With a 19-7 record, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers are on top of the world with the best record in the NBA D-League. Nevada Smith will coach in the NBADL All-Star Game, further proving his offensive style is one that will continuously be embraced from all angles as time goes on.
But despite the team's success, one can't always win them all. Unfortunate losses are to be expected, even for the best team in the league. Still, there was undeniably some silver lining to be had from their 144-127 defeat to the Tulsa 66ers on Monday.
That very caveat was a breakout performance from guard Akeem Ellis. The versatile young gun poured in a season-high 27 points on 9 of 14 from the field, and sank seven field goals from beyond the arc. His points total was also tied with two members of the 66ers for the game-high, despite his team's defeat.
Following a couple of spot-starts, Ellis' most recent offensive explosion came while providing his team a boost off the bench. Clearly a team that likes to hoist up the long balls in the most frequent of fashions, the young gun's increasing comfort level in such a system was evident on Monday, as he knocked down dagger after dagger from downtown.
Such success and/or subsequent progress from Ellis is great to see. There's no doubt about that. Quite the easy guy to root for, the rookie was on the grind for a job and to prove his worth all of last offseason through open tryouts with teams like the Erie BayHawks and Bakersfield Jam. Able to assert himself quite well while toying with the competition present at the workouts, one could tell Ellis is a special talent.
Of course, his ability to dominate then is/was all relative to the talent level of his fellow participants, but the fact that he's playing well for the D-League's top squad (while many of his tryout counterparts are out of the league already) should say quite a lot about his commitment and abilities.
The RGV Vipers are a very good fit for Ellis. He's been able to develop a rhythm by being continuously encouraged to shoot the long ball. Aside from his ability to shoot,, the rookie likes to run the floor in transition and has a good eye for finding his teammates as well. It'll be interesting to see what kind of role he continues to fill for the Vipers, but there's no doubt he should keep getting opportunities.