DREAM LEAGUE NOTEBOOK: MVP Watch Heats Up
As the end of the Dream League regular season continues to inch closer with each passing week, the interest level of the players seems to be dwindling. There have already been a few five-on-four scenarios that have played themselves out, and two more transpired this week. The overall intensity has steadily dropped over the past month, but there have still been some exceptions, like the dramatic game between the Generals and the Knights this week.
Before I focus on that thriller, I start with a much less fascinating game between the Pilots and the Yellow Jackets. This was not the worst game in Dream League history, Griffins-Generals in week 16 still holds that award, but it was the most lop-sided.
The Yellow Jackets started and finished this game with only four players. Mahlon Thomas and Keith Durham, two players selected in the first round of the re-draft Reid and I did, were none of those four players. Take away Jake Ruhland and Valentino Jackson as well and the result is a serious lack of size, depth and talent against a team that possesses all of those things.
The extreme disparity showed right away as the Pilots started the game on a 17-0 run. The Yellow Jackets scored their first field goal, an Abdi Mohamed mid-range jumper, 4:31 into the game. The dominance never stopped. Up 26-5 and with 7:40 left in the first half, Seth Jonker decided to even out the game and had the Pilots play four-on-four for the rest of the game. That didn’t slow them down too much, and they coasted to an 86-49 victory.
I don’t have much else to say about this game, so I’ll highlight some stats to show just how one-sided this game was.
Team field goal percentage: Yellow Jackets, 29. Pilots, 53.
Team three point percentage: Yellow Jackets, 27. Pilots, 42.
Offensive rebounds: Yellow Jackets, 2. Pilots, 12.
Total rebounds: Yellow Jackets, 23. Pilots, 48.
Some records were set also, although I would have an asterisk next to them to indicate it was against a four-man team. The Pilots set a Dream League record by recording 27 assists as a team and Jonker recorded the Dream League’s first triple-double, dropping 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
On to the only game that was five-on-five for the entire 32 minutes (I desperately hope this is the only time I have to say that). The Generals were careless when they faced the Griffins two weeks ago, but they showed that they still want to prove that they can play with anybody in this league. They did that on Monday night, losing to the Knights by only eight.
Since the Generals have completely re-tooled their roster, they have two clear trends developing on both sides of the court. On offense, they live and die by the three-point shot. They have played four games since their trade with the Polars and they’ve averaged 29.25 three-point attempts in those games. In this game, they shot 13-32, including a combined 10-19 effort by LaVonte Mccullough and Stephen Griffin.
On defense, they live and die by trying to force turnovers. They have been really successful with this strategy against the two top teams in this league. The Pilots and the Knights have both been typically safe with the ball this season, but the Generals were able to force 16 turnovers out of the Pilots, and 20 against the Knights. The Generals averaged 12.5 steals in those two games.
While this ultra-aggressive game plan has been generally successful, it is still susceptible to its flaws. The Generals went all-out for steals in this game and ignored crashing the boards. The Knights more than doubled the Generals’ total rebounds, as it finished 41-20.
In Antione Lynch’s absence, each member the Knights’ “big three” has elevated their rebound total. In this game, Travis Johnson, Jake Gave and Aaron Lukitsch each had at least 10, and they combined for 33. That also led to each of them getting double-doubles, once again showing that their lack of talented depth has yet to slow them down.
The Generals had a great shot of coming away with this upset, but they were derailed when LaVonte Mccullough walked off the floor with 7:40 left in the game. The Knights were leading 56-52 at the time, and with Mccullough off the floor, the Generals did not have enough offensive firepower to get past the Knights. Mccullough returned a few minutes later, but it was all for not as the game was out of reach by then.
The night was ended with the Polars winning by double digits for the first time of the season, and it only took playing against a four-man team for more than half the game for it to happen.
The Mustangs had five players to start this game and had control of the pace early. They consistently fed Bronson Byrne in the post to try and space out the Polars’ defense. This strategy was effective as it also got Michael Thomas two early fouls. Unfortunately for the Mustangs, Byrne came down awkwardly on his right ankle late in the first half, hence why they played all of the second half with only four players.
I hope this turns out to be like the Michael Franklin injury from a few weeks ago where it looked serious at the time but ended with Franklin playing the very next week. I’m sure the Mustangs are hoping for the same thing as they recently acquired Byrne from the Generals, and he has really improved his offensive game since the trade.
Even with the man advantage, the Polars did not bury the Mustangs till late in the second half. They held a steady lead for most of the half, but at one point, the Mustangs took a 52-51 lead. A few minutes later, it was 61-52 after an all-out barrage of Bryan Munsell. After the 10-0 run, it was all over for the Mustangs.
