Scouting the Rio Grande Valley Vipers

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Tip: 7:30 p.m., Cedar Park Center
Streaming: YouTube

Background

Record: 21-8, first in Central Division
Off. efficiency: 113.4 points per 100 possessions, 1st
Def. efficiency: 110.0, 17th*
Net rating: +3.4, 5th
Pace: 108.8 possessions per game, 2nd

Four factors

Effective FG pct: 53.1, 1st
Turnover pct: 15.9, 3rd
Off. rebound pct: 33.4, 1st
FTA rate: .288, 14th
Opp. effective FG pct: 52.1, 14th
Opp. turnover pct: 15.3, 15th
Def. rebound rate 69.2, 15th
Opp. FTA rate: .309, 7th

The leaders

Points: Troy Daniels, 23.4
Rebounds: James Johnson, 9.1
Assists: Isaiah Canaan, 8.1
Blocks: Johnson, 3.4
Steals: Robert Covington, 2.5

Summary

The Rio Grande Valley Vipers are easily the most polarizing team in the D-League — they score the most points per possession, while yielding the most points per possession. In simpler terms, they complement the best offense with the worst defense. It’s worked so far, considering they maintain a three-game lead for the first-seed in the playoffs.

But there is certainly warning signs — namely, their defense getting progressively worse, suggesting they won’t sustain their success. The Vipers were 8-6 in January, and opponents scored 116.1 points per 100 possessions against them, two points more than the 16th-ranked defense.

Where they excel

As long as Rio Grande continues to score points at a blistering pace, second highest in the D-League, they’ll give themselves a punchers chance in most games. While their defense has depreciated each month, the offense has not dropped off in the slightest.

They have three players averaging 20+ points per game, and one, Chris Johnson, is sixth tenths away from reaching the 20 point threshold. Eight players typically finish in double-figures on this team. Rio Grande shoots efficiently, rarely turns the ball over and crashes the offensive glass effectively. Offense certainly isn’t the problem.

Where they struggle

But the defense is a problem, rendering any gains they make on the opposite end essentially mute. The Vipers don’t prioritize defense, instead focusing on piling points in bunches. That’s fine, but they can’t hang their hats on anything — anything — on defense; they don’t create turnovers, which would spur their transition offense, nor do they protect the rim or protect the defensive glass.

Opponents averaged 37.7 attempts in the restricted area in January, converting these shots at a 68.9 percent clip. Winning games simply isn’t sustainable, if they are giving up several high-percentage looks at the rim.

Player to watch

Troy Daniels. Daniels leads the team in points, but he’s an aytpical high-volume shooter. He’s the Stephen Curry of the D-League, perhaps even more extreme — 76 percent of his shots are beyond the arc. Daniels headlines a Rio Grande Valley team hoisting an absurd 45.8 3-pointers per game.

Stats: NBA D-League/Stats

*There are only 17 teams in the D-League.

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