By: Law Murray
The 2014 Drew League playoffs are here. No batteries included. No strings attached. No holds barred. No time for move faking.
For everyone who needs a team to follow for these playoffs, allow this to be your road map. Come Friday night, every team needs to have a couple of wins for the weekend. All of these teams are worthy – but all of them have shown they can lose as well. Who will make it to championship weekend?
I’m breaking every team down individually, but with significant consideration to the first round matchups. They are as follows:
Friday, August 1: #1 Cheaters vs. #8 Sky Ryse (7:45pm)
Saturday, August 2: #2 Jaguars vs. #7 La Familia (1:30pm)
Saturday, August 2: #3 M.H.P. vs. #6 Hank’s Houdini’s All-Stars (3pm)
Saturday, August 2: #4 Hank’s New Image vs. #5 Problems (5:30pm)
#1 – Cheaters (9-2): Casper Ware, Sr. has taken a different approach to building his team this season. He has found a way to still add difference-making talent, as big men Alan Williams and Ekene Ibekwe have given the team size and athleticism and depth up front. The core of the team was established early on: PG Baron Davis keeps the offense steady (other than exercising his three-point green light), swingman “Money Mike” Efevberha supplies the explosive volume, while guard Justin Johnson is arguably the most efficient guard at the Drew. Their only two losses came by a combined six points – but one of those losses was to their first round opponent. It will be a shock if the Cheaters’ return to prominence was cut short this week, but they have to rebound and defend at a high level, not rely on their big guns to bail them out.
#8 – Sky Ryse (6-5): Both 8th seeds in last year’s Drew League playoffs represented their division in the title game. Sky Ryse has a major mental advantage going in this year: they were the only team to put up at least 80 points against Cheaters, taking them to overtime and beating them on G Josh Gordon’s 30-foot bomb. They also beat #2-seed Jaguars in May. But they also never won more than two games in a row all season, and have some forgettable games, such as their loss to #Juglife where Gordon shot 1/18. Gordon and Donovan Morris need to have big scoring games to reduplicate their W over Cheaters, and new additions Lemar Gayle and Brandon Davies could help Sky Ryse balance what had been one of the thinnest benches in the league. But consistency isn’t a strong point of this team – not just game-to-game, but quarter-to-quarter. Now would be a great time for Sky Ryse to be consistently elevating.
#4 – Hank’s New Image (7-4): Just when you thought Hank’s New Image had figured out what made them successful and stopped blowing leads in winnable games – they became the only playoff team in Week 11 to lose to a non-playoff team. After shooting 60% from the field in the first half against Tradition, New Image decided not to play defense as Tradition completely flipped the game on them. New Image did find a way to beat Problems, and they are a very different team in that they rely on up to ten players every game. Players such as Hassan Stephen, Larry Gordon, and Jerry Marcus enhance the bench, while the starting lineup of Sean Harris, Sean Marshall, Curtis Slaughter, Chet “Go Hard” Johnson, and Keith Closs have played most of the season together. Like Sky Ryse, consistency is a concern, especially after halftime. But they are a hard team to get ready to play against due to their depth and the fact that a variety of players and styles can be their meal ticket.
#5 – Problems (7-4): For a moment, it looked like the Evil Empire was the ones having Problems, instead of the ones handing them out. After a 5-1 start (the loss being an 84-82 decision to New Image), they went on a three-game losing streak that seemed to show a lack of stability on the court. Enter Bobby Brown. The veteran PG had two huge games after joining the dark side, playing a pivotal role complementing slashing SG Dejon Prejean in wins over Hank’s Houdini’s All-Stars and Jaguars to end the season on an extremely high note. Brown ethered the Jaguars for 37 points on 18 shots, earning Player of the Week against a defense that hadn’t allowed more than 81 points all season until Week 11’s 96-86 Problems win. Problems has also used more odd-man front zones, asking big man Joseph Taylor to protect the rim. Brown gives Problems a trusted option offensively, but they have their work cut out for them this weekend, especially considering their questionable depth.
