Heading into this season, one of the biggest points of emphasis for the Idaho Stampede was to improve their production on the defensive side of the ball. After winning 9 games over the course of last year while giving up a gaudy 116 points per game, the team was going to have to take a big step forward on that side of the ball if they wanted to show any improvement in the win column.
Already at 13 wins, the Stampede have managed to do just that. Dropping all the way to 103 points allowed per game, Idaho now ranks in the top half of the D-League in that category. Strong efforts on the perimeter by former Boston Celtic Phil Pressey and rookie J.J. O'Brien have been a major factor behind this, but in all it's taken the entire team buying in to really make a push on that end.
With Jeff Ayres likely to finish out the season with the Los Angeles Clippers and Tibor Pleiss recently being called up to the Utah Jazz, there may be some concern as to how this improved defense will hold up down low. Luckily for the Stampede, they have a player already on the roster that is chomping at the bit to step up and fill the void.
Da'Shonte Riley, a former top high school recruit who in 2009 was ranked ahead of players like Derrick Williams, Khris Middleton and Cory Jefferson, has slowly but surely been working his way into additional playing time. After finishing off a career at Eastern Michigan (following a transfer from Syracuse), Riley went undrafted in 2014 and landed with the Stampede this year, but has been deactivated and activated more than a handful of times throughout the season.
After being activated once more on February 8th, Riley should be able to assert himself on the roster permanently. He's played in 22 games to this point at just over 14 minutes in each of them and it seems like each time he plays he gets better on the defensive end. He was a standout on that side of the court throughout his time in college and it has certainly transitioned to the D-League level.
Though the Stampede do have strong perimeter defense, Riley has been one of the best rim protectors in the league whenever ball handlers manage to work their way down low. He's currently the top big man in the NBADL in opponent field goal percentage within five feet, allowing a measly 47.6% of shots to go in within that range. Though Pleiss certainly has a size advantage over him, both he and fellow Stampede center Ian Chiles are allowing field goals in that zone to go through the net at a 10% higher clip.
The former MAC Defensive Player of the Year has has almost managed to tally the 5th highest block percentage in the league at 68.8%, and he's lowest on Idaho in both Defensive Rating and effective field goal percentage. He's quite mobile for a player of his size (7'0, 240 pounds), which helps him tremendously and he's developed a real skill at making contact with players that are driving to the hoop but still not drawing a foul.
Not only has he been altering shots by getting his body into opponents, his wingspan that measures at around 7'4 makes him capable of getting his hand on any shot that's within his vicinity.
It's not just guards that he's shutting down, either. He has displayed impressive strength when teams try to post up against him and he's also just as impactful when opposing big men try to take it up on him. Here, Mitch McGary unsuccessfully attempts going through him on his way to the basket.
He's made his mark on the defensive end this year, but he has value on the offensive end as well. While his range is limited, he is capable of getting to the rim and finishing in traffic. He's one of the better screeners that the Stampede have on the roster, too, and he's very comfortable and capable passing out of the high post.
His talent on defense is apparent, but it is not without holes. Much like many other traditional rim protectors, Riley can be very vulnerable if he's switched onto a guard or forced to go out to the perimeter. He has showcased some great athleticism, but he's just not typically able to keep up with players that have above-average quickness. In addition to that, he will occasionally show poor footwork when teams force him into pick-and-roll situations.
He has some flashes of ability on the offensive end, but overall he's been a net-negative there. His pick-setting and passing has value, but he can often be too reliant on his jump shot, which he's hitting at below 20% throughout the year.
He's never going to be a high-usage player offensively, but if he can stick to his work around the basket he would be much better off. While the addition of a jump shot would certainly help his game in the future, it's just not anywhere near where it needs to be as of yet.
Despite those weaknesses, he has shown enough throughout the year to earn additional playing time in the absence of Ayres and Pleiss. He may not bring what they do to the table on the offensive end, but defensively he has the potential to take the Stampede to the next level.