Because the end-of-season records don't really matter heading into the NBA D-League playoffs due to the pick-your-opponent structure -- and since last night's Sioux Falls-Dakota game was all but a glorified exhibition game -- I've decided to spend this morning putting together my own version of Matthew Brennan's popular D-League power rankings.
Keep in mind this is the first time I've ever done any sort of power rankings so it probably won't be perfect (but it actually probably will be). I also won't be including the non-playoff teams because, as my friend Rocky Maivia says, it doesn't matter where I would rank the non-playoff teams. If it did matter, however, I would say: Idaho, Maine, Austin,Fort Wayne, Dakota, New Mexico, Springfield and Sioux Falls).
Without further adieu, I present to you the Pre-Playoff Power Rankings!
1. Reno Bighorns
The Bighorns finished out the season on an eight-game win streak that included five games against playoff-bound teams, making it fairly easy to put the Eric Musselman-coached team above the rest. Provided the NBA call-up season is complete, the Bighorns will go into the D-League Playoffs with five former NBA players in the rotation (Patrick O'Bryant, Bobby Simmons, Marcus Landry, Andre Emmett and Salim Stoudamire) along with ever-improving rookie point guard Donald Sloan to go with a very solid group of D-League veterans (Doug Thomas, Anthony Richardson and Mo Charlo) rounding out the rotation.
2. Erie BayHawks
The BayHawks are essentially the perfect D-League team because the team is composed of very good players that aren't quite in the NBA. Erie has an excellent inside-out game with Ivan Johnson and Erik Daniels both being excellent passing post players with Blake Ahearn able to shoot from anywhere outside the arc. The key for the BayHawks' victory is probably the play of defensive-minded forwards Nate Linhart and Tasmin Mitchell, especially if they can get their offensive output to match their defensive intensity.
3. Tulsa 66ers
When Tulsa's at full-strength, the 66ers boast a solid eight NBA prospects coached by Nate Tibbetts, an NBA prospect himself. If Cole Aldrich sticks with Tulsa during the playoffs, he becomes one of four players (along with Latavious Williams, Ryan Reid and Robert Vaden) that are property of the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that's obviously done quite well when it comes to identifying NBA talent.
4. Texas Legends
The Nancy Lieberman led Legends would be a couple of spots higher if veteran point guard Antonio Daniels hadn't been recently called up to the Philadelphia 76ers, but to be ranked as the fourth-best team despite having the only losing record int he playoffs isn't such a bad thing. The reason they're still this high is largely due to the season-long stellar play of Sean Williams and Joe Alexander along with Rashad McCants' recent resurgence. The Legends could get in trouble if the shot-blocking Williams gets in foul trouble, though, because Texas hasn't shown much confidence in using its bigs on the bench as of late.
5. Bakersfield Jam
The Jam will basically go as far as Trey Johnson, the odds-on favorite for this year's D-League MVP, will take them (and considering he's been resting for about a week, that could be far). Unfortunately, despite this team's talent, it doesn't have much of a go-to post presence and I think some teams could take advantage of that. If the Jam are able to run-and-gun, though, whatever combination of Johnson, Derrick Byars, Willie Warren, Brandon Wallace and Jeremy Wise they trot out in the backcourt should have no trouble piling up the points.
6. Rio Grande Valley Vipers
The Vipers have one of the best fan bases in the D-League so I'm not sure that they're actually apt to lose more than the team ranked above them considering they have homecourt advantage, but I really don't believe they'll be able to repeat as champions for a second-straight season. They rely on the three-point shot too much (they shot nearly 200 three-pointers more than any other team this season) and don't really have a true distributor (Jerel McNeal, Jon Scheyer and Matt Janning are both natural shooting guards).
(NOTE: I'm sure Daryl Morey will decide to assign DeMarre Carroll and Terrence Williams later this week, rendering all of this moot)
7. Iowa Energy
I really hate to put the Energy this low because it's been obvious that Nick Nurse can squeeze every ounce of talent out of his teams, but the loss of Courtney Sims to China (who could return as soon as next week), Othyus Jeffers to the Washington Wizards and Chris Lofton to Russia is a lot of talent to lose come playoff time. If replacements Marqus Blakely, Moses Ehambe and Stanley Robinson are able to continue to step up with the new opportunity, excellent, but it seems the Energy will be facing an uphill battle after the first round of the D-League playoffs.
8. Utah Flash
I think Kevin Young has done yeoman's work with the Flash this season, but I don't think the team has the talent to compete with the rest of the teams in the playoffs (especially since they lost their last two games of the season to the Idaho Stampede, a team that is not in the playoffs). With the right match-ups, I'm sure Orien Greene, Tony Gaffney and company would be able to excel, but it worries me that the slowest-paced offense in the playoffs is also the worst free-throw shooting team in the league and doesn't have a low-post offensive presence.