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

Dakota Schmidt looks over the Western Conference teams that will be playing in the 1st round of the G League playoffs.

Adelaide 36ers v Utah Jazz Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./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.

Stockton Kings

Player to Watch: Daniel Ochefu

After spending his first two years as a pro struggling to find his footing, whether he was with the Washington Wizards or multiple G League teams. However, the third year has definitely seemed like a charm for the Villanova alum as he’s honestly vaulted himself towards being arguably the best big in the G League that’s not on some sort of NBA contract. He’s been able to maintain that status through averaging 14.8 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.1 blocks per game on 60% from the field.

Ochefu’s production on this end has mostly come in the paint from running in transition, working as a roll man, driving to the paint low-post or crashing the offensive glass. Among this skills, he’s probably most impressive as an on-ball driver as he seems pretty confident working with the ball in his hands for a 6’11, 240 pound big. That kind of impact is felt by how the Kings’ offense are three points better per 100 possessions when Ochefu is on the court (107.3 points per 100) compared to when he’s sitting on the sidelines (104.1 points per 100).

As the Kings transition to the playoffs and look to their Wednesday night game against the Memphis Hustle, Ochefu will be looked at as one of the biggest factors behind their potential postseason success. Because in a league with a real lack of bigs, Ochefu could be a huge threat on a game-by-game basis through his versatile offense. In addition to that, his presence as a solid screener could also allow the likes of Matt Jones or Cody Demps to get open perimeter looks.

They could win the title if..

While every G League team deals with a wide array of change over the course of the season, Stockton could honestly call themselves the kings of having to adapt. Just over the past two months, the Kings have had to deal with losing two big contributors: guard Kalin Lucas and forward Cameron Reynolds. Lucas moved on from the team on January 15th to sign a two-way deal with the Detroit Pistons. One month later, the Minnesota Timberwolves signed Reynolds to a 10-day deal. After having a few solid games at the NBA level, the T-Wolves decided to sign the rookie forward to a multi-year deal.

Since Reynolds signed with the Timberwolves, the Kings have lost a step as they’ve gone 5-5 in the games since his departure. That sudden mediocrity unsurprisingly had to due with offensive struggles as they’ve averaged 109 points per 100 possessions since Reynolds got called up compared to 113.4 points per 100 when the current T-Wolves forward was with Stockton.

While those strifes have hindered the Kings, there have been some glimmers of hope as several Kings like Taren Sullivan, Matt Jones, Cody Demps and Troy Williams have all done their part to step up since Reynolds departed.

As those players now look to their first round matchup against the Memphis Hustle, it’ll be curious to see if the sudden growth spurts that they experienced towards the end of the year will be finally be put to the side. If that’s able to happen, the Kings could have a shot at making a run as they have a pretty solid unit of both back and front-court players that know what their on-court roles are. That mindset is shown by Demps’ work as a facilitator, Jones or Williams being solid slashers, Reggie Hearn and Taren Sullivan standing as 3-and-D wings or Ochefu and Anthony Walker dominating on the offensive glass. While they no longer have Lucas or Reynolds, the Kings are still in position to make a real playoff run.

Memphis Hustle

Player to Watch: Tarik Phillip

One of the most pleasant surprises of this season has been the performance of former West Virginia guard Tarik Phillip. Arriving to the team as a tryout player, Phillip was able to progress from being a relatively unknown player to standing as one of the most well-rounded guards in the G League. That versatile status is evident by him averaging 16 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals on 46% from the field and 39% from beyond the arc on 4 attempts per game since the calendar turned to 2019.

From an offensive standpoint, Phillip has been like Monta Ellis with how he does it all as he’s been able to shine as the Hustle’s lead facilitator, knockdown perimeter threat, post-up threat or using his strong 195 pound frame to finish at the rim.

While that versatility has allowed him to put up big numbers, the majority of Phillips’ impact on the Hustle has dealt with his work on the defensive end through his ability to snatch the ball away from opposing guards that are trying to probe to the paint or attempting to dish it off to teammates. Aside from his solid steal average, Phillips’ impact is felt by how opposing teams are seven points per 100 possessions worse when he’s on the court (103.4 points per 100) compared to when he’s sitting on the sidelines (110.6 points per 100).

They could win the title if:

Like we mentioned in the section on the Raptors 905, the Hustle have the chance to be an extremely dangerous team in the playoffs as long as they have their full share of weapons. For the Hustle, that includes having Grizzlies assignees Tyler Dorsey and Jevon Carter, who have both played tremendously for the minor league club. In addition to those prospects, another player that would be imperative to the team’s success is sharpshooting guard Tyler Harvey, who has been out over the last few weeks with an injury to his left foot.

When the Hustle do have all those assets together and healthy, they stand as one of the more dangerous offenses in the entire G League as they’d have a plethora of sharp-shooters. Alongside the trio that we already touched on, the likes of Tarik Phillip, Dusty Hannahs and Julian Washburn are all capable of lighting it up on a nightly basis.

