It is amazing how fast a season can come to the pinnacle of competition. With the mostly inconsequential regular games out of the way. The top eight teams for each conference will battle for their basketball lives.
#1 Brooklyn Rage vs #8 Las Vegas Gamblers
What can be said about Brooklyn that hasn’t already been said? When you have a salary advantage of 47 million more than your opponent, then one would hope you will have an easy victory. Brooklyn is in a league of its own, and their motto is there is no crying in basketball. With what hopefully will be a different financial world starting the offseason where the highest money making teams will actually have to make difficult financial decisions like the majority of the league. Then the competition level will be more exciting. As it stands now, Brooklyn is paying their starters and have enough money to have quality backups. Very few teams have the opportunity to compete with that amount of cash flow.
The Gamblers have had a little bit of a topsy-turvy season when fan favorite GM Steven Goodstadt decided to step down to spend more time with his family. After a brief search for a replacement, David Morefeld was hired on. Morefeld is already making a name for himself in the league. He was able to setup a trade with Boston that brought former #1 overall pick Almantas Talacka to town. While I would like to say this turned their season around, it really didn’t. But it is a building block as Talacka who is only 25 and signed until 2021 to a pretty cap friendly contract for his kind of talent. Teamed up with Michael Kramer they are clearly the keys to any success Las Vegas expects to have. In the short term while it is nice that they made the playoffs by holding off the pesky Fanatics from Salt Lake. Their vacation plans will still be soon as they will be swept 4-0.
#2 California Fighting Cocks vs #7 Arizona Dragons
California has been very aggressive to create a team that can compete for a championship this season. They traded with SLC twice, which involved in receiving the Miami 2019 pick, and then sending it right back in the following trade. But this helped them acquire quality backup Quade Nash. They pulled off of a blockbuster deal that brought Wally Birkhead and Jesus Morell giving them one of the best frontcourts in the entire league. With Kurt Beck playing as a tall SF, Hassan Watt, doing things only Hassan can do, and the ageless wonder Bishop Stein leading the charge. This team causes a lot of difficult matchups. Not to mention that they are very aggressive and have a knack for making it to the free throw line in droves. When Morrell came on board, there was a concern that he would take too many touches away from Watt and company. And while it is true that Morell who was challenging for a Scoring title has now fallen to 5th place. The Fighting Cocks are one of the few teams that have 4 players averaging over 20 points. I believe they need to work on getting the ball more often to Morrell, despite the fact that Watt is so good. Most teams don’t have quality big men to slow down Morrell. California has finished the season with the best record for the franchise. While the first round may be just a formality, the key for them will be monitoring player minutes and try to reduce the chance of injury for when they play a team that can actually beat them.
Arizona has had a little bit of a disappointing season compared to the expectations. Last season they won 48 games. This season finished below .500. They are the kind of team that seems to be at a crossroads on trying to decide if it is time to rebuild, or if they have the pieces to truly compete. Ajan Estay is a good player and he is only 26, as the leader of the team, he is doing everything he can to help the team win. The problem is they don’t have a whole lot of scoring ability. They are also average on defense. When you averaged 101.1 points per game and allows 101.9 points a game, it is a clear indication that the team needs to make some changes. I would like to say they will give California a run for their money, but then again I would also like a Pony. And you don’t see one of those running around at my house. Once California decides to lock down Estay, they will need their other players to pick up the slack, but they just don’t have good enough players to do that.
California wins the season 4-0
#3 New York Liberty vs #6 Colorado Pioneers
Nobody is surprised that New York continues to be one of the top teams year in and year out. And we are all getting the idea that they will continue to after this season with a complete new set of key players. This year’s version includes Dan Kincaide. Kincaide is a great player, but his lack of athletic ability limits him from true greatness. Shermar Mahara has a full season under his built with the Liberty. Although his scoring output has dropped significantly from his days in London. He has learned to be a better team playing by increasing his assists per game by 1. Kelley Brandon is starting to show why he will be a future star in the league. At the age of 20, he is contributing 16.9 points a game. I don’t know if this should be alarming, but his statistics are nearly identical to his numbers from last season while with the Pioneers. Normally we like to see improvement. Especially, when he is the reason that the Liberty felt they could move DaRond Lyons. New York has the 2nd highest scoring team in the league at 113 points per game. Where they have struggled is on the defensive end. To be honest, New York has always built their team in this manner. Score more than the other guys, and we don’t care if they score also. When they won their title in 2014, they were the 29th best defensive team in the league. So based off of that, where they are now the 20th best team in the league on defense, they are improving. They are going to have their hands full with Lyons and Devine from Colorado. Having split the season series 2-2, it will be anybody’s series to win.
