One year after heading to the D-League Finals where they were manhandled by the Sioux Falls Skyforce, the Los Angeles D-Fenders return to the NBADL Playoffs on a mission to eclipse the plateau and win their first ever D-League title. However, the D-Fenders will enter their first round series against the RGV Vipers as a heavy favorite due to maintaining a 34-16 record. That’s a 180-degree from the prior season where they stood as a huge underdog due to them maintaining a 27-23 record prior to entering the playoffs.
In a similar way to last season, the D-Fenders will enter the playoffs led by Josh Magette, Vander Blue and Justin Harper, who all stood as D-League All-Stars in 2017.
Among that trio, NBADL MVP candidate Vander Blue stood as the team’s biggest offensive threat as he averaged 24.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.6 steals per game on 43% from the field and 35% from beyond the arc. Blue’s fantastic production was very beneficial for the D-Fenders as they were ten points per 100 possessions better when Blue was playing (114.2 points per 100) compared to when he was sitting on the sidelines (104.5 points per 100).
While Blue dominated as one of the NBADL’s best scorers, D-Fenders point guard Josh Magette shined as the league’s finest facilitator. That status is shown by Magette averaging 9.4 assists per game while also maintaining a league-best 3.55 Ast/TO ratio.
Magette’s great work as a facilitator obviously benefited everybody that rocked a D-Fenders jersey during this season. However, one of the biggest beneficiaries of Magette’s facilitating was Justin Harper, who averaged 16.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game on 48% from the field and 41% from beyond the arc on 5.6 perimeter attempts per game. Those averages allowed Harper to stand as arguably the best stretch four in the entire NBADL.
Alongside that tremendous trio, the D-Fenders maintain a solid supporting cast that features a mix of players with NBA experience that include: Travis Wear, DeJuan Blair and Lakers assignee David Nwaba.
Among those players, Nwaba could bring the biggest boost to this D-Fenders squad simply due to the incredible tenacity that he brings on both ends of the court. Offensively, Nwaba shines as an incredible on-ball cutter and amazing offensive rebounder, that averaged 2.7 offensive boards per game. On the other end of the court, Nwaba basically works as a free safety that can move around as a help-side defender by using his athleticism and quickness to block shots and force steals.
On the other side, the RGV Vipers enter their series against the LA D-Fenders with arguably the best backcourt in D-League history. There’s really no hyperbole in that claim as the Vipers are able to trot out a slew of extremely talented backcourt players that’s led by potential D-League MVP Darius Morris. During the regular season, Morris averaged 20 points, 6.4 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game on 45% from the field.
Alongside Morris, the Vipers feature solid backcourt threats that include: Jaron Johnson, Isaiah Taylor, JP Tokoto and Chris Johnson. Each member of that quarter bring their own diverse set of skills, whether its facilitating (Isaiah Taylor), perimeter shooting (Jaron & Chris Johnson) and defensive acumen (Tokoto).
While the Vipers are led by their fantastic backcourt, the team does feature some players that can definitely help them inside the paint. The most prominent player is Rockets rookie Chinanu Onuaku, who has spent the majority of his first NBA season with the RGV Vipers. Onauku has been fantastic during his time with the Vipers as he’s averaged 13.6 points and 10.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks on 63% from the field in only 28 minutes per game.
Possibly the biggest way that Onuaku has helped the Vipers out is through the defensive end. Although that may seem silly as the Vipers stood as one of the worst defenses in the NBADL, Onuaku was still able to make a positive impact when he was on the court. Onuaku’s impact is evident as opponents averaged six points worse when Onuaku was on the court (112.1 points per 100) compared to when he was on the sidelines (118.1 points per 100).
Another Rockets prospect that will look to help the Vipers is 6’10 forward Kyle Wiltjer. Despite his size, Wiltjer has shined as a fantastic perimeter presence for the Viper during his separate stints with the team. In his 22 games with the RGV VIpers, Wiltjer has averaged 2.5 points and 6.4 rebounds on 42% from the field and 38% from beyond the arc on 10 perimeter attempts per game. Those averages were enough to allow WIltjer to maintain a solid 56% True Shooting Percentage.