First Round Matchup: No. 4 Dakota Wizards vs. No. 6 Bakersfield Jam
It was fate, really, that brought the Dakota Wizards and Bakersfield Jam together.
Or, at the very least, the unique NBA Development League Playoff structure.
Once the top three teams in the Playoffs – the L.A. D-Fenders, Springfield Armor and Austin Toros – had finished up selecting their opponents for the first round of the postseason, the only teams that remained were the No. 4 seed Wizards and No. 6 seed Jam (the second-seeded Toros chose to play the fifth-seeded Erie BayHawks). Which means that, for those that don’t mind the occasional 250-point game, fate’s smiling.
When the two teams meet in the first round of the 2012 NBA D-League Playoffs on Thursday in Bakersfield (10 p.m.), the nets are in trouble as both Dakota and Bakersfield have put up 105 points per game this year (Dakota’s at 105.0, Bakersfield’s at 105.1).
On the Dakota side, the scoring’s coming from two elite Prospects. One, Edwin Ubiles, has already taken a trip to the NBA this year, after earning a 10-day contract with the Washington Wizards in March. The other, Stefhon Hannah, might be headed up soon.
Ubiles has stood near the very top of the Prospect Watch all year, coming back from a leg injury that held him out of the entire 2010-11 season to turn into a player with a potentially long NBA future. Hannah has taken a little more time to get noticed. The former Mizzou star and member of the 2011 champion Iowa Energy – after coming to the Energy via Open Tryouts – didn’t join the Wizards until late January, then spent a month following up 30-point nights with a string of disappearances. But ever since Mar. 10, when he scored eight points against the L.A. D-Fenders after going scoreless the night before, he’s exploded.
He’s scored in double-figures in each of the 12 games since, including peaks of 43, 37 and 29, not to mention a near-triple-double when he put up 27 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists against the Texas Legends on Mar. 29. Combined with longtime NBA D-League veteran Maurice Baker (12.4 ppg, 5.8 apg, 5.6 rpg) in the backcourt, the Wizards sport one of the league’s best guard corps.
In the front court, Marcus Dove and Leo Lyons provide the Wizards with even more punch, with Dove cracking double-figures in scoring in 15 straight games now (and averaging 17 points a game in that span), after starting the season with only two games of 10 or more points in his first 11. Lyons, who came over from Austin at mid-season, saw his minutes (and numbers) fall after joining the Wizards, but he’s still one of the league’s most athletic bigs, and picked up his play at the end of the regular season.
On Thursday, along with former NBA player Tommy Smith, they’ll take turns chasing Brian Butch. Bakersfield’s 6-foot-11 center averages 10 rebounds a game, but he also hoists up more than five 3-pointers a game – and sinks 43 percent of them.
After missing all of 2010-11 due to injury, Butch’s season almost went the same direction this year, when an invite to New Orleans Hornets training camp led to an injury that knocked him out until early March. But now he’s back to providing the Jam with 15 points and 10 rebounds a game – not to mention other teams with 30 minutes of matchup problems a night.
Not that it stops there. NBA D-League veteran Renaldo Major can operate inside and outside, with the swingman putting up 15 points and nearly five boards a night. Guards Jeremy Wise and Trey Johnson present a 1-2 combo in the backcourt that should go step-for-step with Baker and Hannah.
Swingman Derrick Byars’ performance has waned a little of late, but he’s still the same guy who lit up the Rio Grande Valley Vipers for 33 points on Mar. 16 and pulled down 17 rebounds against Sioux Falls on Mar. 1.
- Going Streaking Only two teams in the NBA D-League finished the season on a better clip than the Wizards, whose 8-2 mark to wrap up the regular season fell short of only LA's and Austin's 9-1 runs. Meanwhile, the Jam tripped to the finish, going 1-4 over their last five (although that came after going 9-2 over their previous 11). Can the Wizards continue the momentum?
- Getting Familiar: With only two players receiving GATORADE Call-Ups between them -- both from Dakota (Ubiles, Mickell Gladness) -- this series features the fewest number of Call-Ups of any in the first round. But that also means both teams have had a chance to play together as a core unit for most of the season, developing chemistry that'll come in handy against teams who've had rosters in flux.
- Second Season, Second Gear: Hannah came alive in the Playoffs last year, starring for the Iowa Energy en route to an NBA D-League championship. The then-rookie doubled his regular season average of 7.6 points per game by notching 15.5 a game during Iowa's eight-game march to the title, including a 20-point, 10-board, nine-assist night in Game 1 of the Finals. Look for him to shine once again.
|1.Edwin Ubiles, G||1. Brian Butch, C|
|2. Stefhon Hannah, G||2. Jeremy Wise, G|
|3. Marcus Dove, F||3. Trey Johnson, G|
|4. Leo Lyons, F||4. Renaldo Major, F|
|5. Maurice Baker, G||5. Tommy Smith, F|
|Read The Prospect Watch for more!|