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ON THE BALL – Andre locked and loaded

luigimarshall, [email protected]

ON THE BALL – Andre locked and loaded

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Today, NATION basketball correspondent Justin Marville concludes his rankings of the BABA’s top 30 players with Nos. 5 to 1.  

No. 5 Akeem Marsh, power forward/centre, Roll-A-Way St John’s Sonics. – 2011 stats: 15.7 ppg, 45.5 fg%, 63.6 ft%, 12.1 rpg, 1.4 apg, 2 bpg  

Forget all that talk about Marsh being just a jump-shooting forward, because the reigning MVP is easily the most offensively complete post player there is right now. It’s just so many of his defenders are bad ones that back off and give him that option, and he usually starts somewhere in the mid-post anyhow.

That said, with his six-foot-eight stature and even longer wingspan, he probably does settle too much for that midrange stroke, even if it is one of the game’s best. And that’s evidenced by Marsh’s low rate of free throw attempts (3.7 per game) and substandard field goal percentage for a big man. To be fair, though, much of his shooting woes this season could be attributed to an early season back injury that considerably limited his lift.

But too often opposing forwards are spared the physical banging and regularly don’t have to worry about getting in foul trouble while marking St John’s man in the middle. Still, I put a lot of that on the system Sonics run and his position in that offence, because when Marsh starts on the block, he’s truly one of the game’s un-guardable players.

Just ask Lakers, who were privileged to get a first-hand account of his career-high 45-point performance, where Marsh hit a series of tough jumpers while showing them every conceivable way one could score from the post. It’s one of those luxuries afforded to a player who can proficiently score a hook shot with either hand, possesses great footwork and has the ability to finish in the paint among multiple defenders.

However, Marsh’s game could be even more complete if he were to develop a bit of a mean streak, as half of those contested lay-ups would transform into emphatic “and-one” dunks. At least that aggression shows up on the glass, where the Sonics forward continues to be one of the league’s best rebounding forces, especially at the defensive end.

Certain circles have posed questions about his defensive focus, though, despite the fact that Marsh is a willing contributor to Sonics’ full court press, and his “meagre” average of two blocks a contest might warrant such criticism of a six-foot-eight big man.  

No. 4 Peter Alleyne, point guard, British American Insurance Jackson. – 2011 stats: 16.5 ppg, 39.7 fg%, 23.3 3pt%, 63.2 ft%, 9.4 rpg, 4.4 apg, 2.11 bpg, 2.2 spg I once thought Jeremy Gill had the biggest impact on the league but this season just cemented in my mind that no one player means more to their team than Jackson’s “do-it-all” man.

The numbers might not initially jump out at you, especially the shooting percentages, but take a closer look at the overall stat line and you’ll realize Alleyne affects the game in a way few can. So much so that it’s probably an injustice to label him as just a point guard, or any other position for that matter, considering he does far more than run an offence.

When is the last time a pure playmaker led his side in not only assists, but points, steals and very nearly rebounds as well (he averaged just 0.1 behind Pearson Griffith) on a championship contender? Of course it helps that he’s six-foot-four with the wingspan of the average power forward, which allows him to tower over every opposing guard sent his way or post them up if need be.

And most teams can’t get away with matching up a defender of similar length, because more times than not it will be a post player who’ll get exposed on the perimeter and it will also force a guard to mark another one of Jackson’s lengthy players.

Then, his supreme skill set is such that he can score from just about anywhere on the floor; whether from behind the arc, in the post and driving the lane, as his length and ability allow him to finish at the ring over bigger defenders. Alleyne is one of just a handful of players with the extremely rare ability to single-handedly take over a game at any point – well, any point that doesn’t happen in the fourth quarter.

To be fair, it’s not every fourth quarter that he decides to pull this disappearing act, as he is prone to do it for other periods, but too often defenders are allowed to pick up Alleyne full court in crucial stretches and watch him just pass the ball ahead before he goes and “hides out” on the weak side. Nowhere was that more evident than in Jackson’s Game 2 and 3 losses in the Lakers series, where Alleyne took a combined five shots in those two fourth quarters and made just two field goals for six total points.

And it’s not that he can make up for it at the other end, considering Alleyne plays absolutely no defence past blocking shots at the rim. He also has a maddening tendency to merely settle for pull-up treys in most first quarters, and that’s certainly not a plus for Jackson, bearing in mind he only shoots 23.3 per cent from deep yet takes over six of those shots a game.

However, Alleyne’s playmaking ability is so important to the team that it has to live with his chucking, as the side can’t run a simple offence without him.  

No. 3 George Haynes, power forward/centre, Roll-A-Way St John’s Sonics. -2011 stats: 24.5 ppg, 52.6 fg%, 76.2 ft%, 14 rpg, 3.5 bpg That Haynes only played four league games and still made the list will definitely create a stir (what didn’t?), but the only issue created by his limited appearances was that it prevented me from putting him at No. 1.

And I would’ve felt justified in doing such had the overseas-based collegian merely taken the floor for just four more contests. Of course, his detractors will argue his numbers only look so great because they came from a very small sample size, and that his stat line might’ve trended downwards as the season continued.

Plus, two of those games did come against the woefully bad schoolboys and Patriots, whom Haynes scored 28 and 33 points against, respectively. But could you imagine if the dominant six-foot-nine big man stuck around for Sonics’ second-round fixtures against those same teams and actually got to face both Senators and Cougars twice!

