Sea Dubs in the Bubble: Within Reach
Santa Cruz Warriors Broadcaster Kevin Danna Reports on the G League Bubble in Orlando
The Santa Cruz Warriors (6-3) are riding a five-game winning streak heading into a Thursday matchup against the Memphis Hustle. As you prepare to watch the G League squad go for their sixth consecutive win, hear from Santa Cruz broadcaster Kevin Danna on what he has seen from the "Sea Dubs" thus far:
After Alen Smailagic’s 19-point outburst in his first game since knee surgery, he’s been a bit quieter. What are you seeing out of him through his first games back?
DANNA: It looks like Alen is still trying to get his feet underneath him. He was very, very good in his first game and then hasn't had the same level of production. He has been on a minutes restriction (15-20, one game only played 12) as he tries to get himself back into game shape. The key for Smailagic is playing within the framework of the offense -- anybody who's watched him knows his ideal possession is grabbing the rebound, bringing it up and then dunking it on all 5 opponents on the floor. Kris Weems has told me that for Alen, it's about trying to make sure everyone is involved and trusting that the ball will find its way back to him. He's had some possessions where that growth has shown but it's about doing that on a consistent basis. Assistant coach Anthony Vereen has been working with him on that as he continues to develop.
Jordan Poole is leading the team in scoring. What have you seen from him that’s contributing to his success?
DANNA: The highs have been very high for Jordan Poole. What has impressed me most in his willingness and desire to take over in crunch time. He's gone off for 37 in a game, made some big plays in overtime in our two OT games and hit a game-tying layup to force OT. He's quite the playmaker – he had a play where he drove down the left side of the floor, went underneath the hoop and then lasered a wrap-around pass around the defender on the money to a wide-open Jeremy Lin for three. The issue with Jordan has been the mental lapses. As great of a game as he had in Tuesday's win over Iowa (29 points, 12 rebounds) he also turned it over 10 times and has more turnovers than assists this season. There was also the time he fouled a 3-point shooter with Santa Cruz up 4 in the final moments of regulation (that game went to OT). If he can eliminate those mental mistakes, as at times he tries to do a little too much, Jordan definitely has the chance to be an NBA contributor. The talent and work ethic are definitely there.
What have been the contributing factors to the squad’s five-game win streak?
DANNA: First off, they're getting contributions up and down the lineup. Whenever they've had to deal with an injury, and there's been a ton for a nine-game season to this point with two guys already done for the season and Nico Mannion, Jeremy Lin and Alen Smailagic all missing significant action, they've had people step up. Axel Toupane is a bona fide NBA call-up candidate. His length, ability to cut hard off the ball, defensive versatility and perimeter jumper give him a real chance to get back to the NBA (he has two years on his resume already). Kaleb Wesson is a stretch big who is a double-double machine and a very good passer out of the high post. Second-year Sea Dub Isaiah Reese has been steady in running the point when he's in there. Dusty Hannahs, a longtime G League sniper, is getting his shot going and make defenses pay for biting on his pump fakes with killer floaters and runners. Ryan Taylor is one of the best pure shooters in the league who is sneaky athletic and is rounding his game into form. Selom Mawugbe and Eli Pemberton are rookies who have provided really nice energy off the bench and have become solid contributors. And I absolutely love Dallas Mavericks 2-way rookie Nate Hinton: this guy just does it all out there. Different player and different size player, but a lot of Juan Toscano-Anderson in Nate Hinton.
There are times you state certain players are NBA-caliber players. What things do you look for in someone when you say that?
DANNA: It's really kind of a feel thing honestly and what I like in certain guys. I might confidently state something, but it doesn't exactly mean I know what I'm talking about when it comes to call-up candidates. If a guy has one elite skill, then he's got a chance, but it's not just that. You can say I'm from the “Jay Bilas Institute of Knowledge” because if a guy has great length and is athletic, I automatically think he can get a 10-day.
I also want to use this space to clarify my definition of NBA player, because I think it might be different from a fan's definition. When I say a guy has NBA potential or can play in the NBA, I mean he can at least get a 10-day or 2-way contract and play in an NBA regular season game. So yes, I definitely say a lot of players can play in the NBA, and I really believe that. The one thing I've learned in my 8 years and 4 months since I was hired to call the Sea Dubs is that while there are 510 NBA roster spots, there are well more than 510 guys worldwide who can play in the NBA. Not everyone of them is going to be a rotation player or starter, but the difference between a 13th man on an NBA roster and a G League All-Star on a true G League contract is pretty thin, if not negligible.
What do the Sea Dubs need to do if they want to prepare for a playoff appearance?
DANNA: The one thing Santa Cruz needs to do in order to stay in the playoff chase is to take better care of the basketball. They're averaging around 22 turnovers a game, which is just way too many. The turnover number is so high that Elias Sports Bureau, which gives us the daily stat rankings, has Santa Cruz listed 19th in the G League in turnovers... and there are only 18 teams playing in the bubble this year. It's a funny technical hiccup but it really does feel like Santa Cruz is worse than last in the G League in turnovers. Outside of that, they've done a lot of good things: they're defending very well right now, having held their last two opponents under 100 points (which is a rare occurrence in the G, let me tell you). Guys are making big plays in big moments and when they get rolling from three, they can be deadly. .
A playoff spot is definitely well within reach. At 6-3, they pretty much can go .500 the rest of the way, as you'd think that 9-6 would be good enough for a top-8 spot in an 18-team, 15-game season. So go 3-3 and there will be more G League hoops to watch for Sea Dubs fans.
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