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RealGM's D-League Weekly Wrap-Up (April 14-April 21)

RealGM’s Player of the Week: Isaiah Canaan (Rio Grande Valley Vipers)
 
The Houston Rockets assignee split time between Rio Grande Valley and the big league club this week. In three D-League playoff games, Canaan averaged 34.5 points, 5.5 assists, and 2.8 rebounds per game while shooting 45 percent from the field and 44 percent (24-55) from behind the arc. The 6-foot point guard out of Murray State has the ability to score in bunches, shown in his 43-point outburst on Saturday. Murray was a second round pick in last year’s draft and should be a key piece to keep an eye on this summer. He may even see action in the NBA playoffs if Patrick Beverly is unable to play.
 
Game of the Week: Fort Wayne Mad Ants 113, Sioux Falls Skyforce 111
 
Despite trailing 91-79 entering the fourth quarter, Fort Wayne mounted a comeback to stay undefeated in the playoffs. Tony Mitchell banked in a runner with 4.2 seconds left to give Fort Wayne the road win.
 
Sadiel Rojas led Fort Wayne with 20 points and six rebounds while Mitchell added 19 points, seven assists, and six boards.
 
Sioux Falls received a game-high 24 points from Henry Walker. DeAndre Liggins had a stat-stuffing 19 points, 13 rebounds, and eight assists while Tre Kelley finished with 14 points and 10 assists.
 
Fort Wayne captured game two as well to advance into the 2014 NBA D-League Finals. The Mad Ants will face the Santa Cruz Warriors to crown a champion.
 
Five Stars
 
Lance Goulbourne (Santa Cruz Warriors): Goulbourne averaged 17.3 points and 12.3 rebounds per game while shooting 60 percent from the field. The 6-foot-8 forward has made his biggest contributions in the rebounding department while his minutes have increased.
 
Cameron Jones (Santa Cruz Warriors): The D-League’s Mr. Consistent had a nice trio of performances to propel the Warriors to the finals. Jones averaged 21 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game while shooting 47 percent from the floor and 2-of-5 from three. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard is a great glue guy for Santa Cruz and will need to continue to perform at a high level to win the D-League title.
 
Tre Kelley (Sioux Falls Skyforce): Kelley had an all-around quality week for Sioux Falls. The 6-foot point guard averaged 18.7 points and 8.3 assists per game this week on 50 percent shooting. He’s a good shooter who can draw some Summer League intrigue.
 
Darius Morris (Rio Grande Valley Vipers): The reigning Player of the Week averaged 25 points, eight assists, and 5.5 rebounds per game while shooting 50 percent from the field and 33 percent (8-24) from deep. Morris clearly has the talent to find his way onto an NBA roster once again. The 6-foot-4 point guard can score in a variety of ways and has the quickness and length to defend NBA guards.
 
Sadiel Rojas (Fort Wayne Mad Ants): It took a team-effort for the Mad Ants to reach the D-League finals, but Rojas was one of the many standouts. He averaged 20 points and nine rebounds while shooting 52 percent from the field and 38 percent (5-13) from deep. He’s been a key scorer for the Mad Ants all season.
 
Call Ups
 
Melvin Ely (Texas Legends): The New Orleans Pelicans signed Ely to play the final two games of the season. Ely played a total of 27 minutes where he had six points, a rebound, and a block.
 
And One: The D-League announced that the Springield Armor will move to Grand Rapids next season to become a one-to-one affiliate with the Detroit Pistons. Like the incoming team in White Plains, New York, the fans will vote on the future name.

Pacers Turn Up Defense, Show Signs Of Life In Game 2 Win

Facing a potentially crippling situation early in the third quarter against the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night, the Indiana Pacers got back to what earned them the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Trailing by as many as 11 in the first half at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Pacers pulled away from the Hawks with a suffocating defensive effort over the final 20 minutes.