While they weren’t the best defensive team, both Doral Moore and Grizzlies two-way player Yuta Watanabe are solid stoppers on this end of the floor. Watanabe has shown himself to be capable of defending multiple positions while Moore is a solid rim protector that has averaged 2.1 blocks per game.

OKC Blue

Player to Watch: Kevin Hervey

For the majority of his rookie season in the G League, OKC Thunder prospect Kevin Hervey stood as a relative non-factor for the Oklahoma City Blue. That likely had to due with a bone bruise to his left knee that didn’t allow him to play a second in the G League until December 21st. After he made his G League debut against Grand Rapids, it unsurprisingly took him awhile to get into the type of condition where he can be able to make a positive on-court impact on a game-by-game basis.

After a decent February where he averaged 11 points and 8 rebounds, Hervey really started to thrive in the following month and show significant flashes of the player that the Thunder took with the 57th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

In March, he put up 17 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.7 blocks per game on 50% from the field and 35% from beyond the arc. Hervey’s presence actually pushed the Blue to have their best offensive month as they put up 115.7 points per 100 possessions. That’s a significant difference from the 108.9 points per 100 that they were averaging from the start of the season until February 28th. While the likes of Dez Wells, Hamidou Diallo and Bryce Alford were all solid during the final month of the season, the rookie’s impact is shown when you dig deeper into the numbers.

For example, the Blue were 10 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the court (117.9 points per 100) compared to when he’s on the sidelines (107.8 points per 100). That ten point differential was the highest among any player on the team.

With the Blue looking to make a run in their third straight playoff appearance, the team will need Hervey to maintain the same level of play that he showed during the last few weeks of the regular season. If the rookie can maintain his status as a forward that can crash the offensive glass, move the ball around, run in transition, post-up and hit the occasional 3 then the Blue might be in pretty good shape.

They could win the title if..

Aside from Kevin Hervey, the Oklahoma City Blue have more than a handful of other solid players that allowed them to have a 34-16 record and finish in the top 10 in both points per 100 possessions and opponent points per 100 possessions. They join the RGV Vipers as the only teams that are in the top 10 in both categories. OKC’s ability to be extremely solid on both ends of the ball is itself a reason to remain confident that they can make their way through an extremely competitive stretch of playoff games.

From an offensive perspective, the likes of Dez Wells, Scotty Hopson, Bryce Alford, Donte Grantham, Chris Wright and Deonte Burton have joined Hervey to create a solid blend of slashers and perimeter marksmen. That cornucopia of players helped guide the Blue to finish the season winning 9 out of their last 10 games.

While those players have obviously done a great job pushing the Blue to be one of the league’s hottest teams, that core could be even stronger as the Thunder recently picked up two-way player Jawun Evans off the waiver wire. Will he actually be play for the BLue in their tuesday night game against the Salt Lake City Stars and then make a smooth transition into the team’s established rotation? Jury’s going to be out on that. However, he definitely stands as a great player for the Blue to have in their back pocket in future rounds if they’re able to get past the SLC Stars

SLC Stars

Player to Watch: Nazareth Mitrou-Long

For the first time since the 2008-09 season - when they were known as the Idaho Stampede - the Salt Lake City Stars have made it to the G League playoffs after finishing the year with a 27-23 record. While front-court players like Tyler Cavanaugh and even Willie Reed had an impact behind their success, 2nd year guard Naz Mitrou-Long has definitely been the leader for the team in their late season run for a spot in the playoffs.

During the team’s last 8 games of the season where they went 6-2, the two-way player led the way by putting up 21 points, 4 assists and 4.2 rebounds on 52% from the field and 36% from beyond the arc on 6.5 attempts per game. That scoring volume combined with him maintaining a stellar 66% True Shooting percentage undoubtedly put him as a great lead scoring threat that ultimately guided the team to a spot in the playoffs.

They could win the title if..

While Mitrou-Long was an extremely important player for the Stars in the final few weeks of the season, his significance will need to heighten as the team looks to make a playoff run. Because aside from him, the Stars honestly only have fellow two-way player Tyler Cavanaugh, Jazz assignee Grayson Allen, Isaiah Cousins and Jairus Lyles as the players that can be relied upon to make an offensive impact on a game-by-game basis. While that talent was good enough to put them in the top-5 in the G League in points per 100 possessions, it’ll definitely be interesting to see if they can maintain that type of play against other elite teams.

While there’s definitely some pessimism in there, all of those players are more than capable of getting hot from beyond the arc. As we’ve from numerous NCAA Tournament games over the years,, teams with great perimeter shooters are always capable of beating any opposing squad that they are lucky enough to face. So while the Stars may be entering Tuesday’s game against the OKC Blue as underdogs, they definitely have the kind of weapons that can capable of getting red hot and guiding them to some big wins.