Over the past decade, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers have arguably stood as the premier franchise in the NBA G League. Dating back to 2009-10, the team have had only one season (2011-12) where they’ve finished below .500. More often than not, that regular season success transfers over to the postseason as the team has made it to the Finals in four of nine seasons from 2009-10 through 2017-18. By winning the title on two of those occasions, the team entered the 2018-19 season by standing alongside the Austin Toros/Spurs and the Dakota Wizards/Santa Cruz Warriors as the most successful franchises in G League history.
One man that knows about that prosperity is former Arizona Wildcats center Joseph Blair, who worked as an assistant for the RGV Vipers under Matt Brasse from 2015 through 2018. After the end of that 2017-18 season, Brasse was promoted to a role as assistant coach for the Houston Rockets. Just one month after that Brasse announcement, the Vipers announced that Blair would be their new head coach.
As is the case for a lot of 1st year head coaches, Blair experienced some speed bumps in his first few weeks on his new job. Following their December 20th loss to the Long Island Nets, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers stood with just an 8-8 record.
Immediately after that late December defeat, the Vipers went on a incredible run as they won 13 of their next 15 games. That success allowed them to finish January with a 22-11 record. RGV’s sudden prosperity was due to how they were able to shine on both ends of the floor. In those 15 game stretch, they were 5th in points per 100 possession (114.4 points per 100) and 2nd in opponents points per 100 (99.7 points per 100). The Vipers were the only team in the G League to finish in the top-10 in both categories.
RGV’s status as one of the best teams in the G League persisted for the remainder of the year as they finished with a 34-16 record. As was the case during that stretch from December to January, the Vipers’ success was due to how solid they were on both ends of the court. They finished the season ranking 5th in opponents points per 100 (104.8 points per 100) and 10th in points per 100 (108.6 points per 100).
Success persisted for the Vipers into the playoffs as they made quick work of the Memphis Hustle and Santa Cruz Warriors, as they beat them 135-118 and 144-125, respectively. Those wins pushed the team to the G League Finals where they met Long Island.
While they started the series off on a bumpy note, as the Nets won 117-107 in Game 1, Blair and the Vipers weren’t quite ready to throw in the towel. For Game 2, the team was able to use the combination of home court advantage and tremendous play from Isaiah Hartenstein pushed the Vipers to a 127-116 victory in Game 2. Although they were looked at as the underdog in the winner-take-all Game 3 due to being back in Long Island, the Vipers ended up winning 129-112 to win the 2018-19 G League title.
With the Vipers victory, Joseph Blair became the third straight coach to win the G League title in his first season, as he followed Jerry Stackhouse in 2017 and Blake Ahearn in 2018. That title win also pushed the Vipers to be the first team in the G League to win three championships.
The accomplishments don’t just stop at Rio Grande Valley finishing with the G League’s best regular season record and a championship. In addition to on-court success, several Vipers also called up to the NBA over the course of the G League season. Gary Payton II, Bruno Caboclo and Michael Frazier were all signed to standard NBA deal. Meanwhile, the duo of Danuel House and Brandon Sampson both signed two-way deals with Houston and Chicago, respectively, after starting the season with the RGV Vipers.
During his first year as a head coach for any team, Joseph Blair did the improbable by pushing the Vipers to have the league’s best regular season record and also win their third title in franchise history. In addition to that, he also helped progress a handful of Vipers players to a point where they received call-ups to the NBA. With those accomplishments, we’re happy to announce that Joseph Blair is Ridiculous Upside’s G League Coach of the Year for the 2018-19 season.