Haynes’ continually improving skill set only leads me to believe he would’ve continued to dominate the league to similar effect. He already owns a consistent mid-range jumper, while his right and left-hand hooks proved to among the best this season. It’s not as if Haynes is just a finesse player either, as the deceptively strong forward was quick to power through double teams and readily dunked over multiple defenders.

So what about his impact, you ask? Well, St John’s won all but the Lakers game (without Marsh) with Haynes in the line-up and looked like a team that was just a point guard short of winning it all. However, Haynes can prove to be a bit of a black hole by refusing to kick the ball out when multiple defenders cave in on him and his actual passing ability still leaves a lot to be desired.

His defensive rebounding numbers might look great, and his blocks even better, but the towering forward seemingly wants no part of playing great position defence before the catch.  

No. 2 Jeremy Gill, point guard/shooting guard, Act II Popcorn Clapham Bulls. – 2011 stats: 20.1 ppg, 46 fg%, 30 3pt%, 85.1 ft%, 5.6 rpg, 4.1 apg, 3.6 spg There might not be a purer offensive force (except maybe Adrian Stewart) in the game right now than Clapham’s prolific combo guard, who is equally as dangerous a playmaker as a scorer.

That’s because no one player puts defences under pressure quite like Gill, who in forcing opposing teams to pick him up just past the half because of his ridiculous range, makes those defenders think twice about coming out so far because of his explosive step and quick handle, and then can still use his strength and superior body control to muscle his way to the front of the ring.

It’s that last attribute I consider to be his greatest, too, as Gill has easily become the best at creating (and selling) contact and finishing in spite of it, even on the perimeter through “four-point” plays. And that makes “Bull” the league’s most dangerous player in transition or with a head of steam, because he doesn’t fear contact yet has the incredible footwork to avoid defenders at speed whether off the dribble or picking up for a layup on either side of the ring.

Converting your free throw attempts at a league-leading 85 per cent doesn’t hurt any either. But he isn’t as difficult to contend with in the half court due to a tendency to settle for deep pull-up treys off the dribble, though a lot of that might have to do with Bulls’ unimaginative sets more so than his ability to create.

That said, somewhere over the last two seasons Gill has lost that air of invincibility that would’ve made him a sure No. 1 You can just see he doesn’t strike the fear of God in teams anymore. He certainly doesn’t hit the deep ball at a great rate anymore, so that could be a contributing factor, although Gill sinks more contested pull-up treys than any other player. Then he isn’t much of a defender, rather a player who shadows his assignment and benefits from his team’s collective defence and teammates’ quick hands.

However, Gill’s position was truly cemented by this somewhat below par postseason that saw Clapham’s star guard look terribly mortal while averaging just 16.1 points (though at the same 46 per cent) in seven games – two of which he failed to score in double digits.

And I had no issue with his simply missing shots in the Warriors series, but to be completely shut down by Andre Lockhart to the point where he couldn’t sweep or even put the ball on the floor against his counterpart is utterly shameful. Make no mistake, against everyone else, Gill is still the league’s best.  

No. 1 Andre Lockhart, point guard, Lumber Company Lakers. – 2011 stats: 15 ppg, 48.9 fg%, 38.1 3pt%, 63.6 ft%, 3 rpg, 8 apg, 2 spg   I’ve heard several of his detractors argue the haughty floor general’s play isn’t indicative of an overseas-based pro as he didn’t stand head and shoulders above the rest (remember how dominant Andrew Alleyne was when he first came back?) and I almost agreed.

But then I realised that belief is seriously flawed on so many levels. If you use the eye test, of course “Locky’s” game won’t pass for authoritative, considering he isn’t a shoot-first, ball-dominant guard that readily takes over games by scoring at will.

However, the Laker guard averaged eight assists to fewer than two turnovers a contest for a gaudy 4.7 assist-to- turnover ratio, and if that’s not dominant for a pass-first point guard, then I’m not exactly sure what is. Bear in mind Lockhart played in an equal-opportunity system, where he wasn’t the first or even second option and still managed to score 15 points a game as the primary distributor that has to ensure outside shooters Keefe Birkett, Adrian Allman and Ian Alexander get their open looks. Still not convinced? Consider that the man he replaced as starter, Derek Browne, averaged just 5.6 points – almost a full ten points less.

Plus, Lockhart scored them at almost 49 per cent from the field – a mark which is better than that of elite forwards Marsh and Charles Vanderpool, who both play in the paint. Of course it can be said his sample size of four regular season games is too small as well, only to realize that Lockhart also averaged 15 points over four finals games too.

And without going any further, let it be understood that Lakers WOULD NOT have beaten Clapham in that series without the services of the heady two-way star. Unless you believe it’s a coincidence Gill just happened to “go off” for 28 points and 11 rebounds in the same Game 2 that Lockhart was in foul trouble and didn’t mark him in the second half.

Then when he wasn’t locking down Gill defensively, “Locky” was still the team’s best player at the other end, leading from the get-go with a 20-point, nine-rebound effort in Game 1 that set the tone for the finals. Sure, he’s a bit of a prima dona and isn’t exactly the most loved player in the league, but given his vastly improved jumper and the added strength to consistently finish in the lane, I’m not quite sure I can nail down a significant weakness that can be exploited.