We are now exactly halfway through the NBA D-League season and the Vipers are sitting one game below .500 at 12-13. It’s been a tough spell for the Houston affiliate but the Vipers had been playing well, putting together a five-game win streak before blowing a fourth quarter lead to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants Saturday night.
With 12 wins going into February (obviously not the outcome some people expected before the season) the roster looks predictably different than it did three months ago. The Vipers have made some savvy transactions bringing back players like Chris Johnson, Toure' Murry and Glen Rice Jr., all members of the 2012-2013 D-League championship team.
It’s been especially nice to see Rice back in a Vipers uniform slicing his way through substandard D-League defenses, even if I am a little sad his NBA career hasn't exactly panned out.
While the roster has seen its expected flux, there have been a handful of players that have been improving steadily throughout the season. Akil MItchell has provided more than serviceable work playing the five and has been the biggest reason the Vipers currently lead the league in rebounds per game and are second in blocks per game. If, god forbid, the Rockets find themselves needing some depth in the PF/C rotation Mitchell wouldn't be the worst solution in the world, although obviously Capela would be a better option.
This far into the season, the development of Clint Capela has been playing out about exactly as we all thought it would. He still says his groin is still hurting him but he moves and looks just fine to most objective observers. Not that stats matter much at this level but in 18 games he's averaged 14.8 points, 2.8 blocks and 8.3 rebounds per game while averaging about 20 minutes.
For me it’s always hard to reconcile these kind of stats for what I see on game day. He puts together a string of highlight-worthy plays, which are then abruptly replaced with frustrating displays of basketball amateurism. He’ll routinely find himself out of position defensively and has to rely on his athleticism to make up for his lack of understanding of the Xs and Os at times. Using athleticism to mask your lacking fundamentals is OK when the other guys aren't as good as you, but in the D-League you wonder if this does more harm than good.
Having been to a number of these games over the years one of the most glaring problems with the D-League is the lack of talent league-wide in the post position. It’s hard enough for NBA teams to find quality bigs for the 30 teams in the NBA, let alone for an additional 18 teams in the NBA’s farm system.
The D-League is a run-and-shoot environment. It's the reason why the D-League success stories center more around guards like Troy Daniels and Jeremy Lin. And even though the emergence of Hassan Whiteside (who’s played considerable time in the D-League) offers some encouragement, it's completely fair to question whether Capela would benefit more from a few garbage minutes against real competition, or blatantly bullying the retreads and pretenders that fill the D-League.
Loose Ball Observation
The Monitor’s Vipers beat writer, and friend of The Dream Shake, Dennis Silva had a pretty good article about the Vipers eschewing shootarounds on game days in favor of "information gathering sessions." The efficacy of this tactic seems to be a foregone conclusion, if not by anecdotal evidence, but by obvious common sense.
I’m pretty sure any professional athlete would value some down time at work instead of more running and shooting, but that’s just me. I’m tremendously lazy. There are many reasons why the Vipers have lost 13 games so far and are currently in last place in the Southwest Division, but conditioning has not been one of them. In terms of pace and speed, the Vipers are playing at one of the highest levels in all of basketball. It’s only natural to conclude that more time resting on gameday plays a role in that.
The first half of the season is mostly foreplay, and we are looking forward to a serious playoff push for the Vipers. The second part of the season begins tomorrow against the Iowa Energy.