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Game Preview: Iowa Energy

               Tonight at 7 p.m on their home floor in Allen War Memorial Coliseum, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants (1-4) take the floor to face off against the Iowa Energy (4-2) in their first Thursday game of the young season. The two have an extensive history playing against each other as Central Division foes before Fort Wayne was realigned to the Eastern Division this year.  Fort Wayne sports an 8-6 all-time mark against the Iowa Energy at home, and will look to pick up its second win of the year against one of the most potent offensive attacks in the league.

                                                                               Team Matchups

In terms of team statistics, Iowa ranks 3rd in the league in points per game at 115 points per contest, and are 5th in total rebounds per game at 47.5 per game.  When they are on a roll, the team is hard to stop: Iowa has scored at least 120 points four times, and has gone 3-1 in those games, including a 133-123 shootout loss to the league’s best offense, the 8-0 Rio Grande Valley Vipers, in the game leading up to tonight’s matchup. Iowa is 4-1 overall on the road this season.

This game is a great offensive matchup for Fort Wayne, which has started slowly out of the gate due to their struggles beyond the arc (28.2%, 14th in the league on a league low-14.4 attempts per game), the ability to get easy buckets (16th out of 17 teams in team assists per game), and a middle of the pack rating in turnovers per game (18.2, 10th overall). While some of that high figure has to do with the pace they play at and number of extra shot attempts they receive from their rebounding efforts, Iowa is not nearly as good on the defensive end, yielding 112.2 points per contest, 13th in the league. As a result, it should give the Mad Ants the opportunity to get going on offense and crack triple digits in scoring for the second time this season.

Defense is where the Mad Ants have hung their hat on so far, racking up steals (12.8, 2nd in the league) and are in the top five in points surrendered per game with 100.4 per contest. Fort Wayne will need to contain the three point arc and capitalize in defensive rebounding situations given that Iowa is one of the worst teams in the league at generating second chance opportunities on offense. This begins with individuals such as forward Sadiel Rojas for the Mad Ants, who has been on a rebounding tear (3 straight games of 10+ rebounds) and has been pulling down 3 offensive rebounds per game. Besides Rojas, the Mad Ants have put in a collective team effort on the glass, with 6 players grabbing at least 4.8 rebounds per game. Fort Wayne will probably need to win the rebounding battle in order to get the win.

Players to Watch

Iowa Energy

Individually for players to watch on the Energy, it starts with former Miami Heat forward Jarvis Varnado. Acquired before this season in a trade with the Sioux Falls Skyforce, Varnado has lived up to the hype: he is 3rd on the team in points (16.3), 4th in the entire D-League in rebounds (11.7), and is an absolutely devastating shot blocker, rejecting 5.3 per game. His 5.3 blocks per game is 1st overall in the league after leading the league with 3.4 last season.

To pair up with him, Iowa has the red hot Othyus Jeffers, a guard-forward who is 3rd in the league in scoring per game (25.5) thanks to his efficiency from the field (51.8%). Jeffers has attributes similar to a blank Scrabble tile: wherever you need help in a particular situation, he gets the job done for you. In addition to his scoring, he also brings rebounding (11.1 per game, 5th overall in the league), passing (4.2 assists), and creates important opportunities in transition thanks to his 2.2 steals per game.

Fort Wayne Mad Ants

For the Mad Ants, the arrival of guard Bennie Lewis is an interesting story line to watch. Lewis, who prior to signing last week spent three seasons playing overseas, brought the ability to shoot beyond the arc in his first game in a Mad Ant uniform, knocking down 3 three point attempts. A critical need for Fort Wayne right now is space to operate on offense, and if Lewis can force defenders to come out to three point arc, it would help open up room on the floor for many of Fort Wayne players who look to drive to the rim to get their buckets such as forward Trey McKinney-Jones and D-League All-Star guard Ron Howard.

