Santa Cruz Warriors: The New Powerhouse of the D-League
In the early to mid 2000’s the Dakota Wizards were a dynasty in the minor league circuit wining four championships between 2000 and 2007 in the IBA, CBA and of course in the 2006-07 season in their inaugural season with the NBA D-League. While they had some success after winning the title, the Wizards never made it past the semifinals of the D-League playoffs, but it appears that all the team really needed was a new address, a new affiliate and of course a new name to bring them success.
This past summer the Golden State Warriors–who owned the Dakota Wizards–decided to move the franchise to Santa Cruz and rebrand them as the Santa Cruz Warriors. The main reason they did this is so that the Warriors could be closer and have more accessibility to their D-League franchise. Since Santa Cruz is a little over an hour away from the Golden State arena, the Warriors could easily move their prospects back and forth between the D-League and the NBA which looked to be very intelligent because the Golden State Warriors were filled with young talent with potential. But nobody would’ve guessed the success Golden State would have early on in the 2012-13 NBA season.
Through out the first two months of the season, the Golden State Warriors currently sit at a 20-10 record, making them one of the biggest surprise stories of the season so far. The young core of David Lee, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson has been leading this team into the middle of the Western Conference playoff picture. The one negative aspect of being in the middle of the playoff race is the simple fact that these playoff teams have their core group of 6-9 players that they use to carry them through the season, which sadly makes the rest of the team sit on the bench. This group of mostly young players haven’t had that opportunity or playing time needed to improve their skills.
That group includes the likes of guard Kent Bazemore and the 6’10” Jeremy Tyler who have both been sent multiple times to the Santa Cruz Warriors to get that opportunity and playing time to improve their skills and show Golden State that they have what it takes to be a part of their rotation. Even though they’ve only played limited minutes in Santa Cruz they both have made a huge impact on this Santa Cruz team. Bazemore is averaging a stunning 24 PPG, 7 RPG and an unbelievable 5 SPG which is up there among the best performances by an NBA player assigned to the D-League. While Jeremy Tyler hasn’t been as outstanding as Bazemore he’s still averaged a near double-double in his few games with Santa Cruz by putting up 14 PPG and 9.7 RPG.
While Bazemore and Jeremy Tyler have produced and made an impact on the Santa Cruz Warriors, the team is still filled with solid players who have taken this team to the top of the entire NBA D-League. When you look at this team you have to start out with former Clipper and Georgia guard Travis Leslie. Right now he’s the #3 prospect in the D-League and for good reason because he’s leading this Warriors team while averaging 16.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG and 1.5 SPG. While it’s great to see Travis lead this Warriors team it’s also bittersweet for Santa Cruz fans. It seems like just a matter of time before he’ll be joining Jarvis Varnado and Chris Douglas Roberts as call-ups to the NBA because you can easily see that Leslie has the skill and, more importantly, the ruthless aggression that NBA teams just drool over.
Another player that scouts could drool over would be guard Stefhon Hannah who’s an absolute force to be reckoned with defensively. Offensively the point guard is averaging 14 PPG on only 38 % shooting, but he makes his worth defensively after winning the D-League defensive player of the year last year and still being a beast with the Warriors this season.
Hannah, Leslie, and Bazemore (when he’s in Santa Cruz) make up a solid back-court for the Warriors. I think this team really shines in their deep front-court. I’ve already talked about Jeremy Tyler who’s been producing in his stints with the Warriors. There are a few others players that are really shining so far this season as well. The first name that comes to mind when I look at this Warriors front-court would be Taylor Griffin who of course is the older brother of Clippers star Blake Griffin and a former 2nd round pick by the Phoenix Suns. One of the first things you notice about Taylor Griffin is how athletic he is for a forward who’s 6’8″. This is a guy who can easily move around the court and is currently being very productive by averaging 12.4 PPG and 7 RPG in 28 MPG after sharing time as a starter and coming off of the bench.
Last. but certainly not least, former Trail Blazer center Chris Johnson has been reduced to a bench spot after being a star member of the Dakota Wizards last year. It appears that he’s turning things around after a superb 24-point performance off of the bench on Thursday, Dec. 27, against the Springfield Armor. While I was watching that game against the Armor, I noticed that he was energetic because he was coming off of the bench, but he also had great footwork and some great post moves for a man who’s 7’0″ and is a current D-League bench player.
Does this Warriors team have what it takes to make it all the way to the D-League finals? Absolutely. At 8-2, they currently have the best record in the D-League. However, they some uncertainties because Travis Leslie could be packing his bags tomorrow to be a member of the NBA and nobody really has a clue about how many games the likes of Bazemore and Tyler will play because they’ll be moving up and down for the rest of the season between the NBA and the D-League. This team is exciting and fun to watch, but having a fun and exciting D-League team could end up hurting you because those exciting players will eventually make their way to the NBA. So I personally advise you to go to the D-League website or YouTube and watch this Warriors team play now before the joyride comes to an end.