There's plenty of reasons why the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (D-League affiliate of the Rockets) have emerged as one of the top teams in the minors this season.
The squad employs a steadily smart coaching staff that pays special attention and care to its players. As the Rockets' affiliate, the team has been assembled by one of the best scouting staffs in all of basketball. What's more, those same staffs take no prisoners when it comes to reeling in worthwhile talent, no matter what point of the season it may be. They simply understand how to help everyone mesh with one another effectively.
It's sensible to assume RGV would have been successful either way, but midseason acquisitions of Andrew Goudelock and D.J. Kennedy surely didn't hurt.
Acquired in January, Goudelock was given the green light from the Vipers to shoot and score at will. Such freedom gave him the ability to unleash his offensive prowess without hesitation, and that, in turn, paid dividends for RGV. In addition to being a go-to-guy, Goudelock also began to effectively become somewhat of a facilitator as well this season. Such attributes helped the guard earned a recent NBA call-up with the Lakers.
But such a void certainly didn't leave the Rockets' affiliate empty-handed come playoff time. In addition to having some recently waived NBA prospects and a big league assignee or two in town, the team also knew D.J. Kennedy was poised to step up when need be as well.
Earlier this season, Kennedy gained notoriety as a surefire M.V.P. candidate himself for leading the way and keeping the Erie BayHawks afloat in the NBADL playoff race. After shipping him out of town, Erie faltered under the pressures of the playoff race. They're now forced to sit at home and watch as Kennedy rises up to lead RGV.
With Goudelock now in Los Angeles, there's no doubt Kennedy is the star of the Vipers. After averaging a near triple-double in RGV's first three playoff wins, the swingman finally logged one after all. In RGV's 113-106 series clinching win over the Tulsa 66ers, Kennedy led the way with 28 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists.
Like most of the NBADL's top talents, Kennedy has a lot of potential and promise, but may be a little rough around the edges. His shooting percentages over the course of a season may be considered a bit low, but the fact remains Kennedy is content being a main option and knows how to come up in the clutch. Though he has decent court-vision for a swingman his size, his execution is sometimes lacking. Still, the good intent is always there. From last season to this one, Kennedy has, without a doubt, made substantial strides and progress, which is what the NBADL is all about.
But to Kennedy, garnering more attention from NBA executives is all about proving that you can be a winner. The swingman told RidiculousUpside.com as much back in February, after his individual success earned him a D-League All-Star nod. He knew that carrying the BayHawks to wins would ultimately be what helped him turn more heads.
Now in April, Kennedy may don a different uniform, but has the same objectives. His latest efforts have helped the Vipers punch a ticket to the NBADL Finals, which begin this coming Thursday.