By: Law Murray
The 2015 Drew League playoffs are here. Lethal weapons … ain’t no time for half steppin’ … when brothers start wettin’ everything in ya section.
Some of you are just now coming around to the magnetic pull of the hoops scene on the East Side. Starting Friday night, the Drew League is down to only 15 games. Every week was supposed to matter … but some of these teams clinched playoff berths on Father’s Day. Who will make it to next weekend out of the Keith Anderson division?
I’m focusing on one team at a time here, but every team’s priority is the division quarterfinal matchup. Here they are:
Friday, July 31: #1 Citi Team Blazers vs. #8 Pandas (7:45pm)
Saturday, August 1: #4 BB4L vs. #5 Sky Ryse (12:15pm)
Saturday, August 1: #2 LAUNFD vs. #7 C.A.B.C. (4:15pm)
Saturday, August 1: #3 ICEO vs. #6 #Juglife (5:30pm)
#1 – Citi Team Blazers (10-1): On the surface, Citi Team Blazers are the favorites to get out of this division. They started the season winning a Drew League season-high nine straight games and ended up with the best record in the league. C Malcolm Thomas has put up big games all year, G Marcus Williams has a big game pedigree, and G Kyle Gibson is one of the league’s premier shooters. They also have depth on the wings in Isaac Hamilton (who lit the Pandas up for 25 points in Week 6) and Larry Anderson, and depth up front with Gary “Lurch” Hamilton and Billy White. The main question with the Blazers is defense, especially on the perimeter. They may have lost only one game, but the Blazers came dangerously close to losing to non-playoff teams like LA LOOP and Salvatori’s No Shnacks.
#8 – Pandas (5-6): The Pandas were just happy to be in the Drew League when the season started, and they entered the month of July with a 1-5 record. But that one win was over BB4L, thanks to Ian Pinckney’s heave from ¾ of the court at the buzzer, and the Pandas won four of their last five games to help themselves secure a playoff berth. F Metta World Peace has been valuable both on the court as their best player, and on the sideline, drawing up two more game-winning plays for G Marcus Morgan (vs. Sky Ryse) and G Aubrey McAlpine (vs. Hank’s Bulldogs). Big men Tony Farmer and Daniel Artest are two more veteran presences for a scrappy bunch that still struggles to score. Pandas were held under 70 points five times, including their Week 6 loss to the Blazers (final score: 72-64). World Peace will be busy on both ends of the court, as he’ll need to score often, shoot well, and possibly check Malcolm Thomas for Pandas to be in position to pull the unlikely upset.
#4 – BB4L (7-4): The Ware brothers, Casper and Ervin, and C Keith Closs are probably BB4L’s best asset going into the playoffs. The small guards can change the momentum of a quarter with their disruptive full court man-to-man defense, while Closs is one of the very best rim protectors in the Drew. BB4L also has two major threats in transition in G Van Girard and F Eugene Phelps (17/10 in 64-61 Week 5 win vs. Sky Ryse); players who capitalize on live ball turnovers. The X factor for BB4L is actually G Baron Davis, the leader of the squad. When Davis is on, he can take down entire teams by himself (see: 40+ roasting of LAUNFD). When Davis is off and/or BB4L gets too content shooting threes, BB4L goes on long droughts that can cost them games.
#5 – Sky Ryse (6-5): Last week, DrewLeague.com mentioned that Sky Ryse looked like a team that other playoff teams hoped to be matched up with in Round 1. That was before the Blazers destroyed them in Week 11. No playoff team has been worse than Sky Ryse entering the postseason, as they lost their last four games of the season. Their last win came on June 27, and that was against the last place Jaguars. They did start 6-1, so it’s not like Sky Ryse doesn’t have talent. Guards Donovan Morris and Josh Gordon complement each other well, with Morris being a versatile producer while Gordon’s shooting is a major asset in a win or go home situation. Veterans such as forwards Sean Marshall and Lemar Gayle will have a size advantage vs. BB4L, while C Shannen Garner has backup now in shotblocker Shakir Johnson. Writing off Sky Ryse entirely because of their winless July isn’t a good idea. They already played a close game against BB4L this season. But Sky Ryse has not beaten a winning team all season, and they haven’t shown they can win without F Mark Dawson, who left the team for NWA.
