With the introduction of four new squads in the NBA G League for the 2017-18 season to bring the grand total to 26 teams, the league decided to change their playoff format to correspond with the influx of franchises. Under their new format, six teams in both conferences make it to the playoffs, an improvement on the four teams per conference from prior years.
To help make things more enticing to those playoff teams, the top two seeds in each conference have a first round bye and home court for the following round. In addition to that, every playoff series asides from the G League Finals is under a single elimination format, similar to what you see from the NCAA Tournament or the NFL Playoffs.
G League fans got their first glimpse of this new format over the course of the weekend as four games took place on Friday and Saturday. To start the festivities, the Raptors 905 were able to squeak past the Grand Rapids Drive 92-88 behind a tremendous 24 point, 6 rebound and 7 assist performance by Raptors two-way prospect Lorenzo Brown. On that same night, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers defeated the Texas Legends 107-100 as six players scored in double-digits.
The action continued on Saturday with two more games of fire G League action. In the first game of the day, the Erie Bayhawks defeated division rival Lakeland Magic 96-90 in an ugly defensive battle. Five members of the team scored in double-digits which was led by John Gillon who out up 20 points on 4-13 from field, 2-6 from 3 and 10-12 from the free throw line.
In the following game, the South Bay Lakers took down the OKC Blue 125-105 in a more offensive-oriented game. As four Lakers scored 20+ points, Scott Machado was the leader who put up 27 points, 13 assists and 8 rebounds on 10-22 from the field, 4-6 from 3 and 3-4 from the free throw line line.
After those four games, the field for the 2nd round of the G League playoffs is finally set. Let’s take a gander at the games that will take place tonight and give predictions who the victor will be.
Raptors 905 vs. Westchester Knicks
Monday April 2nd on 7 PM ET at Westchester County Center on NBA TV
The 2nd round of the G League playoffs starts with a battle of two Atlantic Division powerhouses with the 32-18 Westchester Knicks squaring off against the 28-22 Raptors 905. In terms of 2nd round matchups, this battle between the Knicks and 905 might stand as the most intriguing competition. Because not only are they division rivals but there’s a definite argument that these are two of the best squads in the entire Eastern Conference.
In regards to the Westchester Knicks, they’ll enter this game with one of the best lineups in the G League despite losing Nigel Hayes to a 10-day deal from the Sacramento Kings. Although the absence of a player that shot 45% from 3 could hurt, the team still has a wide variety of weapons at their disposal. The headliners will be the trio of Isaiah Hicks, Luke Kornet and Dameyean Dotson, who have all been assigned to the team in time for this matchup against the Raptors 905.
The two-way duo of Isaiah Hicks and Luke Kornet help offer the Knicks their own set of skills. Kornet is a knockdown perimeter shooter that shot 44% from beyond the arc on 5.7 attempts per game. Meanwhile, Hicks is just a solid front-court weapon that can wreck havoc inside the paint no matter if he’s on offensive or defense.
From an offensive perspective, his knack as a low-post and on-ball driving threat led to him averaging 15.6 points, 8 rebounds (2.7 offensive) and 1.5 assists per game on 57% from the field. On an the other end of the floor, Hicks is a force to be reckoned with as his quick feet allow him to keep up with driving guards from the perimeter to paint. That mobility has allowed him to averaging 2.1 blocks per game.
On the other hand, the Raptors 905 has stood as the most consistently dominating defense in the G League since Jerry Stackhouse took over as head coach before the 2016-17 season. During the current campaign, this squad finished 1st in both opponent points per 100 possessions (99.3 points per 100 possessions) and Defensive Rating (99.9 DefRtg). That terrific defense is due to various factors the entire team buying into one system, a crop of long, athletic guards and a front-court that does a great job of preventing the opposition from getting any second chance opportunities.
That system has allowed the 905 to be one of the top teams in the G League despite being below-average offense as they’re 18th in the G League in offensive points per 100 possessions (104.3 points per 100). Their mediocrity is due to the team being a lackluster perimeter shooting team as they shot 34% from beyond the arc during the regular season. Considering the direction that basketball has been going in, inefficient perimeter play can really hinder an offense.
The one thing that the team does have going for them is that they’re the best offensive rebounding team in the G League as they averaged 13.2 offensive boards per 100 possessions. After collecting the offensive boards, they did a nice job of being able to capitalize off those opportunities as they’re top in the G League in points off 2nd chance opportunities with 17.3 points per 100 possessions.
After thinking long and hard about this as both the 905 and Westchester Knicks are extremely solid teams , I give the slight edge to the Knicks. Although the 905 are just an extremely strong defensive team and the defending G League champs, the Knicks’ depth of talent is just so solid. Alongside that trio I mentioned, the Knicks also have Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Billy Garrett, who are both guards that finished the season off in a fantastic way.
Rio Grande Valley Vipers vs. Austin Spurs
Monday April 2nd on 7 PM ET at H-E-B Center At Cedar Park on Twitch
At the same time that Westchester and the Raptors 905 are squaring off, two of the best teams from the Southwest Division as the 32-18 Austin Spurs face off against the 29-21 Rio Grande Valley Vipers. The Vipers will be entering tonight’s game after defeating the Texas Legends 107-100 in a Friday night contest.
Despite having a rough shooting night, as they only shot 31% from beyond the arc, the Vipers still won thanks to an overall team effort as six players (RJ Hunter, Chinanu Onuaku, Darius & Monte Morris, Chris Walker and Cleanthony Early) all scored 10+ points.
That type of game seems like an aberration when you compare to what they were like during the regular season, as they led the league by averaging 112.1 points per 100 possessions. As is customary for a team affiliated with the Rockets, most of their offense came from either the restricted area or beyond the arc.
Their perimeter shooting is headlined by potential G League MVP RJ Hunter who averaged 20.4 points per game on 44% from the field and 38% from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, the players behind their inside attack can be separated in two separate categories: drivers or bigs. The duo of Monte and Darius Morris stand as the team’s two on-ball drivers as they do a great job of being able to attack the rim while being excellent facilitators.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Vipers have had the opportunity to utilize a plethora of bigs that include: Zhou Qi, Chinanu Onuaku, Isaiah Hartenstein and Chris Walker. That quartet has pushed the RGV Vipers to be the 3rd best offensive rebounding team in the G League as they average 12.6 offensive boards per 100 possessions.
While the RGV VIpers shine due to their powerful offense, the Austin Spurs are a pretty balanced squad that stands 7th in points per 100 possessions ( 108.8 points per 100) and 8th in opponent points per 100 possessions (103.9 points per 100).
In regards to their offensive attack, that damage is mostly done by an incredible backcourt duo of Darrun Hilliard and Derrick White who both averaged 20 points per game. Hilliardis a solid sharp-shooter that shot 40% from beyond the arc while White is a solid on-ball slasher. The 3rd weapon in that offensive attack is rookie forward Jaron Blossomgame, who averaged 16.5 points per game on 55% from the field, which is mostly built around post-ups and on-ball drives.
From a defensive perspective, the front-court duo of Amida Brimah and Matt Costello stood as the team’s lead rim protectors as they averaged 2.6 and 2.1 blocks per game, respectively.
Although the RGV Vipers are a few days removed from a hard-fought win over the Texas Legends, I’m going to look over the potential rust that the Austin Spurs might have and predict them as the winners. Their balance of elite offense and fantastic defense might be too much for an RGV Vipers team that is just built around their offense.