As we approach the mid-season mark of the NBA D-League, it’s time for the team of Ridiculous Upside pundits to judge the way in which the development teams have carried themselves up to this day. Starting off our critical reflection process is the Oklahoma City Blue—a team built around a perfect balance of youth and veteran talent, managed by a coaching staff that wants nothing more than pure development and success for their roster.
The Blue impressively began their season by finishing November with a 6-3 record, with the most impressive victories being a 118-95 triumph over the Austin Spurs, and a 108-97 victory over the Bighorns. It was during this time that league youngster and the Blue’s big-man, Dakari Johnson, led the team in the paint with his offensive aggression and priority rebounding. Out of the Blue’s total 902 points scored over the course of November, Johnson scored 177 points (19.6% of Blue’s points were scored by Johnson).
Marching into December with Christmas spirit, the Blue stayed off of Santa’s naughty list by finishing the month with a four game winning streak and possessed an overall record of 12-7. Daniel Hamilton, the 21 year-old out of Connecticut, consistently proved why his prolonged minutes were well deserved. Though he heavily struggled during his first three matchups of the month, scoring only 15 combined points on 26 attempts, as the month progressed—so did he.
The Blue’s return after Christmas on December 28th gave Hamilton a 38-minute chance to casually drop a stylish and energetic triple-double. And he did just that. During his nearly 40 minutes on court, Hamilton managed 20 points, 10 assists, and 12 rebounds. While he lacks in consistent shot percentages and also tends to overkill with his number of attempted shots, his defensive end is a completely different story. During the night of his triple-double, Hamilton recorded 9 defensive rebounds alongside 4 ferocious steals. And it doesn’t stop there, across all of December and through the beginning of January, Hamilton wrecked havoc on anyone that opposed him when taking stand on defense.
Oklahoma City headed into January continuing their streak, extending it to a total of seven straight games won. With extra momentum from assignee, Josh Huestis, the Blue managed a very impressive start to the new year. But what can the Blue do for themselves to make finishing games off more effectively as well as bringing home more victories? Well to start from the bottom of the unusually long list, like most development teams, players lack simple in-game fundamentals--and for the Blue it’s anywhere from painfully low free throw percentages to a lack of late quarter scoring.
In prime example, the Blue shot 13% below the Defender’s 78% free throw completion rate, leading to an unfortunate last second loss to Los Angeles. While it isn’t a rare occasion for teams to have a plain out “off-night” for simple tasks like free throwing, for the Blue it’s a repetitive occurrence. It’s the simple deficiency of basic fundamentals that costs them easily accessible wins. While we pundits can only watch and pray, hopefully the Blue can use the new year as a motivational factor to correct their elementary flaws within the second half of the D-League season, and chase victory into the playoffs.