Colorado has to feel somewhat confident in this matchup. With Darond Lyons leading the way, he is a matchup nightmare. New York cannot expect Kelly Brandon to slow down Lyons. Likewise, New York has a significant advantage at the point guard position. While Edgar Kamara is a decent defender, he simply doesn’t have the quickness that his younger self had. New York also has the edge at small forward with Kincaide facing Tony Henderson. Henderson continues to get better and better, but he isn’t a shutdown defender against players who can shoot from long range. Colorado needs to be able to take advantage of their frontcourt advantage. Devine and Kinsey really need to shine for the Pioneers to advance to the second round. If they are not able to take control of the game, then expect New York to come out on top. When it is all said and done, this could be the most entertaining series in the first round. In the end I expect New York to find a way to advance with a 4-2 series edge.
#4 Kansas City Wild vs #5 Boston Massacre
The nature of the #4 vs #5 matchup is one that indicates you should have a close series. Both teams have nearly identical records. Normally, we would take the season series between the two teams to help determine who has the edge. But so much has changed with both teams and their rosters, that the early season games are not applicable any more. Since Kansas City acquired All-Stud Walt Jackson, it was assumed that this team would sky rocket towards one of the league elites. It is a logical assumption, because Walt Jackson is use a rare player. Unfortunately, he is having one of his worst seasons since he entered the league. The most likely reason, is he no longer has one of the premier passers feeding him the ball. Jackson has never been very athletic, so he needs help to create his own shots. He is averaging 6 points per game lower than last season. Be that it may, he is still a player that you need to defend, especially when he sets up outside the 3 point line. Jeremy Sims, who came over from Toronto the year prior, is showing that he is worth every penny of his contract. His ability to dominate his opponent is truly awe inspiring. I feel bad for the beating that Tyriq Lang and Korey Earle are about to receive.
Boston who has a new look now that Talacka is no longer apart of the team. With the acquisition of Michael Askins and Matias Gutierrez, they have a small advantage in the backcourt. Avery is going to really need to be on the top of his game to try and keep up with Gutierrez. Askins continues to show that he is finally breaking the shell of being an average player. While it took him a couple seasons, we saw the growth especially during his time in Salt Lake, where he learned how to play basketball the right away. I his first game since being traded to Boston, he recorded a triple double. He is Boston’s leading scorer, and you can expect him to continue to do the blue caller dirty work to give his team a chance to come out victorious. Overall, while any sane person would root for Boston in this series, I suspect that Jeremy Sims and Walt Jackson will be too much to handle. Kansas City wins 4-2.
#1 Barcelona Counts vs #8 Mexico City Hellcats
Barcelona has always been a team that could score points. Though they were just as likely to give up a ton of points also. Slowly but surely the Counts have kept their scoring ways the same while improving their defense. They are the top scoring team in the world conference (#2 in the league) with 113.5 points per game. They are allowing 101.8 points per game which is good enough for #12 in the league. They are riding the maturation of Ira Redwine 20 ppg, and Primo Bugja 25ppg. What truly makes this team difficult to face is their ability to get to the free-throw line. They are averaging 32.3 Free Throw Attempts per game which is easily number 1 in the league. In defense of Mexico City, they are respectable in this area averaging 24.1 Free Throws per game. Both teams are terrific free throw shooting teams at around 80%. Barcelona is also one of the best rebounding teams in the league. They have so many things going well for them, it won’t be surprising to see them represent the World Conference in the WBA finals.
