the D-Fenders to the top record in the league despite NBA call-ups from quite a few of his top players (Jamaal Tinsley, Malcolm Thomas, Ish Smith, Gerald Green and Courtney Fortson) on solid defensive principles and an NBA offense helped by his team's abundance of athleticism.
The Energy don't seem like the Energy everyone's come to know (and love/loath), unfortunately, considering Curtis Stinson is out for the season with a back injury, Courtney Sims played this season overseas, Cartier Martin is on a call-up with the Washington Wizards and Othyus Jeffers is still at home rehabbing from a torn ACL.
I have to go with the D-Fenders in two games on this one. -- Scott
The momentum advantage must go to the LA D-Fenders having just wrapped up the best season in D-League history with an impressive 38 wins. LA also has the most explosive offense in the league averaging 106 points per game led by form NBA player Jamario Moon and top prospects Elijah Millsap and Zach Andrews. In their most recent meeting LA handed Iowa a convincing 95-79 defeat on the last day of the regular season.
The D-Fenders have too much fire power and NBA experience for the Energy to keep up with. LA advances to the next round. -- Ryan
No. 2 Springfield Armor vs. No. 7 Canton Charge
The Springfield Armor somehow went from cellar-dweller to the top team in their conference over the course of just one season. That somehow was probably mostly due to the new coaching regime headed by Bob MacKinnon, of course, but the solid and consistent play from JamesOn Curry, Jerry Smith, Jeff Foote, Dennis Horner and the rest of their team certainly didn't hurt.
The Canton Charge, on the other hand, basically started from scratch this season -- and with a team I wasn't impressed with, to boot. Head coach Alex Jensen coached his butt off, though, and the Charge surged to the playoffs behind the play of Cleveland Cavaliers assignee and diminutive guard T.J. Campbell.
Coaching and chemistry makes me lean toward taking the Armor, but it'll likely take three games as Josh Akognon is probably going to go nuts in one of the outings. -- Scott
The Armor has been impressive this year led by three all-stars: JamesOn Curry, Jerry Smith, and Jeff Foote. Springfield has also seen a number of call-ups further highlighting their immense talent. On the other hand, making the playoffs in their inaugural year is a huge accomplishment for the Canton Charge and head coach Alex Jensen. Call-ups have hurt the Charge in recent games, but getting Luke Harangody on assignment from the Cleveland Cavaliers has certainly helped matters.
This series will go to three games with the Canton Charge moving on to the next round. The combination of Harangody and Dante Milligan in the frontcourtcourt along with Antoine Agudio making it rain from 3-point land will allow the Charge to advance in their first season of professional basketball. -- Ryan
No. 3 Austin Toros vs. No. 5 Erie BayHawks
The Austin Toros have been one of the top teams in the Development League since the D-League overtook the Continental Basketball Association as America's top minor league. That didn't change this year under head coach Brad Jones, either, as Justin Dentmon and Eric Dawson led the sneaky Toros to a 33-17 record after finishing 9-1 in their last 10 games of the season.
The BayHawks certainly don't look like they're an uber-talented team on paper, but head coach Jay Larranaga has been able to keep his team playing solid basketball sans a consistent point guard all season. The New York Knicks assigned big man Jerome Jordan to help out NBA veterans Joey Graham and Keith McLeod, taking some of the pressure off of veteran overachiever Kyle Goldcamp.
It isn't an easy pick, but considering the Toros are currently without Dentmon -- Ridiculous Upside's MVP -- let's go with the BayHawks in three games. -- Scott
This series will come down to whether or not Squeaky Johnson can fill the hole left in Austin's roster by the call-up of Justin Dentmon to the Toronto Raptors. In the frontcourt, Eric Dawson will have his hands full with Joey Graham, Jerome Jordan and Kyle Goldcamp. I can also see Mychel Thompson and DJ Kennedy causing headaches from long range.
Losing the most valuable in the D-League is hard to overcome. Dentmon's 10-day contract expires in time to be back from a game 3 if the Raptors do not extend him. This won't matter, though, as Erie will knock out Austin in 2 games. -- Ryan
No. 4 Dakota Wizards vs. No. 6 Bakersfield Jam
The Dakota Wizards have hurt my heart a little bit now that it's been announced that they're leaving lovely Bismarck for the West Coast, but let's save that sadness for another day. For now, it makes sense to concentrate on what Nate Bjorkgren's team brings to Bismarck for the time being: the peskiest on-ball defender in the league (Stefhon Hannah), a wily veteran in Maurice Baker, smooth rookie Edwin Ubiles, Golden State Warriors assignee Chris Wright -- considering his size, he's the most athletic player in the league -- and solid post players Marcus Dove and Tommy Smith.
On the other side of court, Will Voigt will trot out a lineup that looks way better (on paper, anyway) than the sixth-best team in the D-League. Players with NBA experience include Trey Johnson, Derrick Byars, Renaldo Major and Brian Butch while Jeremy Wise and Juan Pattillo have both shown to be better than average over the course of the season.
Let's say it goes three games, but I'm hoping for more basketball to be played in Bismarck. -- Scott
We all know that Edwin Ubiles, Marcus Dove, and Stefhon Hannah can put up the points and take over a game for Dakota, yet after a season-ending loss to the last place Fort Wayne Mad Ants, the Wizards are on a serious down note. The Bakersfield roster matches up well against Dakota with Jeremy Wise, Renaldo Major, Derrick Byars and Brian Butch leading the Jam.
When two teams are so well-matched the series usually turns into a battle of the benches. I expect to see Bakerfield's Juan Pattillo come off the bench to help the Jam take the series in two games. -- Ryan
That about does it for the first round, eh?
My personal picks the rest of the way have the D-Fenders matching up with the Armor in the championship as Coach Musselman wins a D-League championship -- and likely heads back to the NBA soon after. As far as Mr. Ripley is concerned, he's got the Jam and Charge in the championship with the ... gulp ... Charge winning in their first year of existence.