WBA Playoff Preview
by Ron Chambers
#1 Fighting Cocks vs. #8 Dinos
It is a new day in the WBA! The Brooklyn Rage have been the #1 seed for the last seven years. No more. California managed to go through the season without any major extended injuries but Hassan Watt, Marc White, and Dan Kincaide all missed some games and these bumps and bruises were enough to keep the Cocks from reaching 70 wins for the second year in a row. But, they still managed to unseat Brooklyn for the #1 playoff seed. This team may be the most talented team in the league. California’s prolific office ranked #2 only behind Paris. They were also #2 in rebounding (behind the Rage), #2 in assists (behind the Honey Bees), #3 in steals (behind both Brooklyn & Paris), #5 in Blocks, and had the second-fewest fouls (behind Paris). All that the emphasis this is a really good offense. They also had the #3 Defense, were #2 in opponent’s points per shot, tied for the highest point margin in the league, had the highest offensive efficiency rating, and the fourth-highest defensive efficiency rating. So they are studly all around. Watt, Kincaide, and Beck all averaged at least 21 points. This is a team that can stop you but you can’t stop.
The Dino’s, on the other hand, such into the playoffs with just 35 wins- just slightly more than half the wins California had. Simeon Hill is a veteran with Championship experience and Damien Bohm is an elite player. James Donovan is also an up-and-coming talent. But, they are a middling team that ranked #19 in offense and #11 in defense. They have enough talent to get lucky against any team. But, the Fighting Cocks see their opening after years in the Rage’s shadow and that will be hard to overcome.
During the regular season, California won two out of three matchups. But, I’d be surprised if Toronto had that much success in the playoffs.
Prediction: California wins 4-0
#2 Rage vs. #7 Fanatics
The Rage are in the unfamiliar position of not having home-court advantage throughout the entire playoffs. However, they do have it for at least the first two rounds though. Bailey is still one of the league’s top players but he is visibly starting to slow. He actually had his least efficient year in almost every statistical category that he has had since Brooklyn started their Championship run. Surprisingly Jarius Miles’ performance was slightly down this year as well. He is still arguably the best player in the league but his PER was under 30 for the first time since 2016-17. The big issue though was that he missed 17 games this year with a broken foot. The team still played well during his time out, going 12-5 but it did probably cost the team a few wins since they lost more home games in that stretch than they had the rest of the year- though two of those were against the Fighting Cocks- so who knows. That said, the Rage seems to have gathered themselves for the playoffs and they really want to prove that they are not done yet.
The Fanatics had a rough off-season with the departure of major stars. It was a weird year for them and many were surprised to see them make the playoffs. But, we have to give the team credit for not giving up. Their roster is strange in that their two top scorers actually came off the bench, Mahara and Madera. If you took this team’s top stat in every category it is 17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.3 steals, and 2.4 blocks. That amalgamated player would be solid but not an all-star which is a problem for any team. They had the #18 offense and #15 defense. So, they are about as average as you can get.
The Rage won all three meetings between these two teams and I see no reason why that should change in the playoffs.
Prediction: Brooklyn wins 4-0
#3 Massacre vs. #5 Pioneers
Boston actually fell back a little after their impressive 60 win season last year. But, don’t let that fool you. this is still a deep and talented team. Michael Askings and Chris Dao make up one of the better backcourts in the league and John Keating had as good of a year as any power forward in the league. They had the #6 offense, and #8 defense so they are very good on both sides of the ball. Their #5 point differential indicates to some that they are the fifth-best team in the league. There is a big drop to Gabon at #6. They are a hard-nosed team that rebounds well and makes their opponents work. This is never a team to take lightly. Napoleon Carter, Andy Michelson, and James Boone also give this team a very good bench.
