The Secrets Behind Rio Grande Valley's Success
It was another day, another three-point barrage for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers on Tuesday. The numbers theyíre producing may cause the new NBA D-League Stats Platform to explode, but to understand how mind-blowing their offense has been, you only need two simple numbers: 298 points and 47 made threes (in 96 attempts) over the past two games (see shot chart below). They've attempted more threes this season (236) than the bottom four teams in three-point attempts have combined to jack up (221).
Even before the Vip3rs (their new nickname) nearly bested their own three-point record from the night before, we broke down their preference for fast-paced basketball that produces shots either beyond the arc or at the rim (Read Tuesday's breakdown). But how exactly are they doing it? The Stats Platformís lineups tool offers some clues and reveals yet another astounding fact: RGVís season-opening starting lineup has been outscored by eight points in the 26 minutes that itís been on the court. Thatís right -- the second most-used lineup on a team thatís won its first five games by an average of 18.6 points is struggling.
Itís very early, so the numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. But itís likely not a coincidence that RGVís least effective lineup is also its most traditional, with Chris Johnson at the 2 and Jordan Henriquez at center, alongside versatile forwards James Johnson and Robert Covington and the captain of this speedboat, point guard and Rockets assignee Isaiah Canaan. That five-man group has held its own defensively, but the teamís offensive rating has plummeted by more than 20 points/100 possessions with them on the court. Sub little-known power forward Dario Hunt in for the 7-foot Henriquez, however, and you get the lineup that has obliterated NBA D-League competition thus far.
The five-man combo of Canaan, the Johnsons, Covington and Hunt has outscored opponents by 26 points in 21 minutes -- an incredible 49.4 points/100 possessions, with the best offensive rating (an off-the-charts 137.2) and third-best defensive rating (87.8) of any lineup in the league thatís played at least 20 minutes together. An even smaller lineup, with unconscious shooter Troy Daniels replacing Hunt, has also dominated (though to a lesser extent) as the Vipersí most frequently used group.
Whatís happening here? For one, the Rockets assignees hold the keys to the operation. Canaanís off-the-dribble shooting ability -- just one-third of his 18 treys this season have been assisted -- and court vision make him deadly in running a ball screen-heavy offense. (See Canaan's season shot chart below.) Putting Covington at the 4 allows the Vipers to spread the floor with shooters, providing four consistent threats from deep.
And itís also becoming evident that the RGV machine does not just storm through opponents by playing fast and launching threes; it also overwhelms them with athleticism. Like Covington and James Johnson, Hunt is a 6-8 forward with a massive wingspan of over seven feet and elite, NBA-level explosiveness. Putting all three on the court together -- or any lineup without a traditional center, for that matter -- has proven to be simply unstoppable at the NBA D-League level.