Since we last checked in with the Los Angeles D-Fenders last weekend, the team has gone 2-1 over the first three games of their five-game road trip. The D-Fenders fell to the Erie Bayhawks 118-99 before bouncing back with a 119-111 win over the Maine Red Claws, and the team started a tiny win streak with a 114-106 win over the Long Island Nets on Monday morning.
Ivica Zubac was recalled to the Los Angeles Lakers for their own road trip, which has left more opportunities for the rest of the D-Fenders to fill in the gaps. Vander Blue has upped his scoring average from 22.7 on the season (seventh in the NBA D-League) to 28.3 over the last two games (which would rank second), while taking about four more shots per contest.
Forward David Nwaba has continued to impress as a starter. On the season, the D-Fenders are outscoring their opponents by a ridiculous 15.3 points per 100 possessions while Nwaba is on the floor, which is the best mark on the roster.
The team has two more road games left before they return home on the 28th to host the Sioux Falls Skyforce, whom they lost to in the 2016 D-League Finals.
Magette lends a helping hand
Some things never change, and Josh Magette leading the D-League in assists has been one of them in 2016. Magette led the D-League in assists with 9.2 per game last season, and the D-Fenders’ floor general has upped his production in points (11.5 to 13.7), assists (9.2 to 10), field goal percentage (39 percent to 41.8 percent), three-point percentage (32.7 percent to 34.6 percent) and free-throw percentage (80.5 percent to 88.9 percent) in his third D-League season.
In the D-Fenders’ win over the Red Claws, Magette became just the 14th player in D-League history to produce 900 assists, and his teammates have been glowing about his production all season.
"Guys like Josh get me in a position to where all I've got to do is dunk it,” Ayres said before the team’s road trip. “I don't have to work very hard for my points, just go set good screens for him and if I'm open he'll give it to me and all I've got to do is slam it.”
Blue was similarly effusive earlier this season.
“He’s just doing what he do. Finding spots, finding people, and knowing when to score,” Blue said when asked how Magette has been having so much success this season. “I would never want to play with another point guard.”
The D-Fenders already knew Magette could pass, but after spending the offseason working on his shot, Magette’s ability as a scorer has jumped as well. Sequences like this aren’t quite “common” this year, but they’re happening with greater frequency than they did during the 2015-16 campaign:
.@joshmagette doing his best impersonation of @StephenCurry30 with his wicked handles before knocking down a 3. pic.twitter.com/iZpSVOIKR3— Ridiculous Upside (@RidicUpside) December 18, 2016
Magette is a part of the D-Fenders’ four most frequently used lineups, only one of which has a negative net rating. Los Angeles’ offense is never worse than when Magette sits, dropping from 116 points per 100 possessions while Magette is on the floor to 103.9 when he’s on the bench. Magette’s presence on the floor has the opposite effect on the defense, which is undoubtedly a negative, but the team still outscores their opponents by 6.4 points per 100 possessions while Magette plays.
Whether or not Magette can fulfill his goal of finally earning his first call-up remains to be seen, but with a 14-game sample size it’s clear that one of the D-League’s best point guards has tinkered around the edges to get better in just about every area.
You can follow these authors on Twitter at@hmfaigen and @BryantFreese. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats per stats.nbadleague.com.