The Pioneers finished 17 games behind Boston. But DaRond Lyons, Tony Henderson, and John Devine are one of the better trios in the league. The problem that this team had was a complete failure to recruit a quality point guard in the off-season. They Stuck with Edward Kamara well past his prime and ended up having some organizational issues in the off-season that scared away potential Point Guards. Jarion Harris is a fine backup point guard for a middle-tier team but he is not a starter and not even the first reserve point guard for top teams. The biggest problem in Colorado though is the injury to Tom Kinsey that will keep him out of the first week of playoffs and keep him hobbled for at least another week. As if the lack of legitimate point guard wasn’t enough Lyons, Devine, and Henderson can’t lift this proud franchise past Boston when surround by developmental league players. On the bright side, this team is a legitimate point guard and some bench pieces away from being quite good. They have the stars. We’ll see what happens to them in the offseason.
Boston simply overmatches Colorado despite their impressive star power.
Prediction: Boston wins 4-0
#4 Warriors vs. #5 Gargoyles
Last year it looked like Fort Worth was going to have an astonishing turnaround as a franchise. They did impressively up their win total but they didn’t live up to the hype. This year they traded away star power for pieces that work well together and upped their win total even more. Frank Mathieu, Curtis Starman, and Darryl Whitaker are all impressive scorers and Trevor Tomlin is probably the second-best passer in the league. They are #7 in offense, #3 in rebounds, #3 in assists. But, they are #22 in defense, #19 in steals, and #30 in turnovers. So they score well but they make a lot of mistakes and don’t defend nearly as well as they should.
Los Angeles was once a proud franchise… well sort of. When they were in Washington they were among the league elites. Then they moved to Arkansas and eventually Los Angeles. They haven’t been good in years. They haven’t had a winning season since 2010-2011. That was the year after their last championship appearance in 2012 and ages since their only championship in 2005. So, we have to give this team a lot of credit for having a winning season. More impressive was how they did it. They were 28-38 and looked set to earn yet another spot in the lottery. But they went 13-3 to end the season. This included wins over the Mayhem, the Fighting Cocks, and the Pioneers. It wasn’t a particularly challenging schedule but they did what they had to in an impressive way. This is a deep team but not an offensively oriented team. They didn’t have a single 20 point scorer on their roster. Their offense was ranked #21 but their defense was much better at #10.
This should be an interesting series. The Warriors won the season series 2-1 but the Gargoyles finished the season hot. Also, Darryl Whittaker will probably miss the first 3 games of the series which I think will be too much for Fort Worth to overcome.
Prediction: Los Angeles wins 4-3
#1 Honey Bees vs. #8 Pirates
Last year, Paris had an impressive 23 win increase. They also breezed through their first three rounds of the playoffs only to get swept by the Rage in the finals. Timmons is far too competitive for that. They improved another 13 games this year and finished with one of the WBA’s best records ever at 73-7. Timmons also won both the MVP and the Defensive Player of the Year. It has been a year to remember in France. Outside of Jervan Timmons Paris is light on star power. Marcus Rogers is an excellent all-around shooting guard, especially on the defensive end. Ahmed Dougherty is an excellent and proficient scorer. Klemens Eberie is a strong young center who plays in close and shoots those short shots at an incredible rate. Don Sellers is a strong 7-footer who is averse to rebounding but scores efficiently. You may be getting the drift. This team is not about star power but about efficiency. They easily have the best field goal percentage in the league and maybe most importantly they are extremely well-disciplined and don’t foul much. In fact, they only send the opposing team to the line 8.6 times a game. California is #2 at 13.8 and Brooklyn is #15 at 22.6. This foul line advantage may be their biggest asset.
Unlike in the USA Conference, the #8 seed in the World Conference has a winning record at 41-39. This is a deep team that is lacking real star power. Their closest thing to a star is second-year player Heinrich Rarich who averaged 19.2 points per game. He is a quality player for sure but is probably better suited as a team’s second option. He is also more of a scorer than a facilitator. This team is #15 in offense and #16 in defense. That is about as average as it gets. They are heading in the right direction but they are no match for the Honey Bees.
The Honey Bees had a challenge in their first-round last year before sweeping the next two rounds. Don’t expect that to happen again. This one should be quick.
