Last night I attended the Toros' only home game this month, against Fort Wayne. The Mad Ants won in overtime, 113-110, behind a triple double from Walker Russell, Jr., who had 19 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. Marcus Williams came close to one himself with 34 points on 24 shots to go with 10 assists and 8 rebounds.
The Toros were winning for most of the game, before Fort Wayne clawed its way back with Marcus Williams on the bench in the 4th quarter. Even after he came back in, FW was able to hold on and match the Toros basket for basket before taking the win in the extra session. Austin had a chance to send the game into double overtime, but DerMarr Johnson's last-second three bricked off the backboard (more on that later). Forthwith, notes on some of tonight's players:
If anyone read my initial comment on Scott's "call up Pops" post, they'll see that I've done a 180 on Marcus Williams. I loved his game tonight. He was the focal point of the offense without being overbearing, and it never really seemed like he was forcing anything. As I mentioned above, he was very efficient with 34 points on 24 shots. Reinforcing what Scott wrote in the latest call-up rankings, he's also been playing point-forward and for a stretch of the game was the actual point guard (guarding and being guarded by WRJr.). By my count he had 18 possessions where he brought the ball up the court, and there were probably a few more, enough that it was probably a full quarter of the team's 82 possessions. His passing skills were pretty nice at that. He had a few dunks, including a pair of alley-oops, and one where he drove to the basket and dunked like it was the easiest thing in the world.
Walker Russell Jr.
I'd say he was the second-best player on the court, though to be honest I was a little surprised to see he had a triple double. There were several opportunities for assists that he missed out on because his teammates blew layups. A big part of his game is the drive and kickout, though there were a few times where he sliced through three defenders for a layup that showed he has a little bit of explosiveness (I say a little bit because I only saw it happen a few times). Squeaky Johnson guarded him early on in the game (and the Toros would eventually throw at least three different defenders at him), and he proved to be a real handful on both ends of the court. He did a good job of playing the passing lanes towards the end of the game, stealing the ball on an inbounds pass and dashing for a layup to put Fort Wayne on top 111-110. Russell finished with five turnovers, and the three I saw came from forcing things - trying to force the ball into the post and having it knocked away by Squeaky, getting the ball stripped from him while trying to dribble through traffic, and stepping out of bounds while driving baseline for a kickout.
I really liked the Toros center in the last game I saw, and while he finished with 23 points on 13 shots and 16 rebounds, I felt like he played a bit distracted at a few points in the game, particularly at the outset. To be honest I think he may play better when he's the only big man out there. While Eric Dawson started at PF, he and Jones eventually split time at center until Dawson went out with an injury. Without another player to take up space in the post, Jones is free to use his good instincts to clean up around the basket and pull down rebounds. He's not great when he has to put the ball on the floor; the first time he had to dribble more than twice it resulted in this flip-hook thing that was one of the most awkward shots of the game. He also (along with Dawson) had a tough time guarding Fort Wayne center Chris Hunter; Jones was clearly frustrated at times, and towards the end of the game gave Hunter a couple of forearms to the back on one play.
DerMarr Johnson's 11 and a half minutes of play were mostly uneventful. To be honest I'm not sure how great of a fit he is in Austin. His game is fairly similar to Marcus Williams (without the passing and rebounding), but they kind of detract from each other when they're on the court together and Williams plays so much that I can't see Johnson getting consistent quality minutes. Johnson missed the last shot of the game, but I don't really put it on him. He was put into the game with one second left in overtime after being on the bench since six and a half minutes remained in the 4th. I can kind of understand why Austin coach Quin Snyder wanted him the court with a three needed (he was one of four Toros to attempt one in the game), but he must've been stone cold at that point. Also, and this is unrelated to anything, but his ankles are really, really skinny.
Ezra Williams of the Toros showed off a nice three-point stroke in the first half, and he had a nice behind-the head pass to Dawson at one point and a solid block on Sean Sonderleiter. If Austin is going to have a consistent bench contributor as I mentioned in the weekly wrap-up, E. Williams may be a solid bet, though he's going to really have to improve his efficiency.
Stanley Burrell of the Toros is an aggressive on-the-ball defender, something I also noticed in the last game I saw. Even when he was on the floor alongside Squeaky Johnson he took on the responsibility of guarding Walker Russell Jr., and he knocked Russell around a bit. He didn't see much time at the end of the game, probably in part because he's pretty much a non-entity on offense and struggles when putting the ball on the floor. At one point he stole the ball and had a 2-on-2 with DerMarr Johnson, and ended up turning the ball over.
DeMarcus Nelson of the Toros had a few nice sequences, including one where he drove to the basket for a layup, then got back on defense and got a block on the other end, but to be honest I was surprised to see he played 43 minutes. It's true that was focusing more on other players, but I just didn't notice him on the court for long stretches.
Taj McCullough of the Mad Ants, like DerMarr Johnson, spent time on the Washington Wizards preseason roster so I have some prior exposure to him, though he wasn't much of a presence there. He spent most of tonight's game guarding Marcus Williams and hanging out on the perimeter. He had a rough shooting night, needing 18 shots to get 15 points.