Pilots Land First Dream League Championship

 Pilots: 2016 Dream League Champions

Pilots: 2016 Dream League Champions

As they predicted in their Twitter bio before the season even started, the Pilots have won the Dream League championship. It was no surprise to see the finals matchup between the Pilots and Knights, who had the two best records in the regular season, but some (myself included) were surprised to see the Pilots win in four games. This is not because the Pilots were seen as a weak opponent, it had more to do with the Knights being seen as an unstoppable force. In this scenario, the immovable object halted that force with authority. 

The first three games of this series were all decided in the last few minutes in each game, with plenty of drama near the end. The Pilots came into game 4 with the mentality of a team that wanted nothing more than to put an end to this season that has lasted over six months. The thought of playing one more game seemed offensive to them; they played as if they all had made dinner plans on Tuesday night just as extra motivation. 

Game 4 was not a blowout, I wouldn’t go that far. It was a close game that the Pilots were able to win over time by slowly killing the Knights’ spirit. The Knights were in a literal must-win situation, all of the pressure was on them. They were seen as the slight favorites to win this title, especially given their dominance in the regular season. As the second half wore on, and the Pilots’ lead continued to grow, each player on the Knights perpetually looked bleaker and bleaker. The game became out of reach for the Knights with about two minutes left as they were down by double digits, but given their lack of urgency, and their continued looks of disdain, the game was over long before then. They had opportunities to come back, but it never seemed like they actually could; they looked defeated. 

This game was a testament to earning your minutes in the playoffs. Throughout the regular season, it was clear that most teams wanted to allocate their minutes in a fair way. That meant giving bench players 10-16 minutes to help rest starters, and to make sure everyone was able to play. Once the playoffs rolled around, and specifically the finals, teams were much more conscious about who to play and how much to play them. In game 4 the Knights’ starters played 144 of a possible 160 minutes, while the Pilots’ starters played 150 of 160. James Pinkett, Michael Groves and Dexter Watson, who were all effective role players in the regular season, played an aggregate of 16 minutes. 

Joe Drapcho, who was one of three Pilots to play all 32 minutes of this game, was the main force leading the Pilots to victory. He had the best offensive performance of anyone in this series in the most important game. He was aggressive early in the game looking to score, whether that be attacking the basket or stepping into open jump shots. Once Seth Jonker went down with a knee injury with three minutes left in the first half, that was when Drapcho fully took over.

For the rest of that half, the Pilots’ offense was simple: give the ball to Joe and let him do his thing. That was an effective strategy as Drapcho ended up scoring a series-high 31 points on 13-19 shooting from the field and 3-5 shooting from deep. All season Jonker was the go-to-guy for the Pilots, and he was great in this series, but in the championship-clinching game, it was their secondary option that led them to victory. Drapho’s performance in game 4, and Christenson’s unlikely offensive outburst in game 3 really showcased the Pilots’ depth and versatility; it’s no surprise they won the title.

Finals MVP

Seth Jonker, Pilots: Drapcho was the clear player of the game for game 4, and Christenson’s defense was elite throughout the series, but Jonker was the consistent force the Pilots relied on to anchor this team. He had the advantage over Lynch on offense, taking him one-on-one in the post (and many times being doubled) and stretching the floor by hitting outside shots. He also controlled Lynch on defense and he helped stifle Gave and Johnson whenever they drove to the basket. His lowest scoring game in this series was 17 in game 3, and he averaged 21.5 points per game over the series while shooting 57 percent. He was their MVP all season, and that continued throughout the playoffs. 

The Finals by the Numbers

I want to end with a section pointing out each teams’ averages over the course of the four-game series. Some make it clear why the Pilots were able to win, and some leave a lot to be desired out of the Knights. 

Pilots – FG: 88-187 (47 percent) 3PFG: 29-79 (37) RPG: 28 Offensive rebounds: 23 (5.75 per game) TO: 46 (11.5 per game).

Knights – FG: 79-218 (36 percent) 3PFG: 23-94 (24 percent) RPG: 29.75 Offensive rebounds: 44 (11 per game) TO: 27 (6.75 per game). 

The numbers really show that the Knights should have played much better. They got a total of 40 extra possessions when you add up the disparity of offensive rebounds and turnovers. That led to them getting 31 more shots than the Pilots, but they made nine less. They had many more opportunities to change the course of this series, but they continually failed to convert on those extra offensive possessions. This is a testament to how well the Pilots played on defense. The stat that best shows that are the 94 three’s (23.5 per game) the Knights shot in this series. The Knights want to attack the basket, but the Pilots made it nearly impossible. One more stat to think about: The Pilots shot 24-48 from the field in game 3. In game 4 what did they shoot? 24-48. What are the odds of that?

That concludes this version of the Game Notebook, which is the last Game Notebook of this season. I want to sincerely thank everyone for reading these and interacting with me, whether that be on Twitter or in-person. I’m very grateful to have this opportunity, and all the players and GMs have made this experience so much better.

While there will not be any more Game Notebooks until next January, there will still be Insider Podcasts throughout the offseason; so keep on listening to Reid and I discuss everything Dream League. This has been a fun season, and I look forward to the progression of this league in the future. Once again, thank you for supporting me and this league throughout the season. 

NOTE: Video of Game 4 of Pilots vs Knights will be posted here soon. Please check back.