Friday, October 31, 2014

2014-15 London Lightning Team Preview

Can Phillips take London back to the Finals? (QMI Agency Photo)
The London Lightning have been a model of consistency in the National Basketball League of Canada, having won the league’s first two championships, and the 2013-14 season was no different, with the team coming out of the gates with an 18-6 record. But things didn’t stay rosy for the Lightning, starting with the loss of Marvin Phillips. The team then had an eleven game span where they only won 2 games, putting them back in the middle of the Central conference. They did manage to rally before the playoffs, making it to the Conference finals, where they lost in 7 games to the eventual champions, the Windsor Express. Now the Lightning will be again looking to challenge for a championship with a new coach, as well as switching their previously big-man oriented lineup for a quicker, guard heavy lineup.

Off-Season Additions - SF Emmanuel Little (Rayos de Hermosillo), SG Clinton Springer-Williams (Carleton), C Quincy Okolie (FOG Naestvad), PG Al Stewart (Island Storm), PG Enrico DiLoreto (U of Windsor), SG John Hart (Draft), PG Kurt Alexander(Drake)

 The most notable additions are Emmanuel Little and Al Stewart. Little has been given a lot of minutes in the pre-season, and has never averaged less than 12 points per game in his professional career. Stewart isn’t a new name to people that have followed the NBL in the past, as his resume includes two Defensive Player of the Year awards, as well as being named an All-Star in 2012-13. He should compete with Stephen McDowell for the starting job at the point this year.

London born players Enrico DiLoreto and Clinton Springer-Williams aren’t just going to be filling the Canadian quota either, as both players figure to play significant roles this season, DiLoreta as the backup SG in the Lightning’s smaller lineups, and Springer-Williams as the SF in smaller packages. Kurt Alexander and Quincy Okolie fill out the rest of the Canadian content for the Lightning.

John Hart was picked in the 1st round by the Lightning this year and will probably be a favourite of Carlos Knox, as Hart is a grad of coach Knox’s alma mater, IUPUI. He may not play a big role to start the year, but has a habit of making tough shots.

Off-Season Losses - Tony Bennett (Unsigned), Tim Ellis (Retired), Jermaine Johnson (Abejas), Dwight McCombs (San Isidro), Darin Mency (Unsigned), James Millen (Unsigned), Harouna Mutombo (Unsigned), Greg Surmacz (BC Anwil), Garrett Williamson (AEK Athens)

The biggest loss is Williamson, as he lead the Lightning in scoring on his way to winning NBL Canadian Player of the Year. He averaged 19.2 points per game and leading the team in scoring in 21 of the team’s 40 games, a number that looks even better when considering the “scoring by committee” approach of former coach Michael Ray Richardson.

Tony Bennett also was a major contributor, but was prone to inconsistency, even losing the starting job to McDowell. Stewart provides a more stable replacement.

Jermaine Johnson was productive for London after coming over in a mid-season trade, but tended to slow the offence down when he got the ball. The return of Phillips should cover that loss.

One of the more recognizable faces in the NBL will not be returning either. Tim Ellis has decided to call it a career after 110 NBL games, all with the Lightning. Ellis was the perfect role player, providing excellent defence, as well as being able to do a little bit of everything for the Lightning

Guards - Stephen McDowell, Zane Johnson, Clinton Springer-Williams, Al Stewart, Enrico DiLoreto, John Hart, Kurt Alexander

Zane Johnson returns after an offseason spent with the New York Knicks summer league team. He provides a constant 3 point threat, and after taking a while to earn playing time under Richardson, could be primed to break out under a new coaching staff.

Starting point guard duties will be handled by Stephen McDowell. He can score in bunches, averaging 14.6 points per game in his NBL career, mostly off the bench, but when he’s cold, he can shoot his team out of games. The Lightning added Al Stewart over the offseason to provide a more stable option. Stewart has averaged 10.7 points and 5.2 assists per game in his 3 year NBL career, while providing lockdown defence. It will be interesting to see if McDowell holds onto the starting job, as not only is this his first chance to be an NBL starter, but most players with his style come off the bench in the NBL, and Stewart hasn’t come off the bench since the first ever NBL season.

DiLoreto, Springer-Williams and Hart round out the rotation.

Centers/Forwards - Marvin Phillips, Elvin Mims, Maurice Bolden, Emmanuel Little, Quincy Okolie

The big news is the return of Marvin Phillips. The 6’7 forward was the heart and soul of the Lightning last season, and his departure at mid-season left a clear void in the lineup. He is capable of not only bullying players down low, but stepping behind the arc to hit a three, although he can fall in love with that shot a bit too much at times.

 Elvin Mims is back as well, providing quiet steady leadership for the Lightning. His ability to make a mid range jumper is crucial for the offence, as it keeps opponents from clamping down on London’s long range shooters. When the team went on its losing streak, it was Mims who took charge and righted the ship.

Maurice  Bolden returns to provide length off the bench. His combination of SF skills plus a 6’11 frame makes him a unique player in the NBL, but he was inconsistent, and couldn’t stay out of Richardson’s dog house. Richardson also kept trying to make him into a post player, when his skill set doesn't really suit that kind of game. If he earns the trust of Knox, he could be set for a breakout.

One of the additions who appears set to play a big role, based on pre-season action, is Emmanuel Little. The small forward has been a successful scorer at the pro level in the past and should team with Zane Johnson to provide a formidable duo on the wing.

Coach - Carlos Knox

 Arguably the most notable loss is former coach Michael Ray Richardson, who had been the coach of the team, and arguably the face of the franchise, since its inaugural season. Carlos Knox was picked to replace him. Knox has a very strong resume, having coached at his alma-mater, IUPUI, as well as coaching in the CBA, Saudi Arabia, and working as an assistant in the WNBA. Look for a fast team that will be looking to score in transition, while putting up points in bunches.

Outlook

The Lightning will head into this season looking to win yet another NBL championship, and look like serious contenders to do so. All 5 of their returning players played big roles on last year’s team, and the team has made additions to solidify last year’s biggest weakness, the backcourt. With Windsor having lost their entire starting backcourt from last season, the Central Conference is up for grabs. Look for the Lightning to be fighting against Brampton and Windsor for that top spot, and hopefully, a berth in the NBL Finals