Prediction: Paris wins 4-0
#2 Burning Hell vs. #7 Outlaws
Albacete is primed to be the next great dynasty. Lonny Jordan, Kelley Brandon, Edgardo Blanco, and Alston Irving are all predicted to be stars. Ryan Rogers is a solid center who is overpaid but fills an important role in this roster. Pinelo and Hendrickson are major assets off the bench. The only weakness on this team is age. Their four big stars are all between the ages of 22 and 24. The Burning Hell had the league’s second-highest PPS and their defense had the league’s third-lowest PPS. So a super-efficient offense and a crushing defense. That is how a team wins 65 games. The Team leader is Lonnie Jordan who is currently the most developed of the young stars and averaged 25.2 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 3.9 assists as probably the most athletic power forward in the league.
The Outlaws are a team that is used to being elite. So, finishing in the 7th seed has to hurt the Franchises’s leadership. But, 46 wins is respectable and this team has dealt with injuries. No starter started all 80 games though Ed Summerall did play all 80. All-World super-stud Clement Trentesols and glue player Justin Hill both missed a couple of games. But, shooting Guard Timi Rambuka missed 24 games and Center Gerhold Herhom missed 28. With better health, this team could have hit 50 wins for the third straight year. So it is a little hard to tell how good this team is now that they are healthy. They did only go 3-6 in the last nine games with all healthy started- that is concerning for management.
It is hard to predict against a storied franchise like Cancun or a generational talent like Trentesols. But, Albacete will be an onslaught of shock and awe. Lonny Jordan versus Trentesols will certainly be one of the most interesting first-round matchups. But, I expect that the Burning Hell will be just too much.
Prediction: Albacete wins 4-1
#3 Snow Bears vs. #6 Mayhem
The Snow Bears have been the standard-bearer for WBA futility since their time in Burmuda. Three years ago they only won 17 games. That has all changed. For the second straight year, they won 51 games. Chris Acklin and Kenyatta Davidson are maybe the best young duo in the league averaging a combined 54.2 points, 17.1 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 2.2 steals, and 1.2 blocks. The problem is that their starting backcourt of Zachary Wise and Charlie Meyers is hurt. It isn’t a stellar backcourt but with Acklin and Davidson, they just needed to not hurt the team. Pan Thum and Lacy Toomer are definitely a step down. Wise could return to the series as early as game two or three. Meyers on the other hand is out the entire first round and likely the second round if the Snow Bears get that far.
Milan is another team that has effectively built a strong team with quality players and great depth but lacking star power. Bishop Stein is certainly one of the best players in WBA history but at 34 he is on the downside of his career. Silvino Eufrazio is the closest thing to a current star on the roster. A couple of seasons ago he certainly played like a star in the playoffs. But, this team has, in recent years, consistently been a quality team but not the type of team that makes it all the way. But, we aren’t talking about the championship at this point we are just talking about the first round. Milan only finished four games behind Moscow and Moscow has a broken backcourt. But, Acklin and Davidson are studs.
The question here is if Acklin and Davidson are good enough to carry the entire team on their back. Moscow will be relying on these two while Milan has 8 players that average at least 20 minutes and 10 who average at least 10. Acklin and Davidson will clearly be the best on the court. But, i think in the end the depth of Milan will be too much for the tattered Snow Bears
Prediction: Milan wins 4-3
#4 Giants vs. #5 Counts
This is an interesting series because Gabon is the fourth seed but Barcelona has the better record. But, due to WBA rules, Barcelona still gets home-court advantage. I agree, I don’t like that rule! Gabon finished with a solid 50 wins after a down year with only 28 last season. And they are set to improve with the young stars Artie Duggons, in the WBADEV this year, and Mathias Kurz. They also have Abdiel Gordon who is a historic talent but at 33 is sliding some. Gabon has good players at every position and a quality bench. Their seven-man is really tough though it drops off after that. They finished the season 10-4 so they have high hopes.
Barcelona finished two games better than Gabon at 52-28. They also are solid at every position and they are deep. Primo Bugeja is always a good scorer though he doesn’t get a lot of international press. In most ways, these teams are both pretty close with Barcelona just seeming a little better. Barcelona also had a solid finish to the season at 11-6.
Really this is a bit of a coin toss.
Prediction: Barcelona wins 4-3