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Pine’s Gill key to series


Pine’s Gill key to series

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NATION basketball writer Justin Marville previews the Barbados Amateur Basketball Association’s Premier League play-offs by looking at the first-round series between Smalta Pinelands and Urban Vybz Sonics starting today.
CLAPHAM may be on their way to demotion but they haven’t been relegated to insignificance just yet, with this series highlighting two duos of former Bulls guards going head-to-head for Pinelands (Jeremy Gill, Daniel Lovell) and Sonics (Ramon Simmons, Rahiim Gibbons).
Make no mistake, though, one will dominate the headlines far more than the others as the games are going to revolve around everything Gill does – or doesn’t do – in the match-up following his rather abrupt exodus from Clapham.
Oddly enough, he’ll be far from the only relocated star trying to justify taking his talents elsewhere following the somewhat criticized moves made by both Simmons and Corey McDonald in the offseason.
Understand that those decisions won’t come without the weight of expectations, though, because anything short of a finals appearance will lead the basketball public to start questioning the true worth of these disgruntled big-name players.
Oh, and there’s the actual on-court stuff, which should have its fair share of riveting match-ups, including some nondescript duel between a particular reigning MVP and the current Defensive Player Of The Year.
Why Pinelands will win
Two words: Jeremy Gill.
Forget all the talk of off-court drama and Pinelands’ supposed balance, this series starts with, ends at, and hinges on the performance of basketball’s most dynamic offensive force.
At the very worst, Gill is a crafty playmaker capable of getting the best out of those around him by getting into the lane off the dribble and creating good, open looks for role players who ordinarily can’t get off their own shots.
But Pinelands didn’t bring him in to be a glorified Rajon Rondo, so anything less than a dominant 25-point per game scorer who’s relentlessly getting to the hole and stretching the defence with long-range bombs will be seen as a major let-down.
Fortunately, St John’s insistence on playing man-to-man should fall right into Pinelands’ hands, as each of Sonics’ wing players are either too slow (Rommel Garnes, Shane Whittaker), too small (Gibbons, Stefan Clarke) or just too indifferent (Simmons) to think of containing Gill individually.
Outside of that, Pinelands will enjoy a significant advantage in the paint against a thin St John’s frontline that doesn’t really go past starters Akeem Marsh and Dwayne Kellman, because anything Sonics get out of Javon Lashley at this stage should be regarded as a bonus. And this is in a series where he’ll have to battle against the likes of Charles Vanderpool, Andrew Edwards, Kurtis Elias and possibly McDonald.
The Pine have also shored up their ball-handling duties by picking up overseas-based point guard Justin Maloney for the play-offs in a move that certainly gives Pinelands the far superior bench unit.
X-Factor: Corey McDonald
I’ve long said that McDonald is no longer the player everyone still thinks he is, and I can actually envisage a scenario where Pinelands win this series without major contributions from the onetime Warriors standout.
But McDonald could prove particularly dangerous as a spot-up three-point shooter on the weak-side that will make Sonics think twice about loading up on Gill and Vanderpool, or as a “small-ball” power forward that takes advantage of the smaller Kellman in the post.
Why Sonics will win
Gill might be the best player in this series, but Marsh isn’t too far behind.
Once given the ball early and often, the two-time MVP is a cinch to score (though he averaged just ten points in two games versus Pinelands) efficiently from the low or high post and from behind the arc – the last of which will provide clear problems for the slow-footed Edwards and Elias.
And he should seem that much more menacing due to the space created by the threat of three-point shooting from Simmons, Gibbons, Clarke and Garnes in venues (Wildey Gym, Barbados Community College) that are conducive to Sonics’ perimeter play.
It’s not like they’ll be facing much resistance out there either, as Gill, Lovell, and Decarlo Skeete won’t ever be mistaken for defensive stoppers – especially in space – and that could prove rather problematic when Gibbons, Simmons and Garnes put the ball on the floor.
Then on the other side of the ball, Pinelands might prove a very easy team to defend, once kept out of transition, due to the lack of consistent and efficient perimeter shooting.
Apart from Skeete, there are no real true three-point threats as Gill and McDonald are particularly streaky while Thorpe, Lovell, Maloney and Steve Sealy can basically be ignored from deep.
That should allow Sonics to cut down on Gill’s driving lanes and provide Marsh, Kellman and Lashley with much needed help in the painted area against decent inside scorers Vanderpool and Elias.
X-Factor Rahiim Gibbons.
At the start of the season I was certain the young floor general had finally turned the corner when head coach Terry Inniss would routinely close out games by isolating Gibbons at the top of the floor.
But since his 26-point, 10-assist game against Cougars, things have gone south for Gibbons, who has seemingly lost confidence in his abilities and role in St John’s offence.
This series, though, sets up as though Gibbons could put himself among the league’s best point guards, and if he comes anywhere close to the dual threat he was early this year, Sonics will be a tough out for anyone.
Pinelands in three.
I picked St John’s to make the finals before a single ball bounced and I feel uncomfortable backing out of that pick now, especially considering I trust Sonics way more than Pinelands on the defensive side of the ball.
However, too much depends on Simmons and Gibbons consistently hitting long jumpers following a regular season where both perimeter players were maddeningly up and down.
But you can bank on Gill’s getting to the line, if nothing else, and that’s going to wear on a roster that is already short on depth and can ill afford foul trouble to any of their players.

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