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2016-17 NBADL Team Preview: Rio Grande Valley Vipers

The Dream Shake’s Carson A Merk continues the NBADL previews with an RGV rundown.

2016 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot
Chinanu Onuaku will look to dominate both ends of the court in the paint as a rookie out of Louisville.
Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images

Projected Opening Day Starting Five:

PG: Isaiah Taylor

SG Gary Payton II

SF Le'Bryan Nash

PF Chinanu Onuaku

C: Joshua Smith

How Did They Do Last Year?

In Matt Brase’s first year as head coach, the Vipers finished with a 29-21 record, and were bounced by in-state rival Austin in the Western Conference quarterfinals. They averaged the second most points in the D-League, but were 18 out of 19 in opponent's points per game.

Houston Rockets’ assignee Montrezl Harrell averaged 24 points and 9 rebounds in 12 games, and Will Cummings pitched in 21 and five dimes per game, starting in 49 contests.

How Will They Do This Year?

They may start slow, as they will be packed with rookies getting their first professional action. However, they have limitless potential, and if they start to click as a unit, RGV could be very tough to handle as the season chugs along.

Returning from last year, Joshua Smith lost over 50 pounds and will be a force down low. He will be joined by Chinanu Onuaku, a Rockets draft pick that is an athletic freak, but needs time to develop before joining the NBA. Another exciting, athletic front court player is former UNC Tarheel JP Tokoto. 2015 D-League Dunk Contest champion Jarvis Threatt is back, with exciting rookies Isaiah Taylor and Gary Payton II also attacking from the back court.

Shooting looks to be a weakness, but can hopefully be an area that improves as the season wears on, and they’ll be helped by rookie Paul Jesperson in that category. After a dominant rookie season in Japan, even scoring 54 points in a game, Le’Bryan Nash is back in the US ready to show the NBA GMs what they missed in the 2015 draft.

NBA veterans Darius Morris and PJ Hairston will help push the young guys, and will certainly be important pieces as the Vipers look to get back to the promised land.

Who Is The Most Likely Call-Up?

It could be the slimmer Joshua Smith, a powerful, low post scorer, but my guess would be Isaiah Taylor. He is a speedster, and an explosive athlete from the point guard position. Already possessing the ability to get to the rim, if Taylor can continue to work on his jump shot, he may be a perfect fit for the up tempo Rockets attack.

Who Is The Most Likely Assignee?

The easy answer is Chinanu Onuaku, because the Rockets have already stated they will assign him. Outside of the Louisville rookie, the most likely candidate would be Kyle Wiltjer. The former Gonzaga phenom has seen only a couple minutes so far this season in the NBA, and would hugely benefit from consistent playing time with the Vipers.

Will The Vipers Offense Be As Explosive As D’Antoni’s In H-Town?

They averaged 116 ppg last season, so yes, head coach Matt Brase is okay with putting numbers on the board. This year, with a roadrunner at point guard in Taylor, the Vipers will certainly keep teams on their heels. Factor in the athleticism of players like Payton II, Chris Walker, Threatt, the proven scoring of Nash, and a load of athletic, mobile big men, it’s fact that Rio Grande Valley does not lack offensive firepower.