How the Tulsa 66ers Became the NBA D-League's Hottest Team
On Jan. 25, the Tulsa 66ers were 7-16 -- an accomplishment considering they started the season 1-11. Now they're the league's hottest team, having won six games in a row, gone 11-4 since Jan. 25 and swept the recent Performer of the Week and Player of the Month honors.
What's behind the turnaround? Take a look inside the numbers:
--Jan. 25 isn't just a random day on the calendar for Tulsa; it's the day veteran point guard Mustafa Shakur made his 66ers debut. Acquired in a four-team trade headlined more by ex-NBA big men Fab Melo and Daniel Orton, Shakur (19.5 ppg, 7.0 apg, 2.8 spg) has been the centerpiece of Tulsa's transformation, allowing the 66ers to join the NBA D-League movement toward run-and-gun basketball.
Since the trade, Tulsa ranks fourth in the league in pace, third in points per game and second in net rating. And Shakur, a true journeyman who's had his foot in the NBA door for the last eight years but only has 22 career games to show for it, may be playing the best basketball of his career at the age of 29. The numbers speak for themselves:
|First 23 games||98.6||42.9%||0.98||100.3||97.8||100.9|
|Last 15 games||115.9||46.7%||1.44||106.3||109.1||104.3|
--The addition of Shakur created a ripple effect: Once the 66ers put a true point guard in place, suddenly their puzzle pieces fit together. Freed from having to carry the scoring load, four-year NBA vet Reggie Williams in particular has benefited from the move, becoming an ultra-efficient force on the perimeter over the hot stretch. In the last 15 games, he's averaging 21.4 points on 14.8 shots, shooting 54% from the field and 45% of three while making 2.9 treys per game and and posting a fantastic 4.9 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Add in floor-spacers at shooting guard and power forward (Mario Little and Grant Jerrett), and a big man to do the dirty work down low (Rodney Bartholomew), and Tulsa's top lineup has outscored opponents by 31 points in their 38 minutes on the floor together.
--Now playing a similar high-octane style, only with the horses to dominate down low, the 66ers have proven to be the RGV Vipers' Kryptonite. They've beaten the Vipers -- who are 23-7 against the rest of the league -- in four out of their five meetings over the last six weeks, including three separate games that were almost exact replicas of one another: 144 points, 60.9% shooting (Jan. 27); 144 points, 59.5% shooting (Feb. 21); 142 points, 59.8% shooting (Feb. 22).