The Polars did not rely on any one scorer in this game, as they sometimes do, and five different players scored at least 12 points. Their leading scorer was not Munsell or Jonny Ball; it was James Carr, who scored all of his points from threes. He was 6-6 from deep, and at least two of those were pull-up threes in transition. He was dripping with confidence while displaying a freshly grown beard. After that performance, I’d advise Carr to not shave until the playoffs are over.
Things I Liked from Week 17
Polars-Mustangs was broadcasted in this week’s edition of the Game Rewind, so give that a watch and see what I liked and disliked about that game.
· The overall dominance the Pilots showed against a four-man team. So many other teams have played lazily in that scenario, but they came out focused.
· I also loved that they excessively passed the ball and worked for the best shot on each possession.
· Peyton Dixon following his own shot and jumping over Randell Padua to grab the offensive board.
· Dewan Grant making sure to inform me that he made the basket that secured Jonker’s triple double. I had to recognize that accomplishment.
· Stephen Griffin sprinting back on defense and stripping Travis Johnson, who was about to go up for an open layup.
· Aaron Lukitsch making a shot after he caught the ball mid-air after it was tipped by Griffin.
· LaVonte Mccullough draining a three off the dribble to end the first half.
· Griffin with the best sequence of his Dream League career. He stole the ball on one end and then buried a pull up three in transition. He followed that up with another steal, but the Generals couldn’t convert off the turnover.
Things I Did Not Like from Week 17
· Team attendance.
· I’m not sure who as charged with the foul, but James Armstrong got fouled when he pulled up for three, in transition and against two defenders.
· Griffin throwing the ball right into Johnson’s leg while he was leading a 3 on 1. He tried to throw it over to his left, where Cis Crabbe was streaking, but he missed a trailing Mccullough, who was 3-3 from deep up to that point.
· When Griffin got that second steal in as many possessions, Crabbe missed an open Griffin in the corner while he was running down the court. Crabbe waited for a while, then passed it five feet away from Griffin.
· Before Mccullough walked off the court, he slowly walked back on defense because he thought he was fouled.
· Jake Thompson throwing a deep inbound pass from the baseline all the way past half court. He was in danger of getting a 5 second violation, so he heaved it to Crabbe, but it was stolen by Johnson.
Offensive Player of the Week
Travis Johnson, Knights: In a season full of great performances from Johnson, this may top the list. He scored 32 points on 65 percent shooting, grabbed 13 rebounds and added 7 assists. That added up to an astounding 40.3 PPR.
Defensive Player of the Week
Stephen Griffin, Generals: He had a great all-around game, but his defense shined in the Generals’ close loss. He was constantly pressuring the Knights’ backcourt, something that typically doesn’t work, and caused plenty of chaos. He ended the game with 6 steals, tying a single game Dream League record.
Role Player of the Week
Allen Edwards, Polars: Edwards has become known for his crazy efficiency, and he reflected that in his performance this week against the Mustangs. He shot 6-8 from the field and finished with 16 points. Against a four-man team, he didn’t force up any shots and only shot when he was wide open.
1. Travis Johnson, Knights (1): After his dominance on Monday night, I don’t see him losing this spot. He has stepped up his game in Lynch’s absence and the Knights have not missed a beat.
2. Jake Gave, Knights (2): His stellar performance in Vegas will not carry over into this race, but he didn’t have any setbacks in this game. He shot 50 percent from the field and finished with 20 points and 10 boards.
3. Seth Jonker, Pilots (4): Jonker jumps back up the list because I thought he may have been out for the rest of the regular season. Instead, he came back and had a triple-double. Yes, it was against a four-man team, but he still could have played carelessly. He made sure his team never faltered in their blowout win.
4. Jonny Ball, Polars (3): Nothing spectacular from Ball this week, just a solid, workman-like performance. With that being said, he still got a double-double as he racked up 12 points and 12 rebounds.
5. Michael Franklin, Mustangs (5): Really not much he could have done in this week’s loss. He did his best to cover as much ground and take over the game, but playing shorthanded took its toll after a while.
That is the end of this week’s edition of the Game Notebook. Make sure to give the Insider Podcast a listen this week as Reid and I can finally dive back into a full-length episode.
Also, while you’re searching for that, go ahead and subscribe to the Ultimate Hoops Podcast Network. Once you do, you’ll be able to hear other great podcasts, like The Recreation Nation, Reid’s very own podcast. We will continue to add content to the UHPN and to the brand new uhlife.com all summer, so be prepared to consume as much as you can.
I will see you all in two weeks. Have a wonderful Memorial Day.