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Venom From The Valley: Midseason roster evaluation

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After the D-League All Star festivities, it’s a good time to reflect on the Vipers’ first half.

Gary Payton II has been explosive for RGV this season.
Rio Grande Valley Vipers

After the first “half” of the season, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers sit at 21-14, third place in the Southwest Division. They started off hot, then have suffered from severe inconsistency since. Let’s break down how each player has done this season so far.

P.J. Hairston: The NBA veteran guard has battled injuries this season. During the time he’s had on the court, he’s averaging just under 12 points per game. He’s struggled to find consistency shooting the ball, and is mainly a veteran presence at this point.

Chris Johnson: Joining the team after the season began, Johnson has been a boost to the Vipers attack. He won the D-League championship with RGV back in 2013. His versatility offensively has been big, scoring 15 points a game using a mix of three-point shooting and finishing around the basket.

Markus Kennedy: He’s only appeared in nine games this season for the Vipers. His season high is 2 points, and his chances to break into the lineup will diminish even more as the games become more crucial.

Julien Lewis: Another seldom-used player, Julien Lewis has only seen the court 13 times this season. He did score 16 points in one of those games, back in December.

Darius Morris: When Isaiah Taylor went down injured early this season, the former Lakers guard stepped in as the lead point guard. He lacks the explosiveness Taylor provides, but brings a steady, experienced style to RGV. Morris is averaging 20 points and 6 assists per game.

Le’Bryan Nash: Early in the season, Nash was showing the skills that made him a star at Oklahoma State, and the All-Star Game MVP in the top professional league in Japan last year. He was primarily coming off the bench, but he was a viable scorer.

Since that good start, his minutes have waxed and waned, and his play has followed. He only scored in double-digits twice in his last nine games and hasn’t appeared since January.

Chinanu Onuaku: Nanu is a frequent assignee from the Houston Rockets. The rookie big man is a difference maker in the Valley. He’s averaging 13.6 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. He had a season high of 22 boards in a game against LA. A skill he has showcased that some may not have expected is his passing. He is a great distributing big man and a quality shot blocker.

Gary Payton II: Glove 2.0’s athleticism has been eye-catching this season. The rookie out of Oregon State has countless highlight reel dunks and chase down blocks. His jump shot has been inconsistent, as many expected. His peak was a 51-point outburst with his dad, Hall-of-Famer Gary Payton, courtside. But the valleys have been there as well, sometimes in single digits with a bad percentage from the floor to go along with it.

His rebounding is something of note. He’s averaging 6.7 boards per contest as a guard. He is a quality defender, a nightmare to deal with in transition, and, with work, may become a consistent enough shooter.

Joshua Smith: The big, or less big depending on how you look at it, story was Smith’s weight loss this offseason. While he is still 290 pounds, he transformed his body, and is much more agile on the court. He’s hard to stop with his back to basket, but the Vipers high-speed, launch-threes attack doesn’t suit his skills well.

Isaiah Taylor: The X-Factor for the Vipers this season, Isaiah Taylor exploded onto the scene in his first season out of the University of Texas. RGV has only lost 3 of the 11 games he’s appeared in, largely limited due to a groin injury. Unlike Smith, his play style perfectly aligns with the offense. He’s lightning quick, aggressive offensively, and a strong enough shooter to make the defense respect his jumper. It earned him a non-guaranteed contract with the Rockets yesterday.

He returned earlier this month, and as his body gets back into top condition, he will look to show the hoops world why he was one of the top stories at the start of the season.

Jarvis Threatt: The longest-tenured Viper, Threatt has been a scoring option off the bench much of this season. He’s averaging 10 points per game and is an athletic, willing defender.

JP Tokoto: There are a lot of players that impact one or two areas of a game. JP Tokoto is one of the few that impact it in nearly every area. The former North Carolina Tar Heel is averaging 14.7 points, largely in part due to his finishing around the rim and an improved jump shot. He is pulling down 6 rebounds and dishing out 3 assists per game as well.

However, he makes his biggest impact on defense. He’s second in the D-League in steals per game, with 2.6. But that doesn’t fully quantify his worth on that end of the court. He defends well on the ball and, alongside GP2, plays the passing lanes with the best of them. His anticipation is second to none, highlighting by a SEVEN steal game this season. Tokoto very well could be the best prospect on the Vipers at this time, due to his great play on both ends.

Chris Walker: It’s been a down year for the returning big man. He’s averaging 4.9 points per game, and has only started once. He’s a decent defender, rebounder and athlete around the basket.

Kyle Wiltjer: The second of the two players that have been assigned from the Rockets this year. Wiltjer is a scorer, and has shown he’s more than a jump shooter with some decent work in the post during his stints in the Valley. Despite that versatility, his best asset is always going to be his ability to stretch the floor. In his 20 games in the D-League, he’s hit seven threes in two games, and six threes in two others.