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2017 NBADL Playoff Series Preview: Fort Wayne Mad Ants Vs. Maine Red Claws

Editor Dakota Schmidt previews the NBADL playoff series between the Mad Ants and Red Claws.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

In the final days of the NBA D-League regular season, the rosters of the Fort Wayne Mad Ants and Maine Red Claws were both hit with the one thing that can debilitate any NBADL squad: the call-up. Within the span of just 24 hours, Mad Ants forward Alex Poythress and Red Claws guard Marcus Georges-Hunt were called up by the 76ers and Magic, respectively. Those losses were a significant hit for those squads as Georges-Hunt and Poythress were both D-League All-Stars during their time in the league.

For the Mad Ants, Poythress’ call-up meant losing a player that averaged 18.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.4 blocks per game on 53% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc on 2 perimeter attempts per game. Poythress’ numbers allowed him to remain in the top 15 in points, field goals made (7.2) and attempted (13.6), offensive rebounds (2.6) and blocks (1.4) per game.

With Poythress in Philly, the Mad Ants will have to rely on another player to take the reins as the team’s lead scorer. Luckily for Fort Wayne, there are a handful of players that are talented enough to fill that role. Those potential go-to players include NBA veterans (Marquis Teague, Tyler Hansbrough), D-League mainstays (Trey McKinney-Jones, Travis Leslie) and even Pacers rookie Georges Niang.

Among those names, Tyler Hansbrough probably the best opportunity to stand as the temporarily leader of the squad. That’s mainly due to how the nine-year NBA veteran has just been fantastic since joining the team on March 1st. In typical “Psycho T” fashion, Hansbrough has been able to lead the squad by just simply outworking the opposition inside the paint.

That claim is backed up by him averaging 17.6 points and 12.2 rebounds per game on 54% from the field. More specifically, Hansbrough has grabbed 4.3 offensive rebounds per game, which just puts him behind Erie big Shevon Thompson as the best offensive rebounder during that time span.

On the other hand, the call-up of Georges-Hunt meant that the Red Claws would lose arguably the most versatile guard in the NBADL. That versatility was evident due to him averaging 15.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game on 46% from the field and 39% from beyond the arc on 4 perimeter attempts per game. Those averages allowed Georges-Hunt to maintain a pretty solid 60% True Shooting Percentage.

While Georges-Hunt stood as a vital part of the Red Claws during his time with the team, he didn’t necessarily stand as the leader in the same way that Poythress did with Fort Wayne. During his time with the team, Georges-Hunt regularly stood as the Red Claws’ third option behind Jalen Jones and Abdel Nader. As we noted in our NBADL MVP finalists piece from last month, Jones and Nader stood equal as the biggest cogs behind the Red Claws finishing the season with a solid 29-21 record.

Their equal leadership is evident from how Jones and Nader put up eerily similar numbers during the regular season. 6’7 forward Jalen Jones averaged a near-double double with 21 points and 9 rebounds per game on 45% from the field and 35% from beyond the arc on 6 perimeter attempts per game. Meanwhile, Nader showcased his promise as a point forward by putting up 21.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game on 45% from the field and 35% from beyond the arc on 7 perimeter attempts per game. Can you see why I wasn’t able to pick one player over the other?

The Maine Red Claws win if.....

Despite losing Georges-Hunt to the Orlando Magic, the Red Claws are still in pretty good position as they look to begin the playoffs. Coinciding with the fantastic leadership shown by Jones and Nader, the Red Claws have recently added Celtics prospect Guerschon Yabusele, who has been awesome during his first two games in the D-League. Coinciding with Yabusele, the Red Claws can rely on Celtics prospects Jordan Mickey and Demetrius Jackson who have both fantastic during their separate stints in Maine.

Those additions might allow Maine to have an edge over Fort Wayne as they have a handful of fantastic wings and front-court players to depend upon. While Hansbrough has been fantastic since joining Fort Wayne, it would be difficult for him to fully be able to defend against strong and mobile power forwards like Yabusele, Jones and Mickey. That trio gives the Red Claws a crop of powerhouses that can scrap in the paint or shoot the mid-range or perimeter jumper.

Coinciding with those strong front-court presences, the Red Claws can also play the finesse game with Jackson or Nader. The 6’7 Nader has continued to showcase the knack of working as the team’s point forward. Having somebody with that ability is a huge advantage over Fort Wayne, as the team really doesn’t have a player that’s able to defend against Nader that can make smooth on-ball cuts, work in drive-and-kicks or hit the occasional mid-range jumper. If Nader’s out of the game, the 6’1 Jackson can come in and work with the Red Claws talented roster as a pass-first guard.

The Fort Wayne Mad Ants win if.....

With Poythress with the 76ers, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants will have to depend on their backcourt as they look to compete against a tough Red Claws squad. Although Poythress shined as the leader of the squad, Fort Wayne’s backcourt unit stood as the backbone. Throughout the season,, the Mad Ants could depend on the likes of Travis Leslie, Trey McKinney-Jones, Stephan Hicks and Jordan Loyd to help push the team’s offense.

While each of those players remain in the back court, they all bring their own diverse skill-set to the team. That diversity is evident when you take a look at the athletic on-ball cutters (McKinney-Jones and Leslie) or the solid facilitators that can also score in bunches (Loyd and Hicks). In addition to that quartet, the Red Claws will also have to watch out for NBA veteran Marquis Teague, who recently joined the team on March 2nd.

Although the Red Claws maintain a strong front-court, Mad Ants forwards Ben Bentil and Tyler Hansbrough also stand as incredibly tough players. The aforementioned Hansbrough has shined as an incredibly gritty player that does whatever it takes to score inside the paint.

Meanwhile, Ben Bentil has shown the knack of being a very versatile 6’9 forward that can shoot the outside jumper while also being able to hustle in the paint. Despite that apparent versatility, Bentil will need to step up his game as he’s averaged an inefficient 12.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game on 36% from the field and 31% from beyond the arc since joining the Mad Ants. If Bentil can tighten up his game and become efficient, there’s a chance that he could stand as the player that can push the Mad Ants past the Red Claws.