The Rio Grande Valley Vipers outlasted Toronto 905 to go undefeated (2-0) at the NBA's D-League Showcase with a 125 to 119 win.
The NBA D-League Showcase gives each of the league's teams two games in Santa Cruz, California, in front of over 100 NBA scouts and personnel. The showcase week intentionally aligns with the activation of 10-day NBA contracts on January 5th. D-League players who do not have an NBA contract are free to sign with any team.
This makes the D-League showcase a hub of front office activity as much as on-court battles. Players from afterthought locales like Idaho, Sioux Falls and yes, the Rio Grande Valley, get the chance to show what they've got to every NBA franchise at once.
In 2015 the Vipers have lots to showcase. The roster is loaded with athletic swing men all gunning for an NBA contract.
It's not usually tough to spot the NBA player in a D-League game, but K.J. McDaniels was so damn efficient he almost blended in. McDaniels scored 28 points by knocking down 5 of 8 threes and 10 of 13 field goals on the night. His lengthy created problems for the opposing offense, closed down passing lanes and routinely cut off developing plays. The only blemish for McDaniels is that he failed to accumulate his D-League average of 4 blocks (1 block on the night).
Daryl Morey gave Joshua Smith a contract before the season started and the 6' 10" 350 pound rock had a chance to make the Rockets roster thanks to injuries to Dwight Howard and Donatas Motiejunas. Smith didn't find his way to the NBA (yet) and he looks entirely comfortable bullying around smaller opponents for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
Smith's size makes him a specialist and helped deliver two baskets in the final three minutes of the game that turned a one point Viper lead into a five point lead in the waning minutes.
"He was getting deep catches and he was getting fouled. He's able to slow the game a little bit more and we're able to run a little bit more of a half court offense," Vipers head coach Matt Brase said of Smith after the game. Brase credited Smith for going 6 for 6 from the field and 7 for 10 from the foul line. Yes, a Houston affiliated center making free throws, Smith has shot 72.1% on the year.
At 24-years-old the St. Joseph's product still has a window to the NBA and surely raised eyebrows of the scouts in attendance by totaling 25 points on 12 of 15 shooting and playing solid defense, which included styming the Vipers best player, Raphiael Putney. Roberts finds baskets all over the court, but rarely steps behind the three point line, a fact that might limit his potential.
Room for Improvement
The University of Massachussets product has led the Vipers in scoring and rebounding on the year. In game one of the showcase he scored 38 points and pulled down 18 points against the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. Putney undoubtably wanted to come out and post a repeat performance in arguably the most important game of his life.
The importance of the game showed early as Putney forced shots and picked up two immediate fouls relegating him to the bench for nearly the entire first quarter. His impact was felt later in the game and Coach Brase credited him with "putting the team on his shoulders and made a ton of plays at the end of the game."
Putney ended the night with 14 points on 4 of 15 shooting (0 - 6 3PTM-A) and 6 blocked shots. Putney still looks like a very viable option for a 10 day contract, but tonight just wasn't his night.
The first quarter of this game was an absolute spin cycle. The Vipers allowed a 10 point deficit to open while Raphiael Putney sat and KJ McDaniels struggled. Vipers big man Chris Walker provided a spark with a couple of dunks and the Vipers offense hit a groove when Denzel Livingston delivered pace and control to the game. Previously there was only chaos.
The second quarter saw the Vipers top players go entirely quiet as Putney and McDaniels combined for 5 points. Viper Will Cummings delivered some much needed second quarter offense to counter 9 straight points from Raptors 905 Melvin Johnson, who drained three straight threes and ended the night shooting 6 of 10 from three.
In the second quarter fans also got the treat of watching Vipers center Joshua Smith (6' 10" 350 pounds) match up with Sim Bhullar (7' 5" 360 pounds). That's 710 pounds of human being.
After the half the Vipers looked like a complete offensive power house. By the end of the third quarter all the starters were in double digits and K.J. McDaniels's Robocop activation button had been pressed. Point guard Will Cummings kept finding baskets while looking like a young Jason Terry making moves to the basket.
Much like the Rockets the Vipers defense was the problem. Raptors 905 got plenty of open looks from three and were able to keep pace with the Vipers offense. It wasn't until Joshua Smith scored twice in the post with two minutes left that the Vipers created separation and cemented the win with free throws and 905 turnovers.