It all started when Paul George dove on the floor to chase a loose ball alongside Paul Millsap. Atlanta won the subsequent jump ball, but Jeff Teague missed a jumper and Lance Stephenson took off in search of early offense. Stephenson converted a reverse layup and was fouled, giving Indiana a 62-59 lead. They never turned back.

After playing hesitantly through the first six quarters of the series, the Pacers put the Hawks on their heels during a decisive second-half run that led to a blowout 101-85 victory.

Indiana went small and contained Jeff Teague, who had been burning them on penetration off pick-and-rolls with Pero Antic and Millsap. Teague had 12 points in the first half after a dazzling performance in Game 1 on Saturday night, but was held to just two points on 1-for-5 shooting after the break.

George Hill, the quietest of Indiana's five starters, was huge in the third. He scored 10 points and helped key a 31-13 edge in the period and a 19-0 run that stretched into the fourth quarter. During the run, the Hawks went more than six minutes without scoring.

The Pacers dominated defensively even with Roy Hibbert cheering on the sidelines. After forcing the ball inside to their center on offense, Frank Vogel adjusted to the opponent and gave Ian Mahinmi and Luis Scola heavy minutes in the second half. Mahinmi isn't Hibbert on the defensive end, but the Pacers have molded him into a similar defender in their system. He did a fine job protecting the rim as Atlanta looked flummoxed. Scola was a huge offensive weapon, putting up 20 points on 9-for-14 shooting.

Not surprisingly, great defense led to easy offense.

With the Hawks going 5-for-20, including 1-for-8 from deep, in the third, the Pacers attacked the basket and carried confidence to the other end of the floor. Indiana went 12-for-16 in the quarter, while building a +4 rebounding edge and cashing in on all their trips to the foul line.

This performance alone doesn't mean the "old" Indiana Pacers are back, but it's certainly a step in the right direction.

"King" George

When the Pacers needed their best player to put them on his back, Paul George did just that. He was a game-high +29 with a full stat line -- 27 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists and four steals. More importantly? He committed just one turnover and didn't force his offense as he has so often post-All-Star break.

George took seven threes, making five of them, and attacked the basket rather than settle for mid-range jumpers. He took two such shots, with his remaining seven attempts coming in, or near, the restricted area.

His performance was also noteworthy on the defensive end as he spent some time checking Teague. His length and quickness create problems for any point guard.

Team Defense

Hibbert may be the "face" of Indiana's league-best defense, but on Tuesday night they put together a team performance that bodes well for the remainder of the series. The All-Star center played 24 minutes, six fewer than in the series opener, as Vogel went with a smaller, more athletic front-line to counter Atlanta's unorthodox attack.

There is no question that Hibbert has been vital to Indiana's success, but there is also no rule that says you have to stick with a specialized player when mismatched. The Pacers are looking to get back on track and enter the title conversation again, not to march out Hibbert because of his contract and label as a starter.

Vogel forced offense inside to Hibbert far too much in the first half and when the big man focused more on rebounding and defense than trying to score over the smaller Millsap and Antic, the Pacers looked more like the team that had the best record in the league at the season's midpoint. A combined 14 points and 12 rebounds without a single block in 54 minutes is disappointing, but if Indiana advances Hibbert will have plenty of chances to dominate on both ends.

Teague-Williams

The Hawks couldn't recover when the Pacers imposed their will in the second half, but over a stretch from the end of the first to the beginning of the second quarter Atlanta's offense absolutely handcuffed Indiana.

Even when the Pacers are dialed in defensively, it's hard to stop the Hawks when they are hitting on all cylinders. If Teague and Lou Williams are slashing and Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll and Co. are hitting from deep it's difficult for any team to defend them.

Parties Not Heard From

Stephenson ignited the Pacers in the third quarter with his three-point play, but he and David West were largely unheard from in Game 2. West battled foul trouble early and finished with eight points and two rebounds. His passing helped Indiana foster better ball movement -- he had six assists -- but a huge outing is lurking as the series shifts to Atlanta.