After attending training camp on a loaded Indiana Pacers team and just missing out on a NBA roster spot, Howard has returned to Fort Wayne and continued his stellar play from the guard position. He is first on the team in points (23.0) and assists (3.0), and is 4th in rebounding while shooting a solid 44.8% from the field as the Mad Ants number one option on offense. He is assisted in carrying the scoring load by an emerging rookie, Trey McKinney-Jones. The forward is second on the team in points per game (18.0), and is coming off a spectacular performance against the Skyforce, playing 47 of a possible 50 minutes and posting a team season-high 30 points, snagging 6 boards, and coming up with 3 steals without turning the ball over.

4 Rule Changes the NBA D-League Should Consider Implementing

By: Zachary Bigger

            For the 2010-11 season, the NBA Development League tested out two new rules: making offensive goaltending legal and also shortening the overtime period from five to three minutes. Among other things they have experimented with in the D-League is the new synthetic game ball that was used briefly in the NBA for the 2006-2007 season. While some decisions have worked out and others have failed, here are a few ideas the NBA D-League should consider implementing:

1.)    Reducing Game Time From 48 to 40 Minutes

Why? Grantland writer Zach Lowe does a great job of summarizing the case for this rule change. To quickly sum up what he is discussing: NBA game times are nearing Major League Baseball game times of almost three hours. Basketball is a game of rhythms and flows, not meant to drone on by the seemingly 537 TV timeouts during the game. While D-League games are shorter in length, the D-League is also the first place that the NBA tests new rules. With this extreme of a rule change, it will be tested in the D-League and not just decided to be implemented immediately at the start of a new season.

Additionally, the reduced amount of game play will result in increased unpredictability, which is what any league wanting competitive parity wants. This increases the odds that any team can lose on any given night, and that nothing should be taken for granted. It will jam pack the action of a game and would require less of a time commitment for the fans, so they can enjoy the intensity of a game while not giving up an entire evening to view it.

2.)    One-and-One Free Throws

This idea was brought up by Kevin Arvonitz on his Truehoop video blog earlier this year, and I believe it is a great way to make every time someone touches the basketball, both sides have something to play for. NBA teams average 22.2 free throw attempts per game, about 11 per game by each side. Why not shorten this by rewarding good free throw shooters and punishing bad ones by make it one-and-one?

The incorporation of a one-and-one free throw system would mean that players would not be standing around waiting for the first free throw to be taken. Second, it means that there would be less stoppage time in a game, shortening the overall time the game takes to be played. Third, it eliminates the easiest shot in the game, a standing still 15 footer where no one contests the shot and only one player is involved instead of the potential for many on either side with an assist, steal, block, etc.

3.)    Strictly Enforce the Ten-Second Time Limit Between Free Throws

I believe this is necessary because today everyone has there free throw rituals, have to high five their teams, take a look at there friends, then finally take a shot. Lets try to speed the game up, not bog it down and ruin what makes basketball so special: a well flowing display of marksmanship and athleticism.

4.)    Expanding the Three-Point Line in the Corners from 22′ to 23′ 9”

The NBA three-point line unlike college (19′ 9”) and FIBA (22′ 1”) is not standard across the court, yet corner threes are worth the same amount of points. Three pointers continue to rise across the NBA as teams realize the value in them, with Miami attempting over 21 shots behind the arc per game. While teams nailing threes at high rates is great, why should the line in the corners be shorter than from the top of the arc?

I believe the D-League should experiment taking away the corner three, because it is the best points per shot value of any shot in basketball. It would force teams to drive and slash to the hoop more often to get the other high value shots such as layups and dunks. The results would I believe increased showcasing of the great level of improvisation and athleticism in the D-League and NBA.

