World Conference Preview
By Ron Chambers
It is always an honor to be asked by GSPN to give my thoughts about how the new season will play out. I hope these predictions are accurate. It is always a risk to put opinions out there.
The Counts have an interesting history. For several years they struggled as a high-powered offense that couldn’t stop anyone. Two years ago, they made a huge improvement from 39 to 60 wins and they have been among the best teams in the World Conference the last two years but can’t get out of the second round of the playoffs. They have played an interesting style with a big slow center and four small runners. But this year they didn’t retain Marc White who signed a huge contract with LA. They also let Sam Hickerson, who started 61 games, go to Cancun for a minimum contract. Clearly Barcelona decided their center position was a big part of their problem. Fortunately, youngster Hamilton Robins has been developing nicely in the developmental league. He is now ready to step up. He is not quite the defensive player that White or Hickerson are but he is a good defender and very solid rebounder. He also has good stamina which was previous a problem given how fast this team goes up and down the court. Maybe more importantly though he isn’t nearly as slow as either of those players. Most importantly though he is only 22, will continue to improve and can be a long-term piece of this franchise. It looks like the rest of Barcelona’s rotation will be essentially the same. This team should still be good. There may be some drop off as they figure out how their completely revamped, and not as deep, big man rotation will work. During the preseason Carlito Carmona has been starting at power forward, but he is a terrible rebounder. He is quick and strong and can jump so he can cause some problems for other teams but that rebounding is so bad that it is hard to imagine him staying in that position. Time will tell.
Albacete is trying hard to return to elite status. It looked like they were well on their way last year until after 24 games Lonny Jordan was suspended for drug violations. In Spain, there are rampant conspiracy theories tying this to some cabal out of Utah but no real proof has surfaced. But loosing the young franchise player for most of the season definitely hurt. So just having Jordan back will improve this team but they also made some good moves in the off season. They lost Coomas Neetar and though he is a good player he won’t really be missed. Hendricks is playing great so far as the Center. Jordan will likely move to Power Forward which will allow Claude Weidner to move to his much more natural small forward position. That allows Ahmed Dougherty to return to shooting guard. Most importantly the change from Friedrich Egg to Shermar Mahara is a big upgrade. Second year player Edgardo Blanco will move to the bench where he should very effectively back up both guard spots. Albacete should be among the best teams in the World Conference this year. How good? We will have to see how all the parts fit together.
This team is trying to completely change their image as they have transformed from the Predators to the Honey Bees. They are normally a top team but last year they finished with only 37 wins. Lettery Pick Klemens Eberle is very young and good. Even at 19 he is an improvement over Marques Feldman. Errol Bierman was a bench player in Barcelona but he may get his chance in Paris. Also, expect Merlin Lundy to see major minutes in the big man rotation. That means an entirely new rotation but a better rotation that a year ago. Hilton Fulton is a talented young small forward but not a great defender. He is definitely a step down from Koons who had this role last year. The teams leading scorer Timi Rambuka is also gone and replaced b defensively minded Marcus Rogers. Rogers has a terrific skill set but he is not a big scorer which on the right team can be great. The only returning starter is Jervan Timmons. Timmons is a generational player. When all is said and done he will likely go down as the best floor general in WBA history. But, he needs more talent around him to really shine since he is not a great scorer. This is an interesting team with some real promise but they need more scoring punch. That lack of scoring will hold them back this year.
This team may have under performed a little last year as they tied for last in the division. They lost Gerhold Verholm which is a challenge. He is a very good player. They did, however, sign Omar Raoumbe who is a far superior rebounder and a strong interior offensive player. So while the power forward position will look different it is still high quality. Guilhem Lamerand spent last season in the developmental league but he is ready to play with the big boys this year. He has star potential but for now he is solid but not a star. He probably will be about equal, maybe a little better than Justus Rhodes was last year. Last year, Lenn Marella and Erdmann Schuepf split the starting roll as shooting guard. It is unclear what will happen this year. So far in the preseason rookie Fola Onibiyo has been starting there. He has a bright future but probably is better suited to come off the bench as a combo guard. Getting Brice Bell to start as the point guard was a good move. He isn’t a scorer but is one of the best floor generals in the league. This team may have more talent than they can use as the guard spots so look for them to make some trade to either improve their starters or get some depth at the bigs. This team is so different that it is hard to predict how they will go. Probably they will be improved. There is a good chance they will be right around .500.
The Disco were tied for the worst record in the Euro Division but that isn’t too bad. In the USA Division they had enough wins to get into the playoffs. But the World conference was very tough even if it wasn’t as strong on the very top. They are an improved team though. They drafted Cetus Vlahakis with the #15 pick in this year’s very deep draft and he will be an improvement at center. They also picked up Matias Gutierrez as a free agent. The loss of Casey Pointer is big since he was their leading scorer last year but overall, they should have an improved starting five. Their weak spot is shooting guard. Frank Ryan is a spot shooter and good defender. He won’t hurt this team but there is NO talent backing up the guards on this roster. Well, Evan Bobbins has a lot of raw talent but at 19 he isn’t ready to play a big role. This team has a solid starting rotation that should fit together well but the bench is a problem. Because of that and despite the improvement in the starting roster expect this team to once again finish in the mid-30s when it comes to wins. However, a major injury could completely derail this team.
