How did the Rio Grande Valley Vipers do last season?
The Rio Grande Valley Vipers set the D-League ablaze in 2013-2014. In Nevada Smith's high octane offense, the Vipers averaged a league-high 123.1 points per game with a bulk of their offense coming from the three-point line, where they knocked down 16 on a nightly basis.
While the Vipers ranked first in the league in offensive rating, their defense wasn't good enough to keep them in games when their shots weren't falling. They were running away with the Central Division title for most of the season, but hit a rut once their offense started to fall apart in the closing month. As a result, they finished with a 30-20 record, good for third in the division.
In the playoffs, the Vipers found their stride again and came within one win of making a return to the D-League finals. With Isaiah Canaan and Troy Daniels being called up to the Houston Rockets, Darius Morris and Robert Covington led the charge. They just didn't have enough firepower to dismantle the Santa Cruz Warriors.
How good could the Vipers be?
The Vipers acquired a number of players in the draft -- Chane Behanan, Tristan Carey, Tyrone White and Duke Mondy -- who should fit in well with the up-and-down system. Gary Talton, who was second on the team in assists per game last season, is one of three returning Vipers. He has showcased in the past that he can run the team's offense and get everyone involved.
With the likes of Nick Johnson and Clint Capela spending time in Rio Grande Valley at some point this season, there's no reason why the Vipers shouldn't be at the top of the D-League yet again. They've got the personnel to continue running Smith's happy-go-lucky offense, which should help them compete for the Central Division title.
Who is the most likely call-up?
Earl Clark came close to making the Rockets' final roster heading into the regular season but was waived at the eleventh hour. Nevertheless, the Rockets are still clearly interested him because they traded Justin Jackson to the Iowa Energy for his rights. That way he could play for the Vipers this season.
Clark is of a similar mold to Robert Covington, who thrived in the Vipers' offense last season. At 6-foot-10, he has the height to player the power forward but the skills to play on the wing. While that makes him a tweener, he'll be able to stick to his strength with the Vipers, which will be floating around the perimeter and shooting threes at a high volume.
The Rockets are always on the lookout for players who can space the floor for James Harden and Dwight Howard, making Clark a possible candidate for a call-up this season.
Who is the most intriguing potential assignee?
Both the Houston Rockets' 2014 draft picks, Clint Capela and Nick Johnson, are likely to spend time on assignment with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers this season. Out of the two, Johnson is the most intriguing.
Nevada Smith's system is predicated on pushing the ball, attacking the basket, and shooting a lot of threes, making the Vipers a perfect environment for Johnson to adjust to the NBA game. Just as Isaiah Canaan used the D-League as a springboard for a bigger opportunity this season, Johnson will be looking to follow suit.
Will the next Troy Daniels please stand up?
Joining the Rio Grande Valley Vipers instead of heading overseas paid off huge dividends for Troy Daniels. In 48 games, he averaged 21.5 points and knocked down a total of 240 threes for the Vipers. In the process, he broke Andy Rautins' D-League record for threes made in a season after just 27 games. Daniels parlayed that success into a two-year deal with the Rockets this offseason.
The Vipers will give someone new the opportunity to take on Daniels' gunner role this season. Who that person will be remains to be seen, but if that someone steps up to the plate and relishes the opportunity they could find themselves on a fast-track to the Rockets, just like Daniels did.