Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Archived- Inside the ABA

ABA Basketball: Newark Express vs. Rochester Razorsharks

After much anticipation, I finally ventured to Newark to watch arguably the most prominent team the ABA has produced in recent years. While the Rochester Razorsharks had not yet matched their dominance from a season ago, this squad was still one of the top tier teams in the league. After analyzing both team's efforts, I came to the conclusion that several players merit second looks from scouts trying to bolster their summer league squads.

In this contest, Rochester was dominant throughout. They took control of the game early and never looked back. They possessed the superior size and strength up front; therein, these squads seemed to be on varying levels. Newark surmounted their size deficiency with several surges- one long run commenced during the middle of the second half. After making modifications to their rotation, Rochester was able to handle the speed of the Express's backcourt. In the end, Newark's valient effort to comeback at the half was unrecognizable at the beginning of the third period. Newark's most prominent lineup- which featured three guards- did not distribute the ball inside and instead hoisted shots from the perimeter. Their midrange accuracy was far off the mark and their chances of coming back from such a large deficet were minimal.

In the end, Rochester won by a sizable margin. But, it was the tale of two cities that really astounded me. While Rochester's squad played with poise and demonstrated a professional level of teamwork, several of Newark's guards took it upon themselves to change the course of the game. As is the case in most contests, the team that distributed the ball and ran their offense came out on top. Rochester's squad looked confident- and this must have been do to the ever-growing basketball community that Rochester has fostered. On the other side of things, Newark's fan base seemed enthusiastic at times. But, there certainly were not enough fans to boast a team's confidence. One can conclude that this Newark venue may not be the best base for a New Jersey minor league.

Rochester Razorsharks
Jamal Nichols- After watching this big man at Depaul, I came to the realization that he had the athleticism and height to play at the next level. After watching him in person, I further agreed with my prior assessment. Nichols was able to penetrate in the lane and was willing to make the extra pass. He did not dominate the ball and looked for his offense at ideal junctures. Nichols was able to grab rebounds and to use his upper body to gain post positioning. I would have liked to see Nichols match up against some of the more competitive frontcourts in minor league basketball. But, from what I saw, I think he would be a viable candidate for a summer league squad either this season or next. The only question that might disrupt such a future is the circumstances surrounding his last year at Depaul. He did not play for the team his senior season. Whether it was due to a disagreement with the coach or a desire to play at the professional level immediately, this potential character question could direct his future.

Brian Edwards- Edwards probably does not possess the "it" factor that allows you to move up to higher levels of basketball. He is a consummate role player who rebounds and effectively scores with a variety of post moves. He is not quite as athletic as some of his frontcourt counterparts- namely "Mook" Reaves and Nichols- but he does possess wherewithal and assertiveness on the basketball court. He attacks the rim with admirable determination- because of his efficiency on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor, it is quite evident that he is a chiseled veteran who has spent a great deal of time honing his game overseas.

Demon Stewart- He is the most valuable player to Rochester's offensive attack. This combo guard can light it up from beyond the arc or drive past his defender and create for his teammates. Because he is unable to play the PG position, I think his talents would be more appreciated overseas. A season ago, he led Rochester's championship run by scoring 27 points. He can light it up from the floor and his first step allows him to get in the lane. Offensively, he was the most complete player on either team.

James "Mook" Reaves- Mook did not have his most dominant performance against the Newark Express. But, he still looked like the most capable big man on either team. He was able to sport a variety of post moves and get past his defender at will. Despite being a dynamic weapon on offense, Mook deferred to his teammates on several occasions- allowing them the opportunity to shine. He was the go-to guy for Rochester inside because he is able to use his wide body to pin his defender. Mook is a bit undersized for the power forward position, but he should definitely be granted the opportunity to play in a summer league setting.