Mad Ants Weekly Report

The Mad Ants only played in one game this week, on the road on Saturday against the Sioux Falls Skyforce. The result was not as the team might have hoped for: they charged out of the gate to a 16 point lead before falling in overtime as the inability to hit free throws late cost the team the win. The Mad Ants are currently 1-4 overall, 4th in the Eastern Division out of the six teams. Fort Wayne is looking forward to playing at home Thursday night, where they earned there only win so far this season against the Erie Bayhawks. Here are some lessons learned from the Sioux Falls game and what the Mad Ants can build upon:

  1. Trey McKinney-Jones Can Ball with the Best of Them

Playing 47 out of a possible 51 minutes, McKinney-Jones posted a stat line of 30 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals while not turning the ball over once. He was essential to keeping the Mad Ants in the game against Sioux Falls, and is leading the Mad Ants per game in minutes (35.8), is second in scoring (17.0), and is second in steals (2.2). The development and growth of the Miami (FL) product as he goes through his rookie season will be an intriguing story line to watch throughout this season.

  1. Sadiel Rojas Continues His Rebounding Tear

Rojas, last season’s total overall rebounder, in four games this season is averaging 10.5 rebounds, including 3 offensive rebounds per game. He has a streak of three consecutive double-digit rebounding games, and has seen his rebounds per game jump more than 4 rebounds per game. After playing in all 50 games last year following a devastating back injury as a rookie, Rojas has locked in and become a glass eater that any team would love to have.

  1. The Arrival of Bennie Lewis

The newest acquisition of the Mad Ants which signed with the Mad Ants on December 3, played 21 minutes and added both a sweet stroke and athleticism off the bench. Lewis, who has played professionally for three seasons in Australia with the Melbourne Tigers, was a practice squad player for the Mad Ants for the first few weeks this season. Lewis was solid in his debut: he went 3 of 7 beyond the arc, grabbed 2 rebounds, dished out 3 assists, and a steal in 21 minutes. While his shooting overall (3 for 11) was not there Saturday night, if Lewis can make his mark behind the arc for the Ants, it would be a huge boost to a lackluster long distance attack so far.

Come out and watch the Mad Ants in their third home game of the season at Allen War Memorial Coliseum Thursday night as they take on the Iowa Energy (4-2). Game time is set for 7:00 p.m.

5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the NBA D-League

By: Zachary Bigger

NBA D-League

            Now entering its 13th season, the NBA Development League has gone through its growing pains, learned many lessons, and made great strides to become the best minor league basketball league in the world. What initially began as a vision of NBA Commissioner David Stern is becoming more and more of a reality as time progresses. However, many things have changed in the brief history of the league, some more surprising than others. Here are five things you may not know about the NBA Development League:

1.)    The League Hired the First Female Assistant and Head Coach in Men’s Professional Basketball

In the league’s first season in 2001, Stephanie Ready served as an assistant on the first ever NBA Development league championship team, the Greensville Groove. Originally an assistant for Division I men’s collegiate basketball at Coppin State, she also was the second female coach to achieve that distinction.  Bernadette Maddox broke the Division I men’s collegiate coaching barrier in 1990 under former University of Kentucky coach Rick Pitino. Ready is now a TV host and reporter for the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats.

The first female head coach of a men’s professional basketball team is Nancy Lieberman, who coached the Texas Legends to a 24-26 in their inaugural 2010 campaign and became just the third expansion team to make the playoffs in their first season. For the past two seasons, she has been the assistant general manager for the Legends.

2.)    The NBA Development League Originally Began in the Southeast

When the National Basketball Development League (NBDL) was formed in 2001, there were eight original franchises, all located in the southeastern region of the United States: the Asheville Attitude, Columbus Riverdragons, Fayetteville Patriots, Greensville Groove, Huntsville Flight, Mobile Revelers, and Roanoke Dazzle.

Today, there are no teams located in the southeastern area, all 17 teams are located throughout every major geographical region except the southwest and southeast. All of the original eight having either been moved or folded, with Asheville (Tulsa 66ers) and Columbus (Austin Toros) still operating in the league today.

