Los Angeles D-Fenders vs. Rio Grande Valley Vipers Preview
The NBA D-League Playoffs are finally among us as eight teams look to raise the championship trophy this year. This will also be the final year it will be considered a D-League Championship as the league will re-brand itself as the NBA Gatorade League (G-League) next season.
For those unfamiliar with the D-League Playoff format, each round is a Best-of-3 series with the lower seed hosting Game 1 at home each round.
Los Angeles D-Fenders (2) vs. Rio Grande Valley Vipers (3)
Don’t expect a ton of defense to be played when these two teams hit the court. The Vipers and D-Fenders finished first and second in points per game this past D-League season (120.1 and 118.2 respectively) while giving up the second and third-most points per game (115.6 points for LA, 115.3 for the Vipers).
Buckets, buckets, and quite possibly even more buckets will rain down as these teams will play with high energy and simply try to outscore one another.
The D-Fenders will be paced by top D-League prospect Vander Blue, who eclipsed the 4,000 career point mark this past season, only the third player to do so in NBADL history. Blue averaged just under 25 points per game while shooting 43.4% from the field. He’s a volume shooter, and the D-Fenders went 12-2 during the regular season when he attempted at least 20 field goals in a single contest.
Blue is not afraid to attack the basket or get to the free throw line. He set a new D-League record just this past week for most free throws made and attempted (23-for-27), 10 more attempts than the opposing team that night.
Despite being an offensive-happy team, the D-Fenders will receive a huge boost on the defensive side courtesy of David Nwaba. His defensive prowess is the reason the Lakers called him up this past season and why he signed a multi-year deal with the club.
He will be responsible with guarding the scoring threats of the Vipers like former Laker Darius Morris. The Febraury D-League Player of the Month, Morris has been quite an offensive juggernaut for the snakes. He’s averaging 20 points per game but shooting below 35% from three-point range this season.
In the frontcourt, the battle will be against Justin Harper of the D-Fenders and Chinanu Onuaku for RGV. Harper earned a call-up this year with the Philadelphia 76ers. Meanwhile, Onuaku has spent the majority of the season with the Vipers, a staple for big men looking to acclimate to the Houston Rocket system.
Before Onuaku came Clint Capela (2014-15) and Montrezl Harrell (2015-16). Onuaku is on a similar path with his improvement this past season for the Vipers. He averaged a double-double for Vipers during the regular season (13.6 points, 10.6 rebounds) in 43 games with the team. What’s impressive about those numbers is he averaged just 28 minutes per contest in that span.
Don’t think that you can send Onuaku to the free throw line via hack-a-(insert name here) methods. Onuaku has utilized the infamous Rick Barry free-throw form and is shooting a modest 73% from the charity stripe, a solid number for a big man.
The Vipers will have extra backup in the form of their assignment players, Kyle Wiltjer, who is a deep-threat for RGV, and perhaps the league’s best-kept secret, Isaiah Taylor.
Taylor missed a majority of the regular season due to injury, but came back in February and has put on a clinic, so much so the Rockets signed him immediately to a multi-year deal and left him on assignment to continue his development.
Taylor is shooting over 51% from the field in 25 games, while shooting 45% from long range as well.
Josh Magette will certainly have his work cut out for him in this series. He averaged a near double-double this past regular season with 15 points and nine assists but will need to play against a longer and faster team in the Vipers.
- The Vipers won the regular season series 3-1
- Chris Johnson will be an important asset for the Vipers as well as Jaron Johnson, who was a late season acquisition after spending the season in Australia. Johnson was sidelined with injury for a significant portion of the season.
- There will be plenty of opportunities to shoot 3-pointers as well, with both teams averaging a combined 61 attempts from deep.