#2 – Jaguars (8-3): This squad was playing sound basketball for most of the season, winning a Drew League-best seven games in a row. They are arguably the most under-the-radar team in the playoffs, as most of their victories came when everyone cleared out the gym. Well, they’ll most likely play in front of a capacity crowd Saturday afternoon. Coach Lovely’s squad’s winning streak featured big wins over teams like Cheaters, M.H.P., and New Image. There were different contributors in almost every game: steady PG Jacques Streeter, hustling forward Tristan Wilson, and a host of others. Usually, Jaguars were fundamentally sound and didn’t beat themselves, especially defensively. But their Week 11 loss to Problems was a red flag, as they failed defensively (allowed 62 of season-high 96 points to Brown/Prejean) and offensively (1/16 from the free throw line). The unknown status of guard Dana Kendrid is also a letdown, as his smart, energetic play has won them games. Jaguars may be one of the best defensive teams in the league, but was their last performance an aberration or a hint to an early exit? They have a lot to prove this week, and they won’t have the star power offensively of the other three teams on their quadrant of the bracket.
#7 – La Familia (6-5): If The Drew kept track of attendance, no doubt that La Familia would be tops in the league in that category. If The Drew kept track of pro acquisitions, I’d say La Familia would be close to the top in that category as well: DeMar DeRozan, Metta World Peace, Kyle Lowry, Terrence Ross, J.R. Smith, Amir Johnson, and Jonas Valanciunas have all played in a custom La Familia jersey. But The Game’s team arguably looked their best early in the season when Kwame Alexander was rearranging rims and Franklin Session was winning back-to-back Player of the Week awards. The influx of surprise talent hurt La Familia earlier in the season (four-game losing streak, the worst a 99-58 loss to Hank’s Houdini’s All-Stars), and while their second three-game winning streak locked up a playoff berth, guys like Alexander, Jerry Marcus, and Jeff “Unabomber” Ledbetter defected. The lack of continuity has affected Session offensively, while La Familia is the only playoff team to fail to hold a team under 70 points in any game this season. Talent won’t be a question here. Everything else is – including who will actually show up.
#3 – M.H.P. (8-3): After starting the season a middling 3-3, M.H.P. is on a five-game winning streak, and it hasn’t been Nick Young and Paul George – it has been players like PF Reggie Murphy (Player of the Week in Week 7 W over Hank’s Houdini’s All-Stars) and SF Victor Rudd (an athletic problem over the last three weeks). Swaggy P talked up PG Mike Williams earlier in the season, and he’s been a steady contributor. While their commitment to defense wavers at times (they always seem to get bored during games, with or without I Am Legend on the floor), there is no denying that they are hot right now. Perhaps the playoffs will keep them focused, as they have no shortage of athletic wings.
#6 – Hank’s Houdini’s All-Stars (7-4): A month ago, Houdini’s All-Stars may have been at the top of this division. Their defense was intense, Coach Allen Caveness’ game-planning and preparation was hard to match, and their efficiency was supreme. PG Antonio “Swag Champ” Biglow was looking like the frontrunner for MVP, and his backcourt mates Tim Johnson and Garrett Nevels more than made up for the fact that they didn’t have much firepower in the frontcourt. They started 5-1, absolutely destroying La Familia and Sky Ryse in back-to-back weeks. But they gave up 86 points in a Week 7 loss to M.H.P., the first sign that their masterlock defense wasn’t built to last all season, and they only won one game on the court since July 1. They added much-needed size, scoring, and depth with Kwame Alexander, Dorell Wright, and Kenny Jackson, but they were really hurt by #Juglife’s Week 11 no-show. In addition, “Bugatti” Johnson is in South America now. Houdini’s All-Stars needed a tune-up game to go into the playoffs on a high note. Now? They have to beat a team they couldn’t defend in June in round one – with a roster that, while talented, hasn’t been able to play a full regular season game together.
Law Murray is in his fourth year in Los Angeles via Philadelphia. He has been at grad school at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism since 2012, and graduated from California University of PA in 2009 with a degree in communication studies. Law has also served two years in City Year and covered the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Russia. He specializes in breaking down teams and players on a variety of media platforms.