Eric Coley- Coley is one my favorite minor league players because of the way he defers to his teammates. He can be a consummate role player at times, yet he possesses the ability to take over a game. Coley demonstrated a very nice three point stroke and a pretty mid range game. Despite his impressive offensive game, he still is not the top option on offense. Clearly, though, being a go-to scorer is not his forte. Coley leads Rochester's defensive charge. He is a pesky defender who stays in front of his man and goes above and beyond what is required of him in regards to rotational shifts. In other words, Coley is a very experienced role player in the mold of some of the great defensive stoppers of our time. Eric definitely merits a look from scouts.

Keith Friel- Keith is a pure shooter with a near picture perfect stroke. After Rochester secured the lead, Friel came back in the game and shot the ball with tremendous accuracy. His three point shot was the most effective for either team. He can really score in a hurry- even after receiving limited minutes in the second half. He can shoot off the dribble and overall is an excellent role player. While he may be a bit undersized for a shooting guard, I think that his stroke would allow him to be effective at the summer league level. He was not the most heady defender, but a successful team defensive scheme- such as the one Rochester boasts- really masked his weaknesses on this end of the floor.

Mike Mackell- Mike did not receive as many minutes as I would have expected. He was arguably the best player in the USBL a year ago. Regardless of his previous merits, it seemed as though he was content with his role player status on this squad. Mackell scored when his team needed him, but he also deferred to his teammates. I believe that he could be effective in the D League or even with a 10 day NBA contract because of his defensive presence inside. His length and athleticism allow him to be a stopper at virtually any level of basketball. I was impressed with the way that he shut down Newark's bigs- relegating them to "non factors" in the offense. In time, I expect Mackell to be more of a factor on the offensive end, but his defense still anchored the Rochester frontcourt.

Lazuras Sims- Sims is probably the most experienced minor league player on either team. He really controlled the ball and distributed it to his teammates. Sims has played on numerous championship squads and it is easy to see why. He is extremely unselfish and scores when called upon. This veteran controlled the pace of the game and really defended Newark's guards. Lazuras is one of the most underrated cogs in the Razorshark offense.

Others on the roster:

John Halas- He was a nice role player who received a decent amount of playing time. Halas handled the ball and was able to penetrate through the Newark defense.

Kevin Peters- While he did not seem the most experienced minor league player on the roster, he was able to shoot the ball.

Nigel Moore- This combo guard was an effective role player off of the bench.

Newark Express
Derrick Washington- He was the go-to guy for this Newark team. Washington's first step is world class and he was able to get to the hoop virtually at will. But, he had trouble when he came into contact with some stationary big men. He was unable to finish layups and had to alter his shots on several occasions. Overall, he was not effective from behind the arc; but when he finally began to make a midrange shot, Newark's offensive comeback began. He was the centerpiece of the offense and really opened up the game for his teammates. On the defensive end, he needs to step in front of his man more often.

Marvin McCullough- Originally I did not see the Iona native on the roster, but after a few minutes I realized that he was the point guard. McCullough is an effective ball handler, but he shot a low percentage from the field today. Marvin was able to distribute the ball on several occasions, but I was surprised at how many times he took it upon himself to carry this team. While he did not take anywhere near as many attempts as Washington, his mentality really hurt his team in the long run. McCullough was this team's second best player though and I am sure that this game was just an aberration.

Others on the roster:

Sekani Francis- While he is a part of the roster, this former Division III star did not play in this contest. He could have countered Rochester's weapons inside.

Marcos Sanchez- To my knowledge, he did not play.

Johan Matos- Matos made a few easy layups, but did not demonstrate any semblance of a midrange game.

Rahjon Cathcart- He did not receive the ball often. But, he did not score effectively when his teammates did defer to him.

Phillip Smith- He had to face the brunt of the Rochester frontcourt attack. Smith was underized and unable to contain bigger, more physical presences in the paint. His teammates never really allowed him to get into any sort of rhythm on the offensive end of the floor.

Amin Wright- Wright received limited minutes and did not demonstrate anything out of the ordinary.

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