Mexico has some good things going for them. Ryan Rogers is the kind of center you want on defense. While he’s not a scorer, he is a rebounding monster. Defensively, he is about as good as you can get at the five spot. Chris Dao is still learning how to be the leader of this team. And while he is going to be one of the top players in the league someday. He isn’t there quite yet. Barcelona appears to have too many advantages over the Hellcats. Barcelona wins 4-1
#2 Cancun Outlaws vs #7 Paris Predators
Cancun is and will likely always be the great example to the WBA on efficiency. Despite all their success, they manage their money better than anybody. This season with their salary of 68 million. Each win they gained this season cost them $1,172,413.79 per victory. Compare that to another team that will remain nameless, who has to shell out $1,345,093.72 per victory. That is a pretty significant difference. It is amazing to me that Cancun is doing as well as they are. They have one All-Stud superstar in Clement Trentesols. But when you look at the rest of their team, there really isn’t anybody that strikes fear in the opposition. Cancun has always prized themselves on being a defensive team. It is rare when they are lower than #2 in the entire league. This season they were once again the top defensive team in the league allowing less than 90 points a game. While on offense they only averaged 99 points a game which is 13th in their conference and 24th best out of 30 in the entire league. When we the rest of the GM’s follow the same model that you need to have defensive players to be successful. Perhaps more so then having the ability to score. They may not get the big flashy numbers game in and game out, but they will suffocate your best players into submission.
Paris is back in the playoffs after sitting out of the dance last season. Having added Jervan Timmons to the roster has increased the ability of this team no question. Timmons is averaging 13 assists a game, which leads the league. His defensive pressure is at a career high of 3.8 steals per game. He is noticing though that it is different when you pass to a guy like Claude Weidner instead of Walt Jackson. Weidner is a solid player, but he doesn’t nail down every shot when he’s open. Timmons could really cause the Outlaws some problems. But I don’t think it will be enough. Paris is a young team and they will get better. Watch out for them in 2 years, when their window to compete for a championship could be open. Cancun wins the series 4-0.
#3 Milan Mayhem vs #6 Gabon Giants
Milan is one of the few teams that had arguably their best scorer Damien Bohm out for the majority of the season, and yet they still would go on to win their division. They very nearly earned themselves the second seed. When Bohm broke his leg early in the season, knowing that he would be gone for four months couldn’t have been an exciting prospect. Luckily the Brazilian freak Silvino Eufrazio has stepped up to the plate in his third season. Milan has one of the top offenses and defenses in the league. Their average margin of victory is 8.9 points. They are also a very unselfish team which has led to a conference high of 28 assists per game. They also lead the league opponent defensive rebounds and total opponent rebounds. Gabon won the season series 2-1. However, one of Gabon’s wins had Bohm in the lineup. Since Bohm has comeback from his injury, the Mayhem are 24-4.
Long ago are the days where the giants simply beat you down with Devine and Roe. While Roe is still doing his thing, the Fonz and Napoleon Carter have turned this team into a backcourt style team. As is a common theme among teams that are around the 500 mark. Gabon’s offense is as bad as their defense. Where they don’t have anybody who is able light up the scoreboard for 35 points every couple of nights. They have too many holes for this team to make a deep run into the playoffs. The days of seeing the Gabon Logo as the highlighted logo are small. Gabon will not go down without a fight, but it is a fight that they will not win. Milan wins the series 4-1
#4 Capetown Zulus vs #5 London Disco
Usually with this matchup seeds, the teams are pretty close. But that isn’t the case. The Zulus on paper are simply the superior team. Luckily for London, looking good on paper doesn’t guarantee victory. While Abdiel Gordon may not put up the kind of points he did a few seasons ago. He is still one of the premier scorers in the league averaging 25 points a night. He grabs 7 boards, dishes about 3 assists and isn’t afraid to play defense. What is most notable, is this is the 5th straight season that he has shot over 50% from the floor. And he is knocking down a league high 49.3% of his three point attempts. He is a one man wrecking crew that has friends who can also score. Capetown is one of the few teams in the league that has 3 players scoring over 20 points a game. Dougherty and Pointer help space out the floor, which is why the Zulus are one of the best shooting teams in the league. They are the best three point shooting team in the league.
I know I just mentioned that Capetown is one of the few teams with three players scoring at least 20 points per game. London just happens to be another one. Led by the consummate pro and future hall of Famer Cordell Parks. Parks is the player that everybody wishes they had on their team. He does everything well. You wish you had 5 Parks on your team. Juwan Bixby is also one of the top power forwards in the game with his 20/10 stat line. He is also one of the league’s top shot blockers. Chance Crowley who is currently injured but will probably only missed the 1st playoff game rounds out the trio. He is also a strong rebounder. If either of these teams had a WBA worthy point guard, they would instantly be a team that could win it all. But that is the primary weakness for both teams. Overall, Capetown simply has a better team. Better overall talent. We can only wonder what having a true point guard would do for either team. Capetown advances after winning 4-2