The NBA D-League regular season has reached its conclusion. With each team having completed their 50-game slate, the playoff picture has sorted itself out and the match-ups that will be seen in the first round are set.
Sioux Falls Skyforce (1) vs Westchester Knicks (4)
- Season Series: 3-1 (Westchester)
- Average Score: 107.3 - 103.3
Forget about the Golden State Warriors, the Sioux Falls Skyforce made history this year by becoming the first team in NBA D-League history to win 40 games in the regular season. Despite their dominance over the course of the season, there has been one team that has been able to consistently go toe-to-toe with them. Unfortunately with the Skyforce, that happens to be their first-round playoff matchup.
Holding three wins over Sioux Falls, the Knicks were the only team that won their season series against the Skyforce. They were able to successfully throw the Miami Heat affiliate off on both sides of the ball, as they held them below their season average of 106.3 points per game and went well beyond the 98.1 points per game that the team is allowing on the season.
It has been a team effort that has gone into Westchester being able to hang with the top team in the league, but they have had a pair of standouts guiding them along the way. Jimmer Fredette averaged 36.5 points per game on .587/.571/.846 shooting splits (excluding the game in which he was sick and only played 12 minutes) and Jordan Bachynski is averaging 15.7 points on 57% shooting to go along with 10 rebounds (also excludes a 12-minute game).
On other side of things, the Skyforce are going to need guard Rodney McGruder to play up to his full capability if they want to get passed the Knicks. While McGruder is shooting over 51% from the field this season, that average drops all the way down to 42.9% against the Knicks. His primary defender in that game was Wesley Saunders who now plays for the Austin Spurs, but he'll now have to work against Thanasis Antetekounmpo, an intense defender in his own right.
With Ra'Shad James now playing for Westchester and Toure' Murry now in Sioux Falls the sides have some added firepower. The Skyforce have had an incredible season, but this may be the team that they least wanted to see in the playoffs.
Maine Red Claws (2) vs Canton Charge (3)
- Season Series: 3-1 (Canton)
- Average Score: 107.5 - 101.3
Maine has gotten hot at the right time and looks to be one of the toughest teams in the league headed into the playoffs. While they would pose a threat to any team, the Canton Charge have been able to consistently stump them throughout the season. As one of only two teams to beat the Red Claws in their season series, with the Skyforce being the other, the Charge have been able to match up well against the superb guard play that Maine brings to the table.
Though they don't run the court at any sort of out of the ordinary pace, Maine has been able to establish themselves as one of the top scoring teams in the D-League during the season. They average 111.8 points per game, which makes Canton holding them to 101.3 all the more impressive. Across the board, the Charge have been able to find an answer for what the Red Claws attempt to do on offense, bringing their shooting averages from .466/.352/.784 down to .437/.317/.724 in their four meetings.
Offensively for Canton, they have had the benefit of multiple scorers taking on a lead role at different points in the season. Nick Minnerath and Quinn Cook have both played big roles in their success, but it has been guard John Holland that has stepped up in a big way against Maine. Averaging 16.7 points per game on 52.8% shooting during the three games that he played against them, Maine is going to have to come up with a strategy to making his life more difficult on the offensive end.
Much like Canton, Maine has been able to find different sources of offense as the season has gone on. Both Levi Randolph and Omari Johnson have taken on added responsibilities at times, but they've come up short against Canton. He averages 13.9 points per game on .507/.406/.822 shooting, but sees that drop all the way down to 12.3 points on .422/.100/.729 when Canton. It's much the same for Johnson, who has posted an impressive 15.6 points on .451/.413/.623, but stumbles to 11.3 points on .400/.250/.400 while playing the Charge.
Though he played only one game against Maine while with the Charge, DJ Stephens now plays for the Iowa Energy so that backcourt void will have to be filled, especially against a team like the Red Claws. Once again, this is a situation in which a division winner has found themselves with a tough opening round match-up and one that doesn't play to their strengths all that well.