Meanwhile, Stephenson found himself on the bench more than he'd like and we've come to expect. He logged just 25 minutes, his lowest total since the Pacers beat the Hawks 89-85 on Feb. 4. He wasn't Bad Lance, but the triple-double machine had just seven points, five assists and three rebounds and was a +3 in a 16-point win. It will be interesting to see how Stephenson comes out on Thursday night.

Portsmouth Invitational - '62 Years Running - The Best of the PIT'

The Portsmouth Invitational Tournament (PIT) is a major NBA event that showcases some of the top senior talent across college basketball. It is noted for featuring many of the great players of NBA's past. And, over the course of its 62-year history, the PIT has become a staple for NBA scouts, agents, and media members alike, who all flock to the four-day event to see some of the top senior talent square off in organized scrimmages.

In the current agent-dominated landscape, where players are too often concerned with harming their draft stock and are focused more on how they will conduct themselves in team interviews, the PIT is a breath of fresh air for those who subscribe to the mantra: 'actions speak louder than words.'

At the PIT, a player's game does the talking, so to speak, which provides a glimmer of hope for those out there who still clamor to the notion that head to head matchups can still tell a lot about a prospect. While no scout in their right mind would substitute a player's body of work in the regular season for one's performance at the PIT, the event does allow scouts to glean some aspects of a player's adaptability, toughness, and willingness to buy into a team construct, especially given the fact that most of these guys are playing alongside each other for the first time.

While many players stood out in certain contests but failed to live up to their promise in others, several individuals were consistent throughout, standing out from the pack and really helping their draft stocks. Five players in particular really impressed from an NBA prospect perspective: Markel Starks, Travis Bader, Akil Mitchell, Javon McCrea, and Andre Dawkins all really helped themselves at this event.

Markel Starks, Georgetown - While Davante Gardner took home the MVP trophy for his spectacular performance in the final game, looking pretty dominant on the glass and in the post, Markel Starks was far and away more deserving of the MVP award. Although he played alongside pure point David Stockton, who had a tremendous camp in his own right, Starks looked every bit the part of the best point guard at the event. In terms of his ability to break down the defense, Starks employs an adequate first step and regularly turned to his arsenal of hesitation moves to break his man down off the bounce and either take the ball all the way to the rim, or pull up for an often uncontested jumper. He did this with impunity at the PIT,  and demonstrated excellent body control when confronted with a bigger help defender. Not only was Starks hyper aggressive attacking the basket, but he was incredibly crafty at the rim, evincing tremendous body control and the concentration and strength to finish through contact. He also possesses an array of floaters and scoop shots. With that said, Starks' bread and butter at the next level will be his ability to keep defenses honest with his pullup jumper, which is somewhat of a lost art in today's game. Starks has the balance and poise to score off the bounce, elevating and creating enough separation on his shot to likely receive clean looks at the next level. While Starks displayed good range on his outside shot, he was not particularly consistent in this respect throughout the season.

Starks is more than just a scorer though. At the PIT, Starks demonstrated that he can serve as a floor general, seeing the floor and creating plays for his teammates. One of his greatest strengths is his ability to read the defense, hitting open cutters and making winning basketball plays. On the defensive end, Starks is a savvy defender who committed only 2.55 fouls per 40 minutes (good for 11th best in the Big East). Starks does a nice job getting in a stance and possesses the lateral quickness to defend at the next level. While Markel Starks was not given the MVP nod, he more than impressed with his performance at the PIT, capped off by his game winning three pointer as time expired to earn his team the championship trophy.

Travis Bader, Oakland - While I did not have the pleasure of witnessing Bader's most impressive three point shooting barrage in his first game at the PIT, the 6'5 wing clearly stood out as the best shooter at this event. Travis Bader sports textbook mechanics, nice elevation, and a quick release on his jumper shot.   And even though he did try to display a more diversified game at times, Bader's potential at the next level rests in his ability to nail the long ball. While he is not as effective shooting off the bounce, Bader was remarkably accurate connecting off the catch in transition or hitting shots off a curl. He also did not get rattled by the physicality of the game, drawing several three point fouls. This came as no surprise to me given his performances during the year, where teams absolutely did everything they could to clamp down on him from beyond the arc. Bader is a master at properly utilizing screens and reading defenses in order to get off his shot. Oakland regularly ran set plays and he was able to dial in from distance with only a little bit of daylight.

