2020 WBA Playoff first round predictions
by Timmy Frenchie
Only two teams were in the chase for the Conference top spot, but they fiercely battled all season long for it. In the end, Albacete came out on top of Paris by a slight margin of 2 games. Only 5 games separate teams between the 3rd and the 7th playoffs spot, which shows how close it was for the seeding. It is a good sign for things to come as some of these first-round matchups should go the distance.
Cape Town Zulus vs Albacete Burning Hell
(Albacete won season series 3-1)
This up-and-coming team is dangerous. After being annihilated 4-0 in last year’s playoffs, Burning Hell and their GM Pedro Alcaraz are back with a vengeance as they claimed Conference’s top spot. Lonny Jordan, who missed most of last season serving a suspension, is now the superstar this team needs him to be. Fresh WBA champion Dan Kincaide has joined Albacete during the regular season, and he is learning to get along with his new teammates. Edgardo Blanco is becoming more efficient in only his 2nd season in the pros. The ceiling of this team is high and a trip to the WBA Finals is within reach. This could be only the beginning of a new era in Albacete. But since Mahara, Kincaide, and Dougherty are all in their last contract year, now might be their best shot at the big dance.
In early March, Zulus were playing 5 games under .500 basketball and seemed out of the playoffs picture. This proud Zulu team never gave up and orchestrated an impressive run, in which they won 13 out of their last 19 games, to capture that last playoffs spot. In his first year in Cape Town, GM Jay Harvey did an excellent job making sure the playoffs streak stays alive for the Zulus. Even at 32 years old, Gordon showed he was still dominant and will powered this squad to the postseason, averaging 25 points and 8 rebounds while shooting 45% from three-point territory. What would the WBA playoffs be without the Zulus?
Even if the Burning Hell blew out the Zulus in half of their meetings this season, Albacete troops will be tested right from the start. This Zulus tribe is experienced and provides a very solid defense. Gordon should elevate his game and will be a load to handle. But led by Jordan, Kincaide, Mahara, and Hendricks, Burning Hell has way too much talent to stumble here.
Prediction: Albacete over Cape town in 6
Milan Mayhem vs Paris Honeybees
(Paris won season series 3-0)
What a turnaround it has been for this Paris franchise. Only in his first year as the new general manager, Adrian Arceo found a way to take a team that finished 10th in the Conference Standings last season and transforms them into one of the top dogs. What kind of magic trick the enigmatic GM used to get those results? All this comes from smart management moves. Creating some cap space by getting rid of Jim Koons’ bad contract was a starting point. Drafting Klemens Eberle at the 13th was a draft day steal. Signing Marcus Rogers to a huge contract looks like a misstep at first, but Rogers has worth every penny of it so far. Snatching Lane Saunders turned out to work like a charm. The results: Paris has now one of the league’s best offenses. I have a feeling those Honeybees will sting some teams in the upcoming weeks.
The Mayhem have been consistent as it gets over the last 3 years, winning 55 games in the last 3 seasons. They made an incredible playoff run last year, reaching the WBA Finals after 3 intense series. Winning only 46 games this season looks like a little step back, and the fact that GM Michael Esposito has traded their big man Jarred Roe to acquire young phenom Heinrich Stoebener made fans perplex. Is the team focusing on winning now or are they setting the foundation for the future? They also acquired big man Keanan Harrington in the same trade, a strong defensive post presence. With Damian Bohm being on the trade block all year long, it seems that they are only one move away from stepping into a rebuilding process. Even after saying that, the Mayhem is a proud team and should be taken seriously. But do not expect another magical run this season.
Even if Paris won all 3 matchups during the regular season, these were all closely contested. But with Everidge going down with a stress fracture earlier this month, Paris is now heavily favored. Lakar was vital for Mayhem core as their best defender and one of the top scorers, passers, and rebounders. A combo of rookie Asdrubal Aristia and Chico Dillinger simply will not be good enough to fill the void. As cliché as it sounds, defense wins championships (and playoffs series). Honeybees have the upper hand in that department with a group of elite defenders. Expect to see defensive player of the year Jervan Timmons dominate this series from start to finish with his unique playmaking skills.
Prediction: Paris over Milan in 6
Barcelona Counts vs Alaska SnowBears
(Barcelona won season series 3-1)
I have much respect for Eric Stelle’s GM skills as he gained much credibility in other Pro basketball leagues. However, getting the GM job in Moscow was somehow an easy path to enter the WBA universe. You can’t really do wrong with the explosive young duo of Acklin and Davidson. Veteran Meyers and Hill were also on board as key role players. But credit still goes to the new GM for getting another scoring machine onboard in Coomas Neetar. And after getting a record low 9% of attendance last season, things are back to normality with an 85% attendance. This team has shown some good consistency this season and they fought hard to obtain the 3rd spot for these playoffs.