NBA D-League 2013-2014 Map

3.) The 2012-2013 Season Marked the Last NBA Team to Send a Player Down on Assignment

Last year with the Indiana Pacers sending Miles Plumlee and Orlando Johnson to Fort Wayne for D-League assignment meant that all 30 NBA teams have sent a player on assignment since the league began instituting the assignment system prior to the 2005-2006 season. It was a major step towards seeing ever NBA team investing into the system, which will be essential to D-League President Dan Reed’s long term vision of a full 30 team minor league down the road.

4.)    Several NBA D-League Teams Have Built Their Own Arena

What originally was a rarity in minor league basketball is beginning to become a trend, especially in the D-League. Santa Cruz (Kaiser Permanente Arena), Sioux Falls (Sanford Sports Pentagon) and Bakersfield (Dignity Health Center) all constructing their own arenas in the past four years. This is important because it gives hope to mid-level markets who may not have a professional sports arena to obtain a D-League team already in place or may be chosen for expansion in the future.

5.) The NBA D-League Games Were Originally Broadcast on ESPN2 & Fox Sports Net South

When the league began play in 2001, it signed two different TV contracts: the first on January 3, 2001 with ESPN for a 24 game package beginning with opening night and continuing through the regular season. The second with Fox Sports Net South on July 25, 2001 was for a multi-year agreement that would broadcast 19 games in the inaugural season. Fast forwarding to today, the league games are now simulcast online on YouTube and NBA Center Court app and on TV with CBS Sports Network and NBA TV.

NBA Summer League: What It’s All About

By Alec Johnson

The NBA FInals have been over for almost two weeks now, and that means trying to find some other sport to watch. Baseball games are on, but for some, they move too slow and are boring. Some people just can’t wait until the NFL season starts. So what’s a sports fan to do, especially basketball fans? Well, there is the NBA Summer League, which I’m sure most basketball fans know about, but what is it all about? I’m here to explain that.

First of all, it’s important to understand the purpose of the Summer Leagues. Basically, they are an opportunity for NBA teams to watch new draft picks, potential free agents, young veterans, and unsigned/undrafted players play. It allows the teams to make decisions about signing these players be seeing how they do in a competitive environment. Plus, it allows the fans and media to have even more access to the teams in the off-season.

For D-League players, it allows them a chance to show why they should be signed by an NBA team. The Mad Ants’ Tony Mitchell will be playing with the Boston Celtics’ summer league team in Orlando, so it will give him an opportunity to show if he has what it takes to succeed in the NBA.

The concept of the Summer League, mainly the Las Vegas League, was started by a man named Warren LeGarie, a San Francisco Bay Area sports agent in 2004. He started it because he saw that there was something missing after all the hype and buildup for the NBA Draft. The league was a way to justify all the hype, he said. Plus, it’s great for the fans because they would only have to pay $25 to see their favorite teams play, compared to, say, $50 for a seat at a NBA regular season game.

This summer, the NBA is hosting two summer leagues: The usual league in Las Vegas, and a new one in Orlando. It will take place July 7-12. It will be a six day competition with each team playing five games over the six days, and the sixth day is called “Championship Day”, where each team will play the next closest seeded team to them depending on where they are in the standings. For example, the 1st and 2nd place teams will play each other, the 3rd and 4th place teams will play each other, and so on. The points system that ranks the teams works like this: -7 point system- 7 points awarded each game; 3 pts for a win and then 1 pt for each quarter won – In the case of a tied quarter, each team gets 0.5 pt. – As a result, a winning team can earn between 4 to 7 points, while the losing team can earn between 0 to 3 points. For Championship Day, the tiebreakers used are total pt differential, followed by total points allowed, and if necessary, a coin flip. The game rules are a bit different than the NBA regular season, as listed on the Orlando Magic website, are as follows:

