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2019 NBA G League Playoffs 1st Round Preview: Eastern Conference

Sacramento Kings v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

After a five-month long regular season, the G League playoffs will finally begin tonight with two games where we’ll see the Grand Rapids Drive face the Raptors 905 and SLC Stars go against the OKC Blue. On the following day, the Windy City Bulls will square off against the Stockton Kings. All of those teams will compete for an opportunity to move onto the conference semifinals to play one of the four squads that were able to get first round byes.

To help prepare you for these games, we’ve done breakdown on each of the eight teams that will compete in the 1st round by giving you a player to watch and what needs to happen for them to win a G League title.

Windy City Bulls: Will play the Westchester Knicks at 7 PM EST on March 27th

Player to Watch: Jakarr Sampson

Despite spending a full month in the Chinese Basketball Association playing for the Shandong Golden Stars from mid-December to late January, JaKarr Sampson has stood as a pretty integral part of Windy City’s overall success. An example of that impact is shown by how the team are ten points per 100 possessions better when he’s on the court (109.6 points per 100) compared to when he’s sitting on the sidelines (99.6 points per 100). That 10-point differential is the biggest gap among Bulls prospects that spent more than 5 games with the team.

As has been the case since his time with the Philadelphia 76ers, Sampson’s main scoring method has been inside the paint by making on/off-ball drives to the rim, posting up or just attacking the offensive glass. While those skills aren’t the most exciting, it did allow him to average 21.1 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.1 blocks on 54% from the field and 30% from beyond the arc on 3.2 attempts per game.

Sampson’s unique ability to average 20 points, 10 rebounds per night will obviously be a huge benefit for the Bulls once they start their first playoff game against the Windy City Bulls. From an offensive perspective, he’ll have an opportunity to create some real headaches for Knicks forward Jameel Warney and the rest of Westchester as he’ll constantly try to work off ball so that Bulls point guard Walter Lemon can throw him passes. As the defense tries to keep attention to both Lemon and Sampson, that should allow the team’s cavalcade of perimeter shooters to have open looks.

They could win the title if..

As evident by their nine game winning streak earlier this season, the Windy City Bulls have the potential to get red hot on offense whenever they step on the court. That potential for offensive dominance is led by point guard Walter Lemon, whose combination of on-ball driving veracity and dynamic distributing has allowed him to average 20.1 points, 8.7 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game on 48% from the field while maintaining a 2.4 assist/turnover ratio.

While his knack as a scorer has created some fantastic moments for Windy City, Lemon will need to find a way of utilizing the team’s cornucopia of perimeter shooters to really push the team over the top. Because if the likes of Kaiser Gates, Mychal Mulder and Brandon Sampson have sustained success from beyond the arc then the limit for this team would only be the skies.

Grand Rapids Drive: Will play the Raptors 905 at 8 PM EST on Tuesday March 26th.

Player to Watch: Kalin Lucas

After starting the year with the Stockton Kings, the veteran guard was moved to the Grand Rapids Drive after signing a two-way deal with the Detroit Pistons. In his 17 games with the Drive, Lucas has stood out as one of the best offensive guards in the G League as he’s averaged 21.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists on 46% from the field and 45% from beyond the arc on 5.8 attempts per game. Those averages has allowed him to maintain a pretty solid 57% true shooting percentage with Grand Rapids.

While he’s been fantastic since joining Grand Rapids, he’ll be entering the playoffs on a insanely hot streak as he put up 30+ points in five of the six games leading up to the start of the playoffs. With him entering the team’s first playoff game against the Raptors 905 on a hot stretch, Lucas could be the biggest tool behind the Drive continuing their success into the playoffs.

They could win the title if:

In addition to Kalin Lucas, the Drive have a pretty stellar backcourt featuring NBA veteran Marcus Thornton, Pistons two-way player Isaiah Whitehead and stud facilitator Kenneth “Speedy” Smith. As we mentioned in a recent piece, Thornton has been a fantastic offensive threat for Grand Rapids this year as he’s stood out as a fantastic perimeter threat as he’s averaged 22 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game on 45% from field and 39% from 3 on 8 attempts per game.

Alongside the NBA veteran, Whitehead has stood as a fine 3rd option for the Drive since getting signed by the Pistons on a two-way deal. While he struggled when he arrived, the Drive guard ended the season on a high note as he put up 26 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists on 47% from field during the last 5 games of the season. While he’s not at the same level of the scorer as the aforementioned trio, Smith has been able to shine through his speed in transition and knack as a facilitator. During this season, he’s averaged 7 assists per game with a fantastic 3.0 Ast/TO ratio.

When those four players are working together as a cohesive unit, Grand Rapids might have the most lethal offensive backcourt in the G League. As the team really doesn’t have much in terms of front-court pieces when you look away from Adam Woodbury and Johnny Hamilton, that quartet needs to work in harmony for the Drive to have a shot at the G League title.

Raptors 905: Plays the Grand Rapids Drive at 8 PM EST on Tuesday March 26th

Player to Watch: Wade Baldwin

During the regular season, most of the attention surrounding the Raptors 905 dealt with two-way players Chris Boucher and Jordan Loyd. For the first player, the 6’10 forward stood as the league’s marque sensation for the first two months of the season before ultimately moving up to the NBA and getting signed to a guaranteed deal by the team in early February.

Meanwhile, Loyd has been a stellar leader for the team throughout the season as he put up 22.5 points, 5.9 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 1.8 steals on 48% from field and 37% from beyond the arc on 6 attempts in the 41 games he played with the team.