Last year, the Counts finished with 57 wins and 2nd place in the World Conference. They really started up slow this season as they lost 17 out of the first 27 games. They picked up the pace after that, finishing the season with a respectable 46 wins and a 6th place in the Conference. Conservative GM Corey Daubanton kept the same group as last season, minus Marc White who signed that huge contract in Los Angeles. The emergence of Hamilton Robins, who spent the last 2 years developing in the D league, has helped fill the inside void very quickly. The Counts are still one of the best offensive teams in the entire league and they had no problem holding their own against Conference top squads. After reaching the second round for the last 2 years, they might be able to do the same this season.
Although Alaska has homecourt advantage, Barcelona looks like the early favorite here. Both teams play the same style: High tempo offense with not much emphasis on defense. Only thing is the Counts seems better at it. Instead of depending on a few players for scoring (Alaska relies mostly on 3), the Counts offensive firepower is spread around a group of talented players. But superstars Acklin and Davidson could impact the outcome in this one. Expect a great offensive showcase that will end with a score of 147-146 in game 7.
Prediction: Barcelona over Alaska in 7
Mexico City Hellcats vs Cancun Outlaws
(Outlaws won season series 4-0)
The Outlaws went most of the season without both of their big man playing together. With Verholm only playing in 37 contests and being relied on heavily with Trentesol to score points, the overall record of 50-30 is not bad at all. Legendary GM Pat Fullum revamped this squad in the offseason by bringing some new blood in Verholm and Rambuka. Trentesols is still in the conversation as the league’s best player and Hill is as steady as ever. Elite coaching skills make this veteran group a dangerous threat in the playoffs.
Steven Piatek was another new assigned GM that was lucky to inherit a very good team (see also Eric Stelle with the Moscow Snowbears). Previous GM Sergio Gutierrez had put together a versatile squad, one that created a huge upset in last year’s playoffs. Dao has now reached superstar status, and he joins point guard Al Levy and Center Ryan Rogers to form a great trio. Aldgasser still needs time to grow but he is already a valuable part of this unit. Following a franchise best 48 wins in the regular season, what’s next for the Hellcats? Can fans hope for another series win?
Both teams were hit hard by injuries late in the season. Cancun lost their entire backcourt of Rambuka and Summerall a week before entering playoffs. Mexico City lost their best big man Rogers a little before that, but he could be back sooner than later. Even with Rogers, Mexico City will not be able to contain the explosive scoring duo of Trentesols and Verholm. Let us mention that Outlaws won all regular season matchups by an average of 15 points. And they also capture homecourt with a 20 points win against Hellcats on the last regular season game, making a clear statement by doing so. And do not forget that Cancun was eliminated by the Hellcats last season in a huge first round upset. Cancun has too much pride to let that happen again this year.
Prediction: Cancun over Mexico City in 6
Unlike the World Conference, there is much disparity between the top teams and the rest of the group in the USA Conference. A good recipe for a very quick and predictable first round.
Kansas City Blues vs Brooklyn Rage
(Brooklyn won season series 4-0)
Make no mistake. The Brooklyn Rage are still the most dominant team in the WBA. Even if some teams (see California Fighting Cocks) have closed the gap significantly, the Rage still have the firepower and experience to capture another championship trophy when all is said and done. The trio of Baily, Miles and Mayes is still playing at an elite level and they are not afraid of anyone. But do you know what is even scarier? GM Rondall Reynoso has already begun rebuilding. They were able to send Omar Jefferson and his monstrous contract to get the 1st overall draft pick. A couple more moves like this one and we might see another era of Brooklyn domination begin before this one has not even ended.
Many things were said about the blockbuster trade that brought Omar “Old Knees” Jefferson to Kansas City. The Blues were giving up a quality player in Gleason, but most of all they were giving up a lot of future financial flexibility. But GM Dave Williams was hoping Jefferson would be the Robin of Batman Sims. After only a season of pairing the two, we can already call it a failure. Blues only won 40 games, their worst totals since the beginning of the modern-day WBA. While Jefferson’s game should decline in the next few seasons, management should not expect much improvement from this present squad. And they will not have much cash to spend in the off-season to get some help. Blues management will pay the price for forgetting one important rule: you shall not trade with commissioner/guru Rondall Reynoso.
One of many lopsided series for this Conference’s first round. Brooklyn won all meetings against Kansas City by an average of 21 points in the regular season. Expect the same kind of results here.