#2 – LAUNFD (9-2): Salvatori’s Nova Stars destroyed LAUNFD in Week 1, which may have lowered expectations. Baron Davis abused LAUNFD in Week 8, a game in which LAUNFD allowed 103 points. They rarely blow teams out (one win by more than 15 points all season). But that’s probably where the negatives end for The Unification, as they played their best basketball over the last three weeks of the regular season, a stretch that included the only loss so far for Citi Team Blazers. They already have a 73-54 blowout win against C.A.B.C., and that was with players like Bobby Brown, Pooh Jeter, Brandon Bowman, and Brandon Heath out of town. Not to mention, F Ekene Ibekwe outplayed 7’6” C.A.B.C. C Mamadou Ndiaye. LAUNFD’s guards are a mismatch for C.A.B.C.’s guards. Now, LAUNFD has players like guards Cuttino Mobley and John Lucas III to supplement a deep roster that also includes forwards Dijon Thompson and Hassan Adams. It’s not like they need any more roster additions…
#7 – C.A.B.C. (5-6): Give C.A.B.C. some credit: They went 3-1 with F Austin Daye in the lineup to earn a playoff spot, recovering from a dreadful 2-5 start that saw them score less than 60 points three times. Daye has scored easily in the Drew, highlighted by a Drew League season-high 52 points in Week 8. The best players on the team other than Daye have rarely played for C.A.B.C. this season: F Will Davis and G Terrence Phillips. C.A.B.C.’s guards have been a weak spot outside of the two games Phillips has played; fortunately for them, Brandon Jennings’ little brother is back for a playoff run. Maybe Phillips can get C Mamadou Ndiaye involved vs. LAUNFD. Ndiaye, an MVP candidate last year, hasn’t had a memorable game yet this season, and he was defended one-on-one for the most part. C.A.B.C. also looked lethargic for much of their clinching win against Salvatori’s No Shnacks in Week 11. But there’s a lot of respect for C.A.B.C. – at least one team didn’t want to play them in the first round due to the talent and size they’re going to have for the postseason.
#3 – ICEO (8-3): When it comes to talent, ICEO has the most recognizable roster in the Drew to the outsiders who didn’t show up until late July. F Stanley Johnson brought fellow Arizona standout F Solomon Hill with him in Week 9, C Andre Drummond showed up in Week 10, and F Derrick Williams joined them all in Week 11. While southpaws A.J. Gasporra and Charles Hinkle retained their rotation spots, they went from meal tickets to role players. It’s hard to argue with the results, as the workout warriors earned themselves the 3rd seed while becoming IG favorites in the process. If there is a weakness for ICEO, it is the fact that they don’t have much depth at PG. They have several players who can handle the ball and make plays for others, but few who do that as a primary role. Their first round matchup is a rematch of ICEO’s Week 10 87-81 win vs. #Juglife, a game in which Johnson took over late and Drummond declared that a championship was next.
#6 – #Juglife (5-6): This time last year, #Juglife manager Aloni Ford presided over the worst team at the Drew. When #Juglife failed to show up for their Week 11 game vs. Hank’s Houdini’s All-Stars, they lost a lot of respect. At least one player didn’t want them to set foot in the league ever again. Ford oversaw a new #Juglife this season, coached by Ron Allen, but the results were not good early. #Juglife was the last team to win a game in 2015, starting out an embarrassing 0-5. But Allen stayed upbeat, made some adjustments, and #Juglife turned things around. They won five of the last six games of the season, culminating with a Week 11 blowout win against Salvatori’s Spirit to clinch a playoff spot nobody saw coming from them when spring ended. Now, the wins on paper aren’t that impressive. They didn’t beat a single team that finished the season with a winning record, while the addition of Jordan Hamilton didn’t help them in Week 10 when Stanley Johnson decided to shut the gym down, three after three after three. But young players like F Jordan Burris and C D.J. Shumpert have given this team a chance to win, and now they get a steady hand at PG with James Wright joining the squad. #Juglife will struggle to score at times, but they won their games on the strength of strong defense and ice water veins in crunch time. They’re not going to be an easy out.
P.S.: Only Keith Anderson prediction that matters -> LAUNFD over BB4L.