Reno Bighorns (1) vs Los Angeles D-Fenders (4)
- Season Series: 4-2 (Los Angeles)
- Average Score: 121 - 119.2
As should come as a surprise to no one, Reno has once again establish themselves as the most feared offense in the D-League. Their powerful offensive attack allowed them to win or tie all but one of their season series' throughout the year. To the dismay of the Bighorns, that lone season series loss came at the hands of the Los Angeles D-Fenders, their first round playoff matchup.
The success that Los Angeles was able to achieve against them was two-pronged. They were able to slightly slow down Reno's scoring potency (averaging four less points per game than the team's season average) and they were able to score 10 points more per game than their own season average. While they shoot .478/.405/.748 against other teams, Reno sees their shooting efficiency drop down to .450/.367/.737 when they face off against Los Angeles.
The scoring output that the D-Fenders have been able to produce has been a varied attack, but it relies strongly on their ability to get to the rim and draw fouls, which they're doing to the tune of 30 free throw attempts per game against Reno. As has been the case throughout the past few months, their offense has been guided by Vander Blue, who has managed to score 28.7 points per game against the Bighorns with .465/.400/.809 shooting splits.
As hot as the Blue has been when the teams meet, Bighorns guards Reggie Hearn and Cliff Hammonds may be equally as cold. Hearn is averaging 9.2 points per game, which is just slightly below his season average of 11.5, but he's shooting .352/.286/.833 from the floor and Hammonds is also below his season average of 8.4 points per game with 7.3 points on .375/.217/1.00 shooting, including 5-23 from downtown. For a team that plays as quickly as they do and relies on shooting as much as they do, Reno is going to need better performances out of these two guards.
Los Angeles dominated the season series and they'll also have the benefit of not having to deal with Vince Hunter, who scored 26.3 points per game in the three games that the team matched up this year, or Chad Toppert, who pitched in with an additional 7.5 points. The loss of Robert Upshaw may hurt the D-Fenders, especially with Reno's Kadeem Jack taking his game to the next level as of late, but it should be a relatively competitive series. The March 25th matchup between these two in which Reno won 131-113 may have been a preview, but the series should be an interesting one to see play out.
Austin Spurs (2) vs Rio Grande Valley Vipers (3)
- Season Series: 5-1 (Rio Grande Valley)
- Average Score: 108.8 - 104.7
While they did drop a few winnable games throughout the season, the Austin Spurs were consistent throughout the whole year and managed to establish themselves as one of the top teams in the entire league. Despite their success over the 50-game schedule, they were not able to crack the code on how to defeat the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, as RGV alone handed them 17% of their regular season losses.
The dominance that Rio Grande Valley has been able to maintain has been largely due to the fact that they've gotten Austin to play their game throughout the season rather than letting the pace slow down like the Spurs would prefer. Austin is scoring two more points than their season average of 102.3, but they're allowing nearly ten points more than their season average in points allowed which sits at 99.9.
The offense that the Vipers have been able to run out against the Spurs has been led by Will Cummings, who is averaging 22.7 points per game on .519/.444/.930 from the field and aided by Chris Walker, who's posted an impressive 12 points on 59.6% from the field in the six match-ups. While Cummings has been the engine that has driven the Vipers offense, Walker may turn out to be the most important piece.
While Austin's offense has produced more on average against the Vipers than against other teams, there have been a couple of players that could afford to step up their games once the playoffs open up. Keifer Sykes has scored just below his season average of 12.4 points per game by averaging 11, but he's doing so on .400/.091/.867 shooting. Walter Tavares has been MIA as well, averaging just 4.7 points in the three games that he's played and he'll need to assert himself against the depleted front-court of Rio Grande Valley.
Rio Grande Valley has been able to handle Austin throughout the year, but they'll have to do so in this series without the help of Montrezl Harrell and Raphiael Putney, both of whom are currently serving suspensions. The addition of Darius Morris has bolstered the back-court for the Vipers, but they'll need Chris Walker and Joshua Smith to be able to take on added playing time to be able to advance past Austin.
For the Spurs, they've begun to incorporate Wesley Saunders into the lineup a bit more since teams' last meeting a couple of weeks ago and they'll want to punish the Vipers down low while also limit their opportunities to get out and run.
With the pair of suspensions to key Rio Grande Valley players, this series has completely been flipped on its head.