But aside from those two players, the 905 have had a cornucopia of prospects that have come in and helped out in spurts whether it be Malachi Richardson, Derek Cooke, MiKyle McIntosh, Malcolm Miller or Jordan Howard. However, veteran NBA guard Wade Baldwin is a player that has stood at the top of the mountain among 2nd or 3rd weapons to coincide with those aforementioned players.

Since joining the 905, Baldwin has played the best basketball since his time with Vanderbilt as he put up 21.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.4 steals per game on 49% from the field and 39% from 3 on 4.7 attempts per game during the 8 regular season games he played with the team.

Now that he’s acclimated with the team, Baldwin should be a real game changer for the team as a dynamic offensive weapon. Because with the 905, he’s showcased himself as a solid facilitator that can spot his targets while working pick-and-roll or in transition. In addition to that, he can do work off the dribble or hit perimeter shots in catch-and-shoot. So while Loyd or Boucher (if he’s there) will be the 905’s main weapons in their game against the Westchester Knicks, Baldwin’s impact as a side piece could mean the difference for them as they hope to move to the next round.

They could win the title if..

The 905 have a pretty good shot at making it to their 3rd straight G League finals by having one of the deeper rosters in the league when Chris Boucher is with them rather than the Raptors. They’re one of the only G League teams where you can honestly say they have a very deep back and front-court. In addition to the aforementioned Loyd and Baldwin, the likes of Duane Notice, Josh Adams and Jordan Howard have all stood as solid backcourt weapons for the team. Meanwhile, MiKyle McIntosh, Derek Cooke Jr and Rodney Pryor joins Boucher to create a pretty solid front-court.

That nine-man rotation could honestly compete with other team in the G League on a night-by-night game basis. But will it be enough to push them over the top of the Westchester Knicks and beyond? There’s a strong possibility as head coach Jama Mahlalela will have a unique opportunity to keep teams on their toes through some pretty unique lineups.

Westchester Knicks: Plays the Windy City Bulls at 7 PM EST on Wednesday, March 27th

Player to Watch: Billy Garrett

After John Jenkins signed a 10-day deal with the New York Knicks, Westchester needed someone to step up and become the team’s leading scoring threat. 2nd year guard Billy Garrett took that job with the quickness as he immediately stepped up as the team’s offense leader. That status is evident as he’s averaged 20 points, 4.2 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game on 45% from field and 35% from beyond the arc on 5.2 attempts per game since Jenkins departed the G League.

While he’s been a solid offensive weapon since arriving in the G League last year, Garrett has turned into a well-rounded option as he’s combined a pretty consistent perimeter jumper with a solid mid-range shot and ability to drive to the rim.

With two-way player Kadeem Allen spending a lot of time with New York, Garrett has served as a good leader for the team’s young backcourt. In addition to his work as a scorer, he’s also taken on the task of being the team’s lead facilitator as he’s done a great job of getting Jameel Warney and Isaiah Hicks involved in the team’s offense through work in the pick-and-roll.

While Allen could return for Westchester for postseason play, there’s no doubt that Garrett should retain his status as the team’s offensive leader when the Knicks compete against the Raptors 905.

They could win the title if..

Analysis from Ridiculous Upside contributor Chris Priczak

The Westchester Knicks are primed to make a run in the G League postseason. The Knicks have a few high level players who have been performing really well.

Jameel Warney is playing at a high level and has shown to be considered a candidate for an NBA call-up and G League MVP. He has taken his game to another level since arriving in Westchester. He showed that the team can feed him the ball and he can be a high level scorer for the team. He attacks the glass, creates second chance opportunities, and has shown to find his teammates when they’re open when opposing defenses throw a double team at him.

Billy Garrett has been a high level contributor for Westchester this season and took his game to another level when his role increased. His offensive game has matured during his two years with the team where he can be relied on to score 20 points a game, come come in clutch moments, and has improved on his perimeter game. He has scored 20-plus points in 15 of his final 19 games of the season. Garrett has shown this season that even when he misses shots, he can still impact the game with his energy and force turnovers.

Westchester has many defensive and versatile players that have made the Knicks one of the top defensive teams in the G League. Kadeem Allen, Paul Watson and Zak Irvin have played a crucial part in Westchester’s defense, while Watson’s versatility adds more to the team when he is at the four. Isaiah Hicks and Jameel Warney have formed a solid front court duo and both have given the team a presence down low. Hicks has shown to be one of the top shot blockers in the G League the past two seasons, while Warney is averaging 1.5 blocks in the past 10 games.

Here are some stats on Westchester’s defense:

No. 1 in opponent field goal percentage (42.5%)

No. 1 in opponent effective field goal percentage (48.9%) (only team that held opponents under 50%).

No. 2 in defensive rating (102.3)

No. 2 in opponent points per game (105.0)

No. 2 in opponent points in paint (45.0)

No. 3 in opponent fast break points (11.6)

No. 5 in opponent points off turnovers (17.5)

No. 8 (tied with Capital City) in opponent second chance points (13.5)

No. 10 (tied with Windy City) in opponent three-point percentage (34.3)

With several high level contributors like Jameel Warney, Billy Garrett, Isaiah Hicks and one of the top defenses in the G League, the Westchester Knicks are primed to make a run in the playoffs. That doesn’t include Kadeem Allen, who has been performing well with New York, and Luke Kornet who could be with Westchester on Wednesday. The Knicks have the pieces in place to do damage in the postseason.