In terms of the other facets of his game, Bader did employ a shot fake at times and got to the rim on a few occasions, but this was few and far between. Defensively, Bader shows good effort and a solid intensity level, working hard to stay with his man, but will likely be average to below average at the next level given his limited physical profile, which will hurt his ability to fight over the top of screens. All in all, Bader has good size for a wing and a defined role at the next level, making him an obvious candidate to be drafted.

Akil Mitchell, Virginia - Akil Mitchell was one of the most highly touted names coming into the PIT, and he did not disappoint with his performances here. Mitchell was dominant defensively and controlled the glass throughout the tournament, two areas he will likely have to specialize in next season if he is able to earn an NBA roster spot. The lengthy Mitchell has a fairly raw offensive game at this point, but was physical attacking the basket. His explosiveness off the bounce was evident, and he likely has not reached his full potential on this end of the floor. For instance, he made several explosive maneuvers to the basket, spinning off of his man and finishing at the rim before the defender could even react. Mitchell is not particularly shy in this regard, and will ferociously throw the ball down if a defender allows him to get deep enough post position. While Mitchell certainly has the strength to back his man down, he does not yet boast the advanced footwork to truly create for himself off the initial post entry feed in any meaningful way. He instead relies heavily on his athleticism and strength to finish at the rim on both back to the basket and faceup moves. In terms of his other capabilities on this end of the floor, Mitchell does not yet have the range to stretch defenses and keep them honest at the next level. This likely could be a big area of improvement for him in the coming seasons.

In terms of his promise on the glass, Mitchell did a nice job securing rebounds and this will likely be a strength at the next level. He did a nice job of blocking out more physically imposing players and utilizing his superior athleticism to corral loose balls. On other trips, he was able to tip it out to his teammates and keep possessions alive. Defensively, Akil is a great help defender who can come over from the weakside and contest at the rim. He works hard in the post to maintain position on the block and utilizes his length to deflect post entry feeds. He is active in passing lanes and regularly deflected the ball on several occasions due to his great timing and quickness (he led the PIT with 2.3 steals per contest according to realgm.com statistics). Ultimately, Mitchell is a consummate role player at the next level who possesses the requisite athleticism to make an NBA roster next season.

Two Additional Players Deserving Mention:

Andre Dawkins, Duke - Dawkins was a revelation at this event due to his tremendous shooting display. Dawkins gets good elevation on his shots and was able to pull up from virtually anywhere on the floor. He also demonstrated a lot more aggression attacking the rim than most were accustomed to seeing during his time at Duke. He was able to get past his man on several occasions and possesses the strength to finish through contact. All in all, Dawkins projects as a jump shooter who can spot up off the dribble or off the catch.

Javon McCrea, Buffalo - McCrea was arguably the most consistent big man at this event and was able to physically dominate his opponents at times. He likely is the strongest player at the event, and regularly attacked his man's body and finished through contact. McCrea possesses the necessary girth (body type wise) to create separation in the post and finish against bigger opponents. At the PIT, McCrea was a dominant physical presence facing up and scored on several up and under moves and scoop shots which were heavily contested. He was also aggressive on the offensive glass, creating extra possessions for his team and looking every bit the part of an undersized power forward. Defensively, McCrea was physical enough to move his man out of the post area, but struggled a little bit when lengthy players were able to get the ball super close to the hoop. With that said, he was active defensively and readily poked the ball away on numerous occasions. McCrea also demonstrated his midrange jump shot, and connected with some consistency. His form is still rather awkward looking though, and a larger sample size is needed before it can be said that he has improved in this area. Overall, McCrea will likely be limited initially by his size, but can eventually make a roster down the road if he can show some consistency on his jump shot and extend his range.