This is an interesting team because when you look at them, they are good but they just don’t stand out. They were the same way last year and they made it to the finals so maybe that isn’t a bad thing. They have very good but not crushing defense and their offense is a little better than average. They are essentially the same team as last year. They did add some depth at the bigs with Michael Huryta which is important. They lost Brian Sewell who played 16 minutes off the bench as a shooting guard, but they can cover those minutes. The big surprise here is that they are still planning to rely on Marvin Lee as the teams starting point guard. Lee is an excellent passer and an adequate defender, but he is a hole offensively. He would make an excellent back-up point guard. If he was a shut down defender, he could work well as a starter. But if Milan is going to take the step to compete with a healthy Cancun team or the top teams in the USA conference they have to improve at this spot. Expect this team to stay about the same with a win total in the low to mid-50s.
The Snow Bears is often called a cursed franchise. They suffered through years of player mismanagement. Their last management team was good with finding players but badly mismanaged the team’s finances. The new management team is experienced and should be able to bring some stability to the franchise. For the first time in memory this team was actually good last year. They 45 wins is amazing for a franchise that has 3 times finished with 10 or fewer wins. Kenyatta Davidson and Chris Acklin are a duo to be feared for the next decade and the flowered sooner than expected averaging a combined 51.1 points. It was heaven for Meyer who could score when he wanted and pass to offensive genius at will. Simeon Hill is the perfect center for this team because he just likes to play defense and rebound leaving the shots for Davidson and Acklin. But that is where this team hits some problem. We’ve mentioned 4 players and they are the clear starters but a team starts 5 players. Will the fifth starter be Laine Saunders? Raphael Park? Pam Thum? Issac Embry? Zachary Wise? Judging by the preseason it looks like it will be Zachary Wise. This is probably a smart move as he is an excellent defender who can spread the floor and score when needed but won’t demand too many shots. The others in that list will provide much needed depth. Given that Moscow seems to have found a rotation they like and they fact that Davidson and Acklin are still maturing this team should improve. Could the Snow Bears break 50 wins? There is a good chance. 45 was probably already the franchise record 50 is beyond Putin’s wildest dreams.
At 31 wins, this team overachieved last year. They had very little talent. They had enough money to go after one big name free agent and they landed Abel DeBusiness, stealing him from the Fanatics who were trying to keep him. Last year DeBusiness was #4 in the league in scoring with 28.3 points. Youngsters Keenan Holter, point guard, and Kip Toney, small forward, also seem to have improved for this year. Vincent miles is still a very solid power forward. Kaniel Hobbs will probably start at center. He is a good rebounder and defender and absolutely no offensive threat. But Abel will like that he isn’t takig shots from him. This team should be better than last year; however, the overachieved so don’t expect a huge jump in wins. They should finish with a win total in the mid-30s.
Let’s be honest. This team only won 25 games last year and they did not have a good offseason. Some fans are saying they are being mismanaged and that is hard to argue considering they still haven’t completely filled out their roster. Last year, they had a legitimate star with Darryl Whittaker and a near star with Javonte Bolk. They lost Whittaker to Fort Worth and didn’t replace him with comparable talent. This team only has two players who are serious WBA starters: Hugo Gutierrez and Javonte Bolk. Ramon Phelan and Tommy Pedersen both could be good role players and, in a few seasons, young prospect Milton Michaels could be excellent. But that is it. This team will be lucky to hit 20 wins.
Last season, Sydney was about as bad as it gets. They had the worst record in the league with only 15 wins. It was the fourth straight year that the bloods failed to achieve 20 wins. Expect to see improvement right away. The new management is committed to not being the joke of the WBA. This team has a lot of young talent even their veterans aren’t old. Kyle Hawkins is 28, Glen Rabon in 26, and Djoka Andjelic is 26. 22-year-old rookie Valentin Muntean is going to be a star as is 21 year old third year player Amaury de Schutter. Talents like Darrel Goldsmith, Terrence Massey, and Roylen Fillum will likely need to spend some time int eh developmental league but with time they will prove valuable. This team has talent and depth in the forwards and center positions. However, Amaury de Schutter is the only guard on the roster that is ready to play significant minutes in the WBA this season. De Schtter is not ready to be the star he likely will be in the future but he is ready to contribute. The point guard position is a real problem. Sammy Crayton is a serviceable reserve but he should not start in the WBA and is better suited for a third option; but he is the only point guard on the roster. Look for this team to be much improved. They should break 20 wins and erase some of the pain of recent years but without a legitimate point guard and with their future stars not yet developed do not expect them to pas 30 wins. Still, if a 15 win team goes from 15 to 25 or 30 that is pretty impressive.
