Saturday, January 03, 2015

NBLC Power Rankings - January

    It's a new year and hopefully 2015 will hold some new results for the Saint John Mill Rats. The Mill Rats were looked at as a possible contender at the beginning of the season, and while a 4-5 start wasn't exactly what they were expecting, they were still within reach of the top spot in the Atlantic.

     What a difference a month makes, as the Mill Rats went 1-6 in the month of December. Wholesale changes were made, with Naofall Folahan, Jamine Peterson, Anthony Winbush and, most notably, Aquille Carr being shown the door. They were replaced by former Mill Rat Raheem Singleton, former NBL champion Jeremy Williams, former SkyHawk Jamie Vanderbeken, and Johnny Mayhane, who averaged 20 points a game for Moncton last year, but struggled with the Storm this season. To top it all off, they traded Jabs Newby, one of the better Canadian players this season, for Alex Johnson, a Canadian and an all-star last year who was facing reduced minutes in Mississauga. Considering this team still has reigning NBLC MVP Anthony Anderson and 20 a game man Kenny Jones, the Mill Rats are easily the most intriguing team for the month of January. Now, on to the rankings:

1.Windsor Express (11-3, 1st in Central, Last Rank:1)
     The Express continue to win at an incredible pace, going 5-2 in December. One of the more interesting changes in the league this season has been the backcourt of Windsor. Last season we saw Darren Duncan and Stefan Bonneau form a devastating backcourt, and a lot of the Express offense ran through those two, with everyone else playing a supporting role. With Bonneau and Duncan gone, the backcourt has been refocused into a defensive juggernaut, with Gary Gibson and Tony Bennett using their 6'1 frames to frustrate the NBLC's smaller guards. The offense has changed to a scoring by committee attack, led by MVP candidate Quinnel Brown, the aforementioned Bennett, and the much improved DeAndre Thomas, whose points per game has gone from 11 a game last year to 17 a game this season.
 2014-15 Standings
2. The Island Storm (9-6, 1st in Atlantic, LR:2)
     The Storm continued to elevate their game, going 4-2 in the month. With many of the Atlantic's teams struggling right now the Storm have a really good opportunity to take a stranglehold of their conference. If that wasn't enough, they went out and added former NBL All-Star Nick Okorie. So with the Storm having proven themselves in the Atlantic, their next goal ought to be winning a game against a Central team. The Storm are 0-3 so far against Central teams, and if they're going to be considered championship contenders, they'll need to be better than that. There's a long way to go until the finals, but taking away the only question left lingering about this team would go a long way to legitimize the Storm as an overall contender.
 2014-15 Standings
3. London Lightning (10-6, 2nd in Central, LR:3) 
Joining the Storm and Express as league contenders are the Lightning, who have really started to figure out how to play consistent defense. The unsung hero for the Lightning has been Al Stewart. After winning the starting job from the now departed Stephen McDowell, Stewart has been exceptional at the point for London, even tying Phillips for his team's highest Player Efficiency Rating. It's known around the league that a backcourt of Stewart and Adrian Moss can get you to the finals, because that's exactly what the pair did last season for the Storm. Stewart makes it 6 different players averaging over 12 points a game, making London into a "Swiss Army Knife" sort of team, with many different ways of beating you. Getting all those tools playing hard at once is the next challenge for Coach Knox's group.
 2014-15 Standings
4. Halifax Rainmen (7-7, 2nd in Atlantic, LR:4)
  So not a whole lot of change at the top. Last ranking I said that December might tell us a lot about this team and...we still know the same things. The Rainmen still keep yo-yo-ing between the good and the bad, having never won more than 2 games in a row, and never having lost more than two in a row. Some sustained results would go a long way into figuring out this team's identity. Their record is still good enough for 2nd in the Atlantic, and along with the Storm, Halifax is pulling away from the bottom half of the conference. It will be especially interesting to see how this team responds to the loss of leading scorer Justin Tubbs, who signed overseas. They have a lot of guys hovering between 10 and 14 points a game, one of them may have to find another level for Halifax to keep their spot in the conference secured.

2014-15 Standings
5. Brampton A's (6-9, 4th in Central, LR:6)
     Thins still are far from peachy in Brampton, but at least it's getting better. 3-4 isn't a good one month record, but most of those games have come against London and Windsor, 2 of the best teams in the league, so they get a pass. Cavell Johnson has continued to be one of the best defensive players in the league, averaging 2 blocks a game, while on the other end, his presence opens up the A's players to do so many different things offensively. He hasn't garnered a lot of MVP talk outside of Brampton yet, and his stats don't scream MVP, but watch a Brampton game even just once, and you'll walk away thinking that Johnson deserves it. Another player getting attention is Richard Amardi, who looks like he's running away with the top Canadian award. And if basketball doesn't work out, he's got an NFL future as a punter.
2014-15 Standings
6. Moncton Miracles (5-10, 3rd in Atlantic, LR:8)
    Speaking of "What a difference a month makes", Serge Langis has the Miracles buzzing. Langis himself was just named Coach of the Month, and it's easy too see why, with a team that had looked like an afterthought now playing some excellent basketball. Sure, they're still 5-10, but the improvement this team has shown since their abysmal start is worth attention.The defense is still last in the league, but Moncton's started compensating with some scoring, moving up to the top half of the league in points per game. Now they just need a scorer. The Miracles don't really have a standout offensive player. Stanley Robinson played the role earlier, but nobody has stood up lately, although Zach Atkinson did have 22 in his Miracles debut.
2014-15 Standings
7. Mississauga Power (5-8, 3rd in Central, LR:5)
     The Power haven't actually been all that bad since the last rankings when they aren't playing London. Those games against London have been the difference though, having dropped three in a row to the Lightning. Mississauga is still the most improved team in the league, but they're gonna have to start winning more consistently against the big boys of the Central if they're going to move up in the rankings. They've been led by arguably the two best newcomers in the league in Omar Strong and Travis Releford. Strong seems to make just about three point shot he takes, and Releford has been a perfect complement by attacking the basket. The Power just need a third option to emerge as a reliable threat.
2014-15 Standings
8. Saint John Mill Rats (7-11, 4th in Atlantic, LR:7)
     It's been rough for the Mill Rats lately, but things are looking up. They are 2-2 since the roster moves, and that's with a team still figuring each other out. Johnny Mayhane has rediscovered his scoring touch with 17 a game since signing, and Raheem Singleton has found another level to his game in his return to the NBL, averaging 17 a game as well. Jeremy Williams has 13 points and 7 rebounds too. The Mill Rats have the talent. Now they just need to put it together.