Las Vegas Gamblers Season Preview
Stephon B. Smythe
In the 2019 season, the Las Vegas Gamblers jumped out to a strong start. They had a record of 17-6, and were coming off of a six game winning streak. Things were certainly looking up, and they were on pace to break the team record for wins in a season. GM Morfeld was feeling confident with the changes that had been made, and excited about what the future could hold as the team continued to develop and improve cohesion. Fast forward to midseason, and reality had struck. The team was a mere 25-25 after a terrible stretch of games. The strong start to the season was suddenly nothing more than a team outperforming expectations. A seven game winning streak to end the season helped to, at least, solidify a spot in the playoffs, where the Colorado Pioneers made short work of the undermanned Gamblers. A season that started with promise, ended with the same result as previous years – an early playoff exit.
After a disappointing end to the 2019 season, the Las Vegas Gamblers are looking to capitalize on the early success of the 2019 season and have added some key players in an attempt to better sustain the success. While maybe not ready to compete with the top tier teams in the league, the Gamblers are hoping to take the next step towards joining the elite competitors. “It is a marathon and not a sprint” GM Morfeld was quoted as saying. “We are laying the foundation that will eventually lead to an increased budget, thus providing more opportunity to compete with the top tier teams.” With a new arena set to be completed for the 2021 season, and if the Gamblers are able to perform well enough to attract a high number of fans, there is no reason to think that the profit levels would not increase dramatically. Fielding a competitive team, that can consistently perform, is critical to the future success of this team.
One key offseason acquisition was for point guard Javonte Bolk. Bolk has averaged over 9 assists per game in four of the last five seasons. While his defense may be lacking, his ability to initiate offense for his teammates should make a glaring difference for this team. Last season, no player broke 7 for assists per game, and the point guard rotation was suspect. In order to get Bolk, the Gamblers did have to trade away some important pieces to last year’s team. Jack of all trades Almantas Talacka and promising young point guard Toussaint Leclerq were both shipped off, clearing the way for Bolk to lead the team.
In the deal that acquired Bolk, the Gamblers also received the 7th pick in the draft. That pick proved to be very valuable, as they were able to acquire Dimitrije Erkocevic, a 7’ center that is league ready. He has the ability to rebound and defend. This is another big upgrade for the Gamblers, who were forced to play Benjamin Deletombe and Duke Norman at center. While both are capable, their rebounding skills are better suited for a power forward role. If Erkocevic can consistently get 8-10 boards per game, as well as provide a strong defensive presence in the lane, this young rookie could drastically alter the look of this Gamblers team.
In the early days of free agency, the Gamblers re-signed shooting guard Vester Friedrich. Forced to play point guard last season, Friedrich will transition to a role where his scoring potential can be utilized more. After posting a career high of 22.6 points per game last season, I would expect Friedrich to match or exceed those scoring totals now that Talacka is gone and Bolk is distributing. Offensively, the team appears to be more balanced, and are setup to provide better opportunities to score. Improved offensive rebounding, as well as passing, should create more opportunities.
Only time will really tell if the offseason changes will prove beneficial for the Gamblers. Javonte Bolk is undoubtedly an upgrade at point guard, and Erkocevic an upgade at center. Whether those two additions can replace the production of Almantas Talacka is yet to be seen. It is a pivotal year for the Gamblers, where winning needs to be a top focus, setting up future success in the new arena. A core of good veteran players, surrounded by young talent has the future looking bright. (If he reaches his potential, Arcangelo Rissetto drafted at pick nineteen could be the steal of the draft.) In a division that has underperformed as of late, other than California, the Gamblers need to be the next team up and finish the season near 50 wins. The Arizona Dragons trading away the top pick, allowing Benet Da Gama to play in the World Conference was definitely a welcoming sight.