The Outlaws were clearly the best team in the World Conference last year. A late season injury to Clement Trentesols not only kept Cancun from being the only team in the Conference to reach 60 wins it ruined their postseason. Trentosols it the heart of this team and clearly a top 10, probably top 5 player in the league. The Outlaws did not retain the services of aging star Isaac Rice who was their second scoring option, but they replaced him with stretch forward Gerhold Verhom who is also a strong scorer while also better defender and younger. Also, they upgraded at shooting guard defensive minded Marcus Rogers to Timi Ramabuka who is also an elite defender but will score the ball with ease. Ed Summerall and Justin Hill keep their key roles as hard-nosed defenders. Sumerall’s weaknessis that he is not much of a passer or ball handler which means Hill plays point forward. The lack of great passing is the one weakness of this fantastic team. Last year they were the #2 defense but a middling offense. They should be a much-improved offense this year while being just as tough defensively. The bench is a mixed compilation of roll players that will work well assuming there are no injuries. If there are extended injuries Cancun could find themselves with some challenges. All that said, I expect this team to be improved and to finish above 60 wins barring a major injury, but even with a major injury I expect them to push the 60-win mark.
The Giants were one of the top teams in the World Conference last year. They were only three games behind Cancun with the best record in the Conference and hat the same record as the Mayhem, the team that made it to the finals. So, with no changes they would have been good. But they are convinced that they found a gem with the #12 pick in the draft. Matthias Kurz was passed over by 11 other teams, probably because he is not a huge offensive player. But, the 7-footer is a beast on the boards and defensively. This will likely move Brian Armstrong to power forward since the Giants did not resign Tyriq Lang. The combination of Kurz and Armstrong will give Gabon a crushing defense on the interior. Further, Kurz isn’t going to demand shots which will allow others to shine, especially Napoleon Carter. Just as importantly the Giants added depth with Troy Blecher, Bobbie Mason (spent last year in the D-league), Kevin Rollin, and Shelton Britton. This team was a top five defensive team last year, expect them to be better. But they do have a real weakness when it comes to depth with their bigs. The loss of Polikarp Dragunas, who is an ideal bench player is huge. If they had retained Lang that could have also helped. As is if either Armstrong or Kurz get hurt expect the Giants to run four smalls which may be challenging on the defensive end. But we can’t forget that the Giants also drafted Artie Duggons with the #2 draft pick. There is little doubt that Duggons has star potential but this 19-year-old plays on a very talented team so it is likely that he will spend the year in the WBA Developmental league. Gabon could surprise us though and have Duggons play a significant roll off the bench behind Kurz and Armstrong. This is an improved team as long as they stay healthy. They very easily could push 60 wins this year.
For years Cape Town has been all about Abdiel Gordon. There is no doubt that he is one of the premier players in the league. It is amazing to think how much this powerhouse struggled his rookie year scoring 6 points a game on 26.9% shooting. Now days he averages 4-5 times that much and his FG % is double that. Last year, there just wasn’t enough talent around Gordon. A big concern for the Zulu is that their #2 player Chance Crowley decided to move a little north to Nigeria where he will likely be the top scoring option. Humberto Saez, Eric Switzer, Gervais Calloart, Nestor Marugeiro, Wes Taylor, Al Rozier, and Ian Tilman are all nice role players that can help round out a team. But elite teams have 2-3 stars. Cape Town just doesn’t have that. Despite adding depth this year, they could slip a little in the standings unless Gordon has a superhuman year. He is capable. It will be interesting to see how the new management works all the pieces together.
Mexico City is under new management this year but they have a strong foundation. That foundations name is Chris Dao. The 6’9” shooting guard was impressive last year. He averaged a career high 22.2 shooting 55% from the floor and 41% from distance. But he missed 29 games which hurt the Hellcats who really relied on him. When it comes to the Hellcats future, they were HUGE winners in the draft picking up at #18 the 6’11” 19 year old Davey Chisholm. This kid is a few years away, but early reports are that he is better than anyone expected and can become a star in the WBA. Inge Adlgassar spent most of last season in the WBADEV, but he is ready for meaningful minutes in the WBA now. With the exception of the aging Raphael park, who really shouldn’t have started 29 games last year, this team has most the same pieces but they are young, so they have improved. If Dao stays healthy this team is a legitimate threat to break 50 games.
The Pirates finished last season with a 38-42 record which was the worst in the Global Division and were the only team in that division to miss the playoffs. But making the playoffs In the World Conference was tough. This was a solid team. Their number one scoring option from last year, Omar Raoumbe, left to play in Frankfurt. But they still have their number two option from last year Victor Morales and added capable scorer Chance Crowley. They resigned defensive center Andre Rawlings, but most observers feel they paid way too much for him which could cause problems in a season or two. The youngsters Steven Harrelson and Aiden de Schutter continue to develop, and the team does have more depth with players like Scott Berger and Babbling Brook. The big difference though is the addition of rookie Heirnich Rarich. Last year Remi Jeay was the starting point guard for the Pirates. Jeay is a good role player but should not be the starter on a strong WBA team. He will work well off the bench but adding Rarich who is a better passer, scorer, defender, and much more athletic should really help this franchise.
#3- Mexico City
#4- Cape Town