MCW & Giannis: Why The Eye Test Still Matters

When you are evaluating young players, the statistics can only tell you so much. That's why there are still ways to find steals in the draft - look for the tallest, longest and most athletic guys at each position. Itís really that simple.

Notes On The 2014 Jordan Brand Classic

On Justin Blackmon, the budding chemistry between Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones, the potential of Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre at Kansas, and why Myles Turner is making the most informed decision of any high-level recruit.

Pacers Can't Flip Switch Against Hawks In Game 1

Instead of wiping away concerns about their poor finish to the season, the Pacers created more uncertainty with a disappointing loss to the Hawks on Saturday night.

RealGM's Playoff Predictions

All eight RealGM writers predict the Heat along with either the Thunder or Spurs to reach The Finals.

D-12 & LMA: Previewing Rockets Vs. Blazers

The difference between the way in which Dwight Howard and LaMarcus Aldridge were successful in taking advantage of single coverage was the reason for the Rockets dominance over the Blazers in the regular season. If that trend continues and the defenses donít make the necessary adjustments in the playoffs, the Rockets should move on to the second round.

Two Reinventions: Previewing Raptors Vs. Nets

Both of these teams reinvented themselves for different reasons during the regular season. For the Raptors, it came after the Rudy Gay trade in freeing up Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The Nets fixed their season by embracing small ball.

Spurs Remain The Surest Playoff Bet

Like Bill Belichick with the Patriots, Gregg Popovich conducts a strict system style of team ball consequently demanding respect and discipline from every player, no matter how valuable or invaluable they are to the franchise.

Euroleague's Best U-21 Players of 13-14

With less than a month remaining until the Euroleague Final Four in Milan, RealGM presents a list of ten young (21-year-old or younger) Euroleague players that had the most success in 13-14 season.

NBA Playoff Fantasy: Play For $100,000 In Prizes

The NBA Playoffs begin on Saturday and DraftStreet is having a 2-Day first round Fantasy Contest with $100,000 in guaranteed prizes to celebrate.

As Long Season Ends, Danny Ainge Provides Insight Into Celtics' Offseason

After trading Pierce, Garnett and Jason Terry to the Nets, Ainge was left with a disorganized roster and future flexibility.

Draft Report: Dante Exum Of Australian Institute Of Sport

While Dante Exum isnít quite as long and athletic as Andrew Wiggins, heís far more skilled. Heís an elite athlete in his own right and plays with more poise. You have to play Trading Places with these guys - what would have happened if Exum was on the AAU circuit every summer and Wiggins was in the AIS?

Final Non-National NBA Games Of The Week & NNGW Season Awards

The final jockeying for playoff seeds and the NNGW awards are handed out.

Why I Love The Nike Hoop Summit

The Nike Hoop Summit is the best of the high school All-Star games. Something happens when players put on the Team USA uniform. This isnít just an all-star dunk contest. You get to see a little bit more of the playerís character.

RealGM's D-League Weekly Wrap-Up (April 7-April 13)

On the strong weeks by Seth Curry, Darius Morris, Patrick Christopher, Troy Daniels, Cameron Jones, Ognjen Kuzmic and more.

NBA Players Who Could Still Be In College

Itís easy to forget how young some of the players in the league are - freshmen drafted in 2011 would have been college seniors this season. You have to judge young players against guys their age not against the guys in their draft class.

One And Done Model Works For Everyone

John Calipari is 18-3 in the NCAA Tournament at Kentucky. Even more remarkable, he compiled that number with four completely different teams, sending upwards of 15 players to the NBA. Itís a vindication not only of how he built his program, but of the entire ďone and doneĒ model.

Al Jefferson Chases The Money Into The Playoffs

Al Jefferson has often been considered an overrated stat compiler in his career, but he has posted his best season and has the Bobcats in the playoffs.

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