While everyone is noticing the rising Celtics who have won five of their last seven games; few are noticing the Maine Red Claws who currently lead the Eastern Conference of the NBA D-League.
The NBA’s minor league is the place where players try to prove themselves as valuable NBA players. For example, NBA Champion Danny Green and Heat defensive monster Hassan Whiteside are former D-League players. The D-League also allow front offices to try basketball ideas and philosophies out on a minor level.
The big experiment this year comes from the Reno Bighorns (Sacramento Kings affiliate) who hired Dave Areseneault Jr. to implement “The System”. The offense from Grinell College that’s based on three point shots, a relentless pace, and pressing defense. While basketball experiments like “The System” often attract the media attention; they sometimes don’t produce the expected results.
This season the Maine Red Claws are producing the results without being too radical.
The Red Claws have a roster with a great mix of defense, shooting, rebounding, and these all combine to create a balanced attack that creates an effective team on both ends of the court. The team has also been helped by NBA assignees Marcus Smart, James Young, and Dwight Powell.
The team has been led most of the season by the backcourt of Tim Frazier and Chris Babb. Both players have NBA experience. Babb played last year for the Celtics in 14 games, and Frazier played for the 76ers earlier in the season. Frazier is a nightly triple-double threat who averages 16.3 points, 9.5 assists, and 7.2 rebounds.
Frazier at 6’1″ is the current leading rebounder for the Red Claws. He’s like the mini version of Rondo. This means he’s a smaller guard who can fill up the box score score while still leading the charge on offense. Babb is more of a scorer who still manages to pull down 6.2 rebounds a game.
The two guards were often accompanied by forward Christian Watford before he was traded to the Reno Bighorns. Andre Stringer has taken over the starting spot in the past few games. Stringer is a smaller guard who is an effective three point shooter who’s a poor defensive player. Stringer is not a strong scorer and he’s currently the weak link in the Red Claw’s starting line up.
The other two members of the front line are Romero Osby and Omari Johnson. Both players are smaller forwards who can score and occasionally hit threes. Johnson is the better defender and shooter of the two. There are also bench players who play key roles for the Claws. Ralph Sampson III is a 6 ft. 11 in. Center who comes off the bench as the team’s best defender and shot blocker (average of 2.2 blocks per game).
Jason Calliste is an off-the-bench guard who can shoot threes at a decent rate and score when needed. Rodney McGruder is another guard who can score and he’s also an efficient rebounder at the guard position. The Red Claws have a lot of players who are not great individuals players, but that doesn’t matter. The Red Claws have players who can come together and play well as a team.
The Red Claws don’t score particularly well. They’re 13th in the D-League in scoring at 104.1 points per game. Scoring doesn’t equate to wins anyway; the Reno Bighorns average 134 points per game and sit at 16-23. The Red Claws treat the ball well, and they show this by averaging the second fewest turnovers per game (15.2) and average the fifth most assists per game (23.1). The team is also in the top half in average rebounds per game (45.3) and top six in blocks (5.5).
The Red Claws also sport the fourth best defensive rating in the league (105.8/100 possessions). These numbers are especially impressive considering the team plays smaller players in most games (The tallest starter is Omari Johnson at 6 ft. 9 in.). As mentioned earlier, the Red Claws don’t score particularly well; but they do shoot well from distance. The team attempts the most threes in the Eastern Conference and shoot the seventh best rate in the league (36%).
The Red Claws combine great defense, slower (shooting-heavy) offense and great individual play by guys such as Tim Frazier and Omari Johnson to make a potent team. The Red Claws have figured out how to balance offense and defense to become the best team in the NBA D-League Eastern Conference.
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