Mark your calendars and set your watches folks - the G League playoffs kick off tomorrow. Friday features a pair of first round, single elimination matchups, including the Eastern Conference’s second place squad, Raptors 905, and the Grand Rapids Drive. Here’s what you need to know:
WHEN: 7 PM ET
WHERE: Hershey Centre, Ontario, Canada
HOW TO WATCH: Facebook Live
What you need to know about the Raptors 905:
The defending champion Raptors 905 boast the third amount of wins in the league (31) and the second best team +/- (4.9), just one-tenths of a point behind the West-leading Austin Spurs. They had the best defensive rating in the league (their 99.9 rating is the only sub-100 rating in the league) and their net rating is third-best in the league at 4.4.
To put all of that into layman’s terms, the Raptors 905 are one of the league’s premier squads.
But how, Shawn? Let me tell you, reader. They field a quartet of players with sub-100 defensive ratings. Fuquan Edwin (95.6), Shevon Thompson (95.8), Davion Berry (97.2) and Lorenzo Brown (98.7) anchor the league’s top defensive squad. Brown (1.8) and Edwin (1.6) lead the team in steals per game, while Thompson is good for one block per contest.
Defense is a huge part of what’s gotten the Raptors 905 to a top-two spot in the conference standings. They’ve allowed just 97.3 points per game, and opponents are shooting just 43.6% against them. But don’t sleep on the offense.
The tandem of Lorenzo Brown (18.8 points per game) and Alfonzo McKinnie (14.0 points per game) average just about one-third of the team’s points. The duo alo pulls down 5.2 and 7.5 rebounds, respectively.
Player to watch: Kennedy Meeks, center.
This guy knows a thing or two about winning single elimination games.
Meeks won the 2017 NCAA Tournament with UNC, and broke Tyler Hansbrough’s school record for rebounds in a single tournament in the process. He’s third on the Raptors 905 in scoring at 12.8 points per game, and is pulling down 9.6 rebounds as well.
Meeks is coming off of a strong March in which he averaged 13.6 points per game, his second best scoring month of the season aside from January (13.8 points per game). The Raptors have their lead scorers in Brown and McKinnie, but if Meeks can step up from being a third fiddle (is that a thing?) to create a big three, the team will have a strong inside-out offense.
What you need to know about the Grand Rapids Drive:
To sum it up, the Drive are essentially middle of the pack in offensive rating (105.1) and defensive rating (102.5). But they’re eighth in three-point percentage (36.3%) on 32.4 attempts per game.
They’ve got shooters. Marcus Simmons (44.4% from deep), Bronson Koenig (40.5%) and Jameel Morris (39.2%) can step out and shoot it. The Drive can also pound it inside with big man Landry Nnoko, who’s averaging 14.7 points and 11.5 rebounds (4.5 of which are on the offensive end.)
Add in athletic swingman KJ McDaniels and former Cleveland Cavalier Kay Felder at point, and the Drive have got some players that can make some noise - especially in a single-elimination series.
The key will be cracking the Raptors’ coat of armor that is their strong defense.
The Drive are a game over .500 (13-12) on the road, and their scoring only drops by about two points per game. At home, the Raptors are allowing nearly the same amount of points as they do on the road (97.2 to 97.4). The difference? Opponents are shooting just 33% from three when the Raptors are hosting, compared to 37% on the road.
So for the Drive, it’s going to come down to if their above-league-average three point shooting can beat out the best defensive squad they’ll have faced all season. The Drive are shooting 36% from deep in March, their worst mark on the season since the season’s first month.
Player to watch: Bronson Koenig, guard.
“I like to have the ball in my hands in those kinds of situations because I believe in myself.”
Koenig told this to USA TODAY after nailing a game winning three-pointer at the buzzer against Xavier in the second round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
The Wisconsin sharpshooter might just be made for moments like that. If the Drive want to pull off a win on Friday night, they might just need some of Koenig’s clutch play to resurface.
After a blistering hot January in which he shot 49% from deep, Koenig fell off into the low-30’s the past two months. One might think that’s a bad sign. But the law of averages says he’s due for a rebound, and what better time to return to form than in a single elimination game?
Koenig plays better on the road (11.3 points per game to 8.0 at home). If those numbers stay true to form in Canada, he could be in for a big night.