Prediction: Brooklyn over Kansas City in 4
Salt Lake City Fanatics vs California Fighting Cocks
(California won season series 2-1)
GM Justin Lawrence is working hard to take this team to the next level. They never seemed to settle and be satisfied with some of the incredible results they produced (like winning 70 games this season and averaging 67 wins for the last 3 seasons). Their focus remains the same. Beat Brooklyn and get to the WBA Finals, where they can enjoy a favorable matchup against a weaker World Conference team. They added some interesting pieces this season in Kelley Brandon and Jarred Roe. Is this the year they finally came on top when it matters the most?
After some years of miserable performance (Fanatics won a combined 81 games over the last 3 years), it seems GM Brad Bangerter team has finally turned it around. This is no secret that SLC has a great collection of talented prospects coming from multiple first-round picks. But with Alston and Walton’s progress, along with the addition of rookie big man Fulgencio Lurdes, this team has won 42 games this season. Although they should not be a threat to their opponent in these playoffs, the Fanatics are a team on the rise. Management’s biggest challenge will be to keep most of these youngsters together in the next few years have some of them should be tempted to join high-profile winning teams when their contract expires.
No suspense here. Even an injury to Kelley Brandon will not stop California as they have too much depth. Fanatics now must learn that patience is required when you are aiming to compete against these elite teams. In 2 or 3 seasons, this could be a competitive series. But for now, Fanatics are too inexperienced to hold their own against these prime Fighting Cocks.
Prediction: California over Salt Lake City in 4
Fort Worth Warriors vs Boston Massacre
(Massacre won season series 2-1)
General Manager Quinten Lawrence really took his team to the next level. After averaging 50 wins over the last 5 seasons, Boston won 60 games this season and finish third in the Conference behind the two powerhouses that are Brooklyn and California. But real success is often measured by playoff performances and the last time Boston won a playoffs series was 5 years ago. However, things should be different now. With a starting five of Mathieu, Pointer, Askins, Keating, and Pinelo, this squad has the tools to do some damage in the playoffs.
It is nice to see an experienced GM like Gustavo Follana getting back to the WBA. He really wasted no time developing a winning culture in Fort Worth. The Warriors had previously won an average of 23 games over the last 5 seasons. With their new GM, their reach that win totals before the All-Star break. They finished the regular season with 43 wins, good enough for a 6th place in the Conference. How did he do it? He signed a superstar (Darryl Whitaker) and a solid role player (Isaac Rice) in free agency. He then made multiple trades, sending the 1st pick overall, to end up acquiring multiple assets to strengthen his core (Curtis Starman, Trevor Tomlin, Claude Weidner). It may look easy, but it is not. This team is now set to be a very good one for years to come. And they even should get better when all these new guys build a chemistry together. Bravo Gustavo.
As improved the Warriors are this season, they are no match against Massacre’s overall talent. Fort Worth will have a very tough time trying to contain the inside scoring duo of Keating and Mathieu, especially with an injured Dragunas. Pointer will also get the better of Tomlin in their point guard matchup. It was a nice regular season for the Warriors, but playoffs are going to be very short.
Prediction: Boston over Fort Worth in 4
Las Vegas Gamblers vs Colorado Pioneers
(Gamblers won season series 2-1)
GM Marc Hameleers has sustained a high level of success with his team by trusting the same quality players over the last few years. 4 years ago, when he began assembling his core, Pioneers were out of playoffs contention with a mere 35 wins. They have steadily climbed the standings to finish with 64 wins last season and a trip to the Conference Finals. After finishing this regular season with only 55 wins, maybe this team has already begun a slight and slow decline. Lyons and Henderson are still playing the best basketball of their lives, but Kinsey and Devine are already 31 years old and not getting any younger. Devine does not look Divine anymore has his stats showed a significant efficiency drop. The depth of this squad is still weak.
After a strong regular-season start (winning 17 out of the first 23 games), the Gamblers slowed down a bit. But they did finish very strong by winning their last 7 games, enable them to climb 3 spots in the Conference standings at the last minute. GM David Morfeld made lots of moves as only Talacka and Deletombe are remaining from last year’s roster. Getting rid of Nolan and his huge contract may be a smart long-term financial move, but they have missed an imposing presence inside since his departure. Norman and Donner are good players but are nowhere the defensive force that Nolan was. This team has assets to be competitive for years to come, but they may have already reached their ceiling.
This should be the only entertaining first-round series of the USA Conference. Pioneers have the experience, the star power, a better defense, and home-court advantage. Gamblers have more depth and a better offense. The only way I see the Gamblers slipping by the Pioneers is if one of Colorado’s top guns (Lyons or Henderson) fall to an injury. Unless that happens, these twos are too good to let the Pioneers lose in the 1st round.
Prediction: Colorado over Las Vegas in 7
Enjoy the WBA playoffs!