First Round Matchup: No. 3 Austin Toros vs. No. 5 Erie BayHawks
For most of the year, doubt was kind to the Austin Toros.
From the start of the 2011-12 season, Austin's benefited from a whole lot of skepticism. Skepticism, mainly, that Toros point guard Justin Dentmon couldn’t re-create what he was doing in the NBA D-League at the next level – which was, in short, giving defenses a regular dose of night terrors. Why? There were concerns that he couldn’t pass well enough. Or hold onto the ball. Or that he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) defend.
So, as NBA teams kept passing on the league’s premier combo guard, Dentmon kept scoring and the Toros kept winning. And with the league’s fourth-leading scorer (22.8 ppg, to go along with 5.8 apg) running the show for 40 games, the Toros churned out the second-best record in the NBA D-League. Their 32-18 regular season would’ve gone down as one of the best seasons in league history if Austin didn’t have the good fortune of playing in the same conference as the L.A. D-Fenders.
But now, after two seasons in the NBA D-League, Dentmon’s getting a shot at the NBA. At least until April 16, when his 10-day contract with the Toronto Raptors runs out. But even if he does come back to the Toros, they’ll still have to find other ways to manage when they take on the Erie BayHawks in the first round of the Playoffs.
Luckily, they’ve got some options. Backup point guard Carldell ‘Squeaky’ Johnson played half the year in the NBA, and just finished the regular season with a 10-assist night against Texas. Meanwhile, Spurs assignee Cory Joseph – who recorded one of the nine triple-doubles in the 2011-12 NBA D-League season – took over the point guard role when Dentmon went up to the Spurs in late March, and recorded 30 assists in his three games in that role. But Joseph’s point totals during that stretch fell from their usual 20-25 per game down to 10-12, so an Austin team that’s missing four of its top five scorers from 2011-12 (three to the NBA, one to Dakota) will need a new wave to step up.
In addition to Dentmon, second-leading scorer Lester Hudson's in the NBA, too, and doesn't look like he'll be headed back down this year, after a 26-point night against the Nets on Sunday earned him a second 10-day contract in Cleveland. Lance Thomas, too, is gone, with the team's fifth-leading scorer booked up in New Orleans until the end of the year. Finally, No. 4 scorer Leo Lyons went to Dakota in a trade on Mar. 6.
However, their third-leading scorer (17.2 ppg) is still around, with Eric Dawson back down following two separate trips to the NBA this year. One of the league’s best rebounders (10.6 per game) – which means that he’s always at risk to take the next flight to an NBA city – Dawson can take over a game on the inside. Although Dentmon’s the flashier player, Dawson’s had just as much stake in Austin’s run this year.
And the Toros will need him more than ever against Erie.
He’ll face off against a combination of forward Joey Graham and center Kyle Goldcamp, Erie’s 6-foot-10 big man who’s gone from only three double-digit rebounding efforts in his first 12 games to someone who’s done so five times in his last eight (and seven times if you lower the bar to nine boards).
Graham, meanwhile, became a Top-15 Prospect the minute he came into the NBA D-League on Mar. 19, with the veteran of 377 NBA games scoring at least 16 points in every one of his nine games since then – on 55-percent shooting, no less. He hasn’t yet shot worse than 50 percent in a single game.
If Graham plays at power forward (though he started his NBA career at SF), that frees up D.J. Kennedy to play at the No. 2 spot while Mychel Thompson – who started the year with the Cavaliers – can move to No. 3, providing Erie with one of the best combinations of size, speed and athleticism of any trio in these Playoffs. Kennedy’s battled back from a knee injury in his senior year at St. John’s to make contributions all over the court and has potential, almost nightly, for a triple-double. Thompson’s struggled with his shot at times, but at his best, is good for somewhere around 20 points, five boards and four blocks and an armful of steals (which was essentially his line against Fort Wayne on Mar. 30).
They’ll have backup from Kyle Spain, one of the league’s best rebounders at the guard position, while NBA vet Keith McLeod runs the point. And if that's not enough, the Knicks just assigned Jerome Jordan to Erie, where the young forward's averaged 18 points and 8.6 rebounds in five games this year.
On the Austin side, also look for new acquisition Flip Murray to make some noise, with the eight-year NBA vet signing with the Toros on April 3 to solidify a depleted guard corps.
- Call of Duty The teams have combined for a total of 16 Call-Ups this year, spanning eight individual players (five of them have gone up multiple times, led by Mike James' quartet of call-ups), and each has at least one player in the NBA now. For Austin, it's Lance Thomas. For Erie, it's James and Donald Sloan -- the latter of whom just played a game-high 45 minutes with 14 assists on Sunday night.
- Chalk Rocked: When top two seeds in the Playoffs -- the L.A. D-Fenders and Springfield Armor -- chose their first-round opponents, the results were the same as if the bracket were built like a regular tournament. LA went with No. 8 seed Iowa. Springfield picked No. 7 seed Canton. But instead of following up with No. 6 seed Bakersfield, the Toros chose to play against fifth-seeded Erie, opting not to play a Jam team that'd beaten the Toros in both meetings this year.
- Point Taken: Pay attention to how Dentmon's performing in Toronto. If his 10-day contract isn't renewed, he could potentially be available for Game 3, if this series gets that far.
|1. Eric Dawson, F||1. Joey Graham, F|
|2. Julian Wright, F||2. DJ Kennedy, G/F|
|3. Carldell Johnson, G||3. Mychel Thompson, F|
|4. Ronald 'Flip' Murray, G||4. Keith McLeod, G|
|5. Luke Zeller, C||5. Kyle Goldcamp, F/C|
|Read The Prospect Watch for more!|
|F Lance Thomas (twice)||F Mychel Thompson|
|G Carldell Johnson||G Donald Sloan (three times)|
|F Eric Dawson (twice)||G Cory Higgins|
|G Justin Dentmon (twice)||G Mike James (four times)|
|See the full list of GATORADE Call-Ups here or check out our 2011-12 Call-Ups photo gallery!|