  • Four 10-minute quarters
  • 10-minute halftime
  • Five full timeouts per game
  • Two one-minute mandatory media timeouts per quarter on deadball at 5:59 and 2:59
  • Maximum number of three timeouts to be used per team in the fourth quarter
  • One :20 timeout per team each half
  • Three-minute overtime period if necessary
  • One full timeout and one :20 timeout per team in overtime period
  • Teams will be in penalty on 5th team foul in each quarter, the 3rd in overtime
  • No foul-out rule; opposing team receives two free throws for each personal foul in excess of six; two free throws and the ball given to a team for each foul over ten
  • 10-minute intermission/warm up between games

Ten teams will participate in this league. They are the Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz, Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, and the Brooklyn Nets. For Mad Ants fans, Detroit and Indiana will be the teams to watch in this one.

As for the other league, it will be held in Las Vegas July 12-22, with 22 teams, according to an article on NBA.com, and the format for this tournament will be different this year. Instead of just round robin play, there is a tournament that is being added on this year. July 12-16 is preliminary round play, with each team playing three games. After that, the teams will be seeded into a bracket style tournament that will be played until July 22, when the final two teams will compete for the Summer League championship. The tournament will be a double elimination style tournament, where each team is guaranteed at least two games.

Teams participating in this tournament are the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Bobcats, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, LA Clippers, LA Lakers, Memphis Grizzlies; Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans, New York Knicks, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards, and a D-League Select Team (Mad Ants affiliates’ are in bold).

If you want to tune in and follow the action this summer, games will be broadcast on NBA TV starting July 7 with the New Orleans Pelicans taking on the New York Knicks at 4 p.m. ET. A link to the schedules for both leagues can be found on the Orlando Magic website and here.

Other related links:

Reviewing the NBA Draft and the Mad Ant affiliate picks

By Alec Johnson

Unpredictable and surprising.

Those are two words that could describe this year’s NBA Draft, as no one really knew who the definite #1 pick would be, and no one expected this many trades, with 24 of them occurring throughout the night, not counting any other ones that might happen today.

As for that #1 pick, I was surprised the Cavaliers chose Anthony Bennett out of UNLV. Like many people, I thought someone like Nerlens Noel of Kentucky or Ben McLemore of Kansas would get that pick. However, he does bring his rebounding skills, his natural talent, and shooting abilities from the perimeter, and his ability to finish at the rim. They already had two guards with Kyrie Irving and Wayne Ellington, and while his injury recovery is a concern, the Cavs seem to believe that he will be able to help them turn things around.

Something else I noticed was that there were a ridiculous amount of trades, starting with the 6th pick of the draft, Nerlens Noel. He was originally taken by the New Orleans Pelicans, but was then traded to Philadelphia for Jrue Holiday, who is an All-Star player, and a 2014 1st-round draft pick. That will be a big gamble for the Sixers to take, but having that pick could be beneficial for them, as next year’s draft class is viewed as having the most talent in recent memory, according to CBS Sports.

Trey Burke was also another significant trade during the draft, with the Minnesota Timberwolves taking him as the #9 pick, and then he was traded to the Utah Jazz for the 14th and 21st picks of the first round. He’ll bring playmaking and scoring abilities to the Jazz, who haven’t had a solid point guard since the John Stockton days. He does lack size and quickness, which is a concern, but if those two things can be developed, look for him to do big things with Utah.

The biggest trade of the night wasn’t even on the draft floor. Instead, it was a blockbuster trade between the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets. It worked out great for the Nets, who are on their way to receiving Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry from the Celtics while the Nets gave the Celtics picks in the 2014, 2016, and 2018, with only 2014 getting some protections at all, according to a USA Today article. The Celtics also received Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, and Keith Bogans. It is almost a sure sign that the Celtics’ rebuilding process has begun, just a few days after former coach Doc Rivers left for the Clippers to become their new head coach. They also picked up his contract from the Celtics. In exchange, the Celtics received an unprotected 2015 first round draft pick. If formalized by July 10, this trade would give the Nets the edge to be a contender in the Eastern Conference, and it leaves the Celtics in rebuilding mode.

