D-League Games to Watch: Nov. 18 – 23rd
8:00 PM: Texas Legends @ Rio Grande Valley Vipers (Versus)
The Texas Legends – in their first year as a franchise – may well have the best name recognition of any team in the D-League. Reece Gaines, Rashard McCants and Sean Williams were all former NBA 1st round draft selections, and they play along with another first rounder in 12-year NBA veteran Antonio Daniels.
Still, the big name associated with this squad is head coach Nancy Lieberman. Lieberman is a NBA Hall of Famer with what is truly an iconic career in women’s basketball. She’s played in the WNBA, the WBL (Women’s Professional Basketball League), the USBL (Men’s U.S. Basketball League), and even played with the Washington Generals (of Harlem Globetrotters fame).
Lieberman, or ‘Lady Magic’ if you’d prefer, becomes the first woman to coach a NBA D-League game on Thursday night, and does so against the defending D-League champions, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, who lost most of their squad from last year, had a good draft in Marquis Gilstrap, Mohamed Faye, and Richard Roby. The Vipers will also have the services of Patrick Patterson to started the season with the Rockets.
7:00 PM: Austin Toros @ Maine Red Claws
Both of these squads are teams dealing with a lot of changes in their rosters. The nucleus of last year’s Toros squad (Curtis Jerrells, Dwayne Jones, Marcus Williams) are no longer with the team. Regardless, the Toros can lean on players like Carldell Johnson, Thomas Gardner and Marcus Cousin. New coach Brad Jones shouldn’t have much trouble finding a successful starting five with this group.
The Red Claws have a particularly interesting combo to work with in former Hawks guard Mario West and former Syracuse forward Paul Harris. In addition, the Red Claws get to run with both players selected by the Celtics in June’s draft; 6-3 Jamar Smith (Illinois) and 6-9 Tiny Gallon (Oklahoma by way of Oak Hill Academy).
That said, nearly everyone else on this Red Claws squad is new, the most notable of which being Center Magnum Rolle, who was tapped 3rd overall pick in the D-League draft (Rolle had been a 2nd round pick the NBA draft in June).
Naturally, all that roster fluctuation could prove to be a bad thing for this squad, but on paper, this is a team that should do well this year.
7:00 PM: Springfield Armor @ Erie Bayhawks
Perhaps the biggest bit of off season news for the Armor is its agreement to enter a single affiliation partnership with the Nets. This should be a good move for the team overall, and is likely to result in more assignments from the Nets than the Armor received from the Nets, Knicks and Sixers last year.
That said, the Armor drafted one of the brightest prospects this year in Scottie Reynolds from Villanova (acquired via trade). Reynolds is only the seventh AP First-Team All-American to play in the D-League, and should help the Armor right away.
The Bayhawks have a lot of talent, particularly with their back court. Cedric Jackson was called up three times last season, while Maureece Rice and Ivan Johnson should provide a lot of options. The Bayhawks also got a lot of help on Monday when the Raptors assigned big man Solomon Alabi to join the team. The Bayhawks were already considered one of the better squads heading into the season, and will benefit from additional help inside.
Update: As you see in the comments below, I was corrected about the status of Maureece Rice, who was cut from the team in training due to injury. Thanks to Matt Hubert for the correction
6:00 PM: Utah Flash @ Reno Bighorns
It appears that the Utah Flash will have one of the strongest teams in the league when it comes to D-League experience. They will make their final roster cuts before tomorrow, but they look to have 6 returning players from last year (Andre Ingram, Kevin Kruger, Dontell Jefferson, Orien Greene, Jordan Brady, and Brian Hamilton) where they went 28-22 and lost in the quarterfinals. In addition, the Flash added height to their team by drafting guys like Brandon Costner, Amadou Mbodji, Darren Kent and Nkem Ojougboh (who has yet to join the team due to personal problems). It should be a good year for the Flash.
Former NBA coach Eric Musselman (Warriors, Kings) is taking the reigns of the Reno Bighorns this year, and will have a good crop of guys to work with. Patrick Ewing Jr. will be joining the team again this year, along with newcomer Nick Fazekas. If those two stay healthy, they may well be one of the best front lines in the league this season. Veteran Aaron Miles should continue to do well at the point, and Donald Sloan could have a good season as well.
8:00 PM: Dakota Wizards @ Iowa Energy
While this is the only game on the docket, there’s no lack of excitement with these squads. The Wizards will likely continue to feature Renaldo Major, along with their first round pick Crhis Johnson. The Wizards have yet to receive any help from their NBA affiliates, but should still make for an interesting young squad.
The Iowa Energy looks particularly strong heading into the season, armed to the teeth with guys like Curtis Stinson, Jazz call-up Othyus Jeffers, and Courtney Sims – the former D-League MVP who saw time last year with the Knicks and the Suns. The Energy won the Eastern Conference last year, and did so after losing three guys to NBA call-ups.
Look for that trend to continue this season.
7:00 PM Sioux Falls Skyforce @ Fort Wayne Mad Ants
Like on Monday, this is the only game on the D-League schedule, but again, it should be an enjoyable one. The Skyforce is basically a new squad this year, with only two returning players (Leemire Goldwire and Chris McCray), and one affiliate player in Anthony Mason Jr. (Miami Heat). Aside from that, this is a team with a wide open roster, which suggests that there could well be a lot of surprises to come out of Sioux Falls. Keep an eye open for guys like Wink Adams, Cheikh Samb and Keaton Grant to have a big season.
The Mad Ants are an interest group, and one that has yet to see the postseason. Regardless, this is a team flanked by Chris Hunter – who may well be one of the better centers in the league – and Chris Kramer, a dominate guard out of Purdue. They also, not for nothing, have what I consider to be the most intimidating mascots in the D-league.
Seriously, the Mad Ant will swallow your soul.