First order of business: the NBA D-League Showcase's inaugural slam dunk contest. It wasn't as phenomenal as the dunking brilliance exhibited during last year's D-League All-Star game, but it nevertheless proved especially interesting for me. Why? Because Dar Tucker almost hit me with a basketball during his epic, yet failed dunk attempt.
Have a look:
Valiant attempt, Dar. The acoustic padding on the walls prevented a perfect bounce, but I'll give him credit for trying. Remember when Andre Emmett threw one off the wall in the college dunk contest some years ago? That was nice.
LD Williams eventually won the contest. I'll let you watch Versus on Saturday to see exactly what he did. Or I'm sure you could find it on YouTube.
Notes from the Rio Grande Valley Vipers' 124-106 win over the Erie Bayhawks:
-- South Padre sure did a great job of spreading the word about the game. Whether or not they gave out free tickets, it seemed as if the entire island showed up to the convention center. The crowd was into the game, there were team dancers and all sorts of other gimmicks that you'll see at an NBA game. This thing seemed like the real deal, no doubt.
-- Jeff Adrien didn't have his best game of the tournament on Wednesday night, but he turned in a solid performance, going 8-17 from the field with 20 points, 16 rebounds and four assists. Adrien's passing ability impressed me, though not to the point where I'd call it a true strength. But he made two or three clever, spontaneous passes that resulted in easy points that every player should be able to make at the next level. He was certainly active on the fast break and even finished a missed layup with a slam dunk. Defensively, there's a lot he needs to work on, though mostly in the realm of positioning and awareness. He's physical enough to play good defense if he chooses to put in the work mentally. If you're looking to sum up his game, he's essentially an energy-driven face-up four who is slightly undersized but has the bulk to make up for it.
-- Loved the way Jerel McNeal and Mustafa Shakur played together, though it's fairly easy to score against a PG combination of Blake Ahearn and Derek Raivio. McNeal is the smaller of the two, but he played point nearly as much Shakur. Each knew where to find the other - they spaced the floor well and took turns driving through the lane and creating opportunities. McNeal, as stated a few days ago, is clearly a score-first player and did most of his damage drawing fouls in the lane and knocking down open threes (which he is really, really good at). He finished with 27 points on 7-19 shooting and totaled five rebounds and seven assists to boot. One thing to point out about McNeal is his coordination. He's not a wild, flimsy, loose-cannon-type scorer: when he chose to pull up or take an otherwise difficult shot, he still looked controlled in shooting the jumper. That's a big plus in my book.
-- Wrote this about McNeal's defense: "Bad defense from McNeal against a driving Nate Linhart. Declined to shuffle feet and shut off the drive, instead got a reaching foul."
-- Shakur dropped 21/7/5 and went 10-11 from the free throw line. He's not particularly quick, but he finished effectively in the lane through contact, has good size and possesses the ball well. He also maintains a good level of composure in difficult situations and seemed to make good decisions upon encountering a figurative fork in the road. His defense isn't the strong suit of his game - there were a few instances where I thought he could have closed out more effectively on a shooter - but he did hold Blake Ahearn to 2-13 shooting. Then again, Ahearn looked absolutely miserable. In the end, I don't know if Shakur will get a call-up with all of the point-players on the Rockets' roster, but I wouldn't rule it out, either.
-- Clearly, drawing fouls and getting to the line was a priority for Chris Finch and the Vipers. They shot 41 free throws against Erie. Well done.
-- Richard Roby made all of the shots that he missed on Day 1, finishing with 27 points on 10-15 shooting. At one point, I wrote down: "Roby: impressive left-handed finish in traffic. He shows flashes, that's for sure." Yup, that probably sums him up well. He's not explosive enough nor crafty enough to merit a spot in the NBA at this point, but he can be a really effective D-League scorer. Hope that's taken as a compliment.
-- Patrick Sullivan didn't put up the same kind of numbers that we saw in Day 1, but he too showed flashes of potential. He's got good hands, can possess the ball comfortably and has a few nice post moves inside. I'm not sure if the Rockets would have much use for him - or any other big on the team - simply because he's not a defensive-minded big. If there's anyone I could see Houston taking a hard look at following this game, it would be Erie's Ivan Johnson. He was very active, played good defense at times and has a solid jumper.
-- Mouhammad Faye didn't have a great showing. He made a few bone-headed passes, failed to rotate on a play that resulted in an easy Erie slam dunk and appears to be a little too confident in his three-point shot. He's not on my radar, to say the least.
That's who caught my eye. It was certainly a fun week, and if anything, I enjoyed getting the chance to meet so many people and slowly gather more information as to how all of this works. Big ups to Scott Schroeder for cluing me in to the wonders of the D-League as well.
Yes, there are wonders.