As for the Mad Ants’ affiliates, here are their picks and my reviews of them:

Indiana Pacers

Courtesy Bleacher Report

23rd pick-Solomon Hill, F, Arizona

He’s versatile, can rebound, a solid passer, and a good three-point shooter. Seen as a surprising pick for the Pacers, as they could have chosen someone like DeShaun Thomas or even Isaac Canaan, who could have addressed their issues at point guard. He does bring versatility, as he had to do a bit of everything, and can get to the free throw line with his opportunistic slashing to the hoop, which makes up for his inconsistency at getting to the rim in isolation or pick and roll situations. He’ll be more of a role player most likely for the Pacers, and he can bring a sense of maturity, which will bode well with the veteran players on the team.

Milwaukee Bucks

Courtesy Draft Express

15th pick-Giannis Adetokunbo, F, Greece

This is a young kid who has ball handling skills, is a great passer, and has a great feel for the game, but is not yet ready to play in the NBA. He needs time to develop his defensive skills, explosiveness, and strength. According to this profile on NBA.com, he may need 1 or 2 more years before he’s even ready to play in the D League. Plus, he’s only played in the fourth division of Greek basketball, so it’s not known how he will play against the best in the NBA. This pick is more about the long-term for the Bucks, so don’t expect to see him on ESPN anytime soon.

Detroit Pistons

Courtesy Hawks Basketball Blog

8-Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, G, Georgia

This pick is one that could help establish a perimeter presence for the Pistons, and would likely move Brandon Knight to the point guard position. It would also mean that the Pistons likely won’t re-sign free agent point guard Jose Calderon, according to MLive.com. He also has the advantage of being able to create his own shot, especially off pick and rolls, and has a 1.118 points per shot average when using his favorite weapon in the pull-up shot. They also get a guy who averaged 18.5 points per game in the SEC, and was near the top of the conference in nine statistical categories, including free throw shooting, rebounding, and steals.  He will need time to adapt to the NBA game, but with his solid work ethic, he should be able to make that transition and help the Pistons improve.

Courtesy nbadraft.com

37-Tony Mitchell, F, North Texas

This pick seems to raise many questions to Pistons fans over his selection. Part of this skepticism stems from the fact that his statistics went down from his promising freshman season of 2011-12 in almost every category. While part of that was due to a coaching change made by the team, much of this was due to his lack of consistent effort to improve his skills. According to DraftExpress.com, he doesn’t seem to have worked on his fundamentals and seems to have relied on just his physical attributes to help him improve. He does have potential with his 6’9″ height, athleticism,  7’3″ wingspan, which can help his shot-blocking, rebounding, and finishing at the basket. Unless he improves his attitude and work ethic, he won’t get very far in the NBA, and it will be something the Pistons will have to address.

Charlotte Bobcats

Courtesy crimsoncast.com

4-Cody Zeller, C, Indiana

This guy is well known around the Hoosier State, as he led Indiana to the Sweet 16 for a second straight season before the Hoosiers lost to Syracuse. He was tabbed to be a highly rated draft pick, but Bobcat fans watching at home weren’t pleased with the choice while players like Alex Len, Ben McLemore, and Nerlens Noel were still on the board. Columnist Tom Sorenson of the News-Observer in Charlotte believes that the Bobcats should have gone with a big man. While he praises Zeller’s speed and shooting ability, he believes that he doesn’t have the size needed to compete against the best big men in the league. That is definitely a legitimate point to make. However, if Zeller can bulk up in the offseason and improve his physicality and toughness, he will be able to add that extra bit to improving his game. His work ethic should help with this, but how much it will help remains to be seen. Zeller will really have to prove that he can hang with the best in the NBA, not just for himself, but for the fans that doubted his abilities.

It should be an interesting off-season, as the summer leagues are starting up in July. This is where the newly drafted players will get to show off their skills to their respective NBA teams and fight for a spot in the starting five.