A Changing of the Guard?: What Blake Ahearn Means for Erie

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Depending on your perspective, the acquisition of Blake Ahearn either adds depth to the BayHawks' backcourt or clutters it. Depending on how you classify Jackie Manuel and Frank Tolbert, Erie's 10-man roster now consists of as many as 10 guards. At the very least the roster has shrunk with seven of the 10 players now listed at 6'7" or shorter, five of which are 6'4" or shorter.

After spending much of last season with the undersized Erik Daniels at center, Erie entered the 2009-10 season determined to be bigger, drafting in round two John Bryant after trading for Alade Aminu in round one. Aminu and Bryant made the team along with the returning Jarvis Gunter and local allocation Kyle Goldcamp. With the frontcourt seemingly solidified, Erie's early season question marks came in the backcourt, specifically outside shooting and ballhandling.

When the experiment to play top draft pick Donell Taylor at point guard failed, the BayHawks sent Taylor to Idaho in exchange for Mike Gansey. While Gansey was not a point guard, he aided the team's other pressing problem: the lack of outside shooting. Meanwhile rookie Cedric Jackson was establishing himself as a top-flight D-League point guard, even earning back-to-back 10-day contracts with the Cleveland Cavaliers for his strong, consistent play at point guard where he demonstrated his knack for getting to the rim (or at least the free throw line) and a remarkable assist-to-turnover ratio (second best in the D-League).

All of a sudden, with the combination of Jackson and Gansey, the BayHawks had a formidable backcourt to go along with Aminu and Bryant upfront. Add to that Jackie Manuel or Ivan Harris as the fifth man depending on need (perimeter defense and a slashing offensive game from Manuel and streaky-but-game-changing-when-he's-on outside shooting from Harris).

Yet for some reason, the BayHawks never seemd to role with what seemed to be their strongest quintet, and they began to play Aminu fewer and fewer minutes per game. His playing time dropped from more than 34 minutes per game in January, when he shined at the D-League Showcase and earned himself a D-League all-star selection, to just 19 minutes per game in February. Aminu's role in the BayHawks went from focal point to expendable asset in no time at all as he was dealt to Bakersfield for sharpshooting guard Blake Ahearn yesterday.

I'm obviously not a fan of letting Aminu go. I've been writing in game recaps for awhile now that he was being mis/underused by the team. I wish him all the best in Bakersfield. I hope he gets a chance to play big minutes there, and I also hope he takes the opportunity to use the change of scenery to his benefit and make the most of his potential.

So what do we make of the incoming talent? Acquiring Ahearn is no small feat. Last year, the 6'2" guard won the 3-point shootout and earned co-MVP honors of the 2009 D-League All-Star Game. Although he has been struggling with his shot in Bakersfield (36.7 percent from the field, 27.7 percent from 3), there is hope that he can regain his stroke as a BayHawk considering he is a career 41 percent 3-point shooter in the D-League and an unbelievable 95.4 percent from the free throw line.

The simple truth is that Erie is not a good 3-point shooting team. Mike Gansey has helped expand the offense, but even he's connecting at 31.7 percent from beyond the arc, which is just slightly above the team average. In fact, of the five BayHawks who have attempted at least 25 3-pointers this season, only Ivan Harris (38.1 percent) is above 32 percent. If Ahearn can't find the range with Erie, it's unlikely that this trade will be viewed as a success.

Ahearn also comes as insurance at the point guard position where Cedric Jackson is nursing a serious bruised ribs injury suffered last weekend against Dakota that will take weeks to heal completely. There's no word yet if Jackson or Ahearn will get the start at point guard this Friday when the BayHawks return to action. If Jackson can't go or is relegated to a supporting role, Ahearn and Gansey can team to give Erie its best shooting backcourt of the season at the expense of losing Jackson' penetrating ability. Along with Ivan Harris, the BayHawks now have three legitimate outside shooters to help space the floor. At the very least, it's a new wrinkle worth a shot considering where the team stands in the standings.

While it remains to be seen if the acquisition of Ahearn makes up for the departure of Aminu, the bottom line is that Erie is running out of time no matter who is on the roster. At 13-24, the BayHawks have already ensured themselves of a worse record than they had as an expansion franchise last season when they qualified as the seventh seed in the playoffs.

This season came with legitimate playoff hopes as well, but those thoughts are all but gone at this juncture of the season, especially with a weekend set against the Iowa Energy looming. The BayHawks are 0-8 against the Energy this season. Unless they manage to break through with a win Friday or Saturday, they will ensure themselves of a sub-.500 record for the season.


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About this blog/blogger

Blog Talk BayHawk is an unofficial Erie BayHawks blog covering the NBA D-League. It features opinions and information about the NBADL and the Erie BayHawks. Blog Talk BayHawk is written from a basketball fan’s perspective to fill In the gaps left by professional journalists’ coverage of BayHawks basketball and the Erie professional basketball scene.

Matt Hubert is a 25-year-old writer and basketball fanatic born and raised in Erie, Pa. He graduated from Mercyhurst College in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in English and a dual concentration in writing and creative writing. Matt's not wavering from his stance as a lifelong Los Angeles Lakers fan, but he will cover the BayHawks' NBA affiliates in Cleveland and Toronto when it makes sense to do so throughout the year.

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