The Erie BayHawks start a three-game, four-day roadtrip tonight when they travel to Albuquerque to take on the Thunderbirds in what will be the first and only meeting between these teams this season. But before I get into the preview, a quick note on the latest roster move for the BayHawks.
With Cedric Jackson called up to the Spurs, the BayHawks were back down to nine players until yesterday when they made a big addition. That big addition is Michael Sweetney. You may remember him from his days at Georgetown when he starred for the Hoyas and became a 2003 lottery pick of the New York Knicks. His NBA career appeared over after he was cut by the Celtics this preseason, but now he's in the D-League, so the final chapter of his story remains to be told.
Sweetney gives the BayHawks some additional size after they recently traded Alade Aminu. He's supposed to meet the team in Albuquerque today. I haven't seen Sweetney yet. But his D-League profile lists him at 6'8", 260 pounds. Given the commentary here from his preseason with Boston, I find it hard to believe that he's all the way down to 260. Regardless of the exact number, Sweetney is a big man's big man. He's not going to be spotting up from long range and stretching the defense. He's going to be banging bodies in the paint.
The question is where does he fit in? If they put him alongside John Bryant, the BayHawks could have the biggest front line in the D-League. Bryant's got the touch to play a high post position, but I'm not sure the two of them can coexist without hampering Erie defensively. Neither has the quickness or agility to keep up with power forwards at this level.
The better option, in my opinion, is to have Sweetney spell Bryant (or vice versa depending on production) and pair them with either Jarvis Gunter or Kyle Goldcamp. Both Gunter and Goldcamp are coming off arguably their best performance of the season in a blowout win against Sioux Falls. Furthermore, they're better equipped to handle the type of frontcourt player that bothers Bryant and Sweetney.
For more on Sweetney, check out Ridiculous Upside where Scott Schroeder broke the news of Sweetney's entry into the D-League and broke down the acquisition by Erie.
Game 41 Preview: Erie BayHawks (15-25) vs. Albuquerque Thunderbirds (18-22)
Erie coming in: After a forgettable February, the BayHawks have shown signs of life in March. The team is scoring 118 points per game led by the hot shooting of new acquisition Blake Ahearn and teammate Mike Gansey. In three games this month, guard tandem has combined to hit 24 of 45 from 3-point range while averaging nearly 48 points per game. They're also riding a two-game winning streak with the wins coming over two of the top three teams atop the latest edition of the D-League Power Rankings, Sioux Falls and Iowa.
Albuquerque coming in: The Thunderbirds finally ended a seven-game losing streak by defeating Fort Wayne on Tuesday, and they haven't had consecutive victories in more than a month. The departure of Carlos Powell to China has really hurt the team, leaving them searching for players to pick up the slack. Also, looking through the Albuquerque stats, I'm reminded that Kevin Pittsnogle is no longer with the team, robbing West Virginia fans of the coveted Gansey-Pittsnogle reunion.
BayHawks keys to success:
- Offensive balance
Recent roster changes have forced the BayHawks to adjust on the fly. The smallball trend of a week ago appears dead, especially with Sweetney in the mix. Though I'm not sure if he'll play tonight since he's just meeting the team for the first time today, his presence inside gives them options. The key is to find balance. You don't want to force-feed (insert wisecrack here) Bryant and Sweetney in the post too much, and you don't want Gansey and Ahearn launching from deep all the time without giving the post players some touches. Balance the inside and outside game offensively and success will follow.
- Smart play from the point guard position
One of the strengths of Erie this season has been their point guard play, particularly in regards to being smart with their decision-making. Recent call-up Cedric Jackson ranks 12th in the D-League this season in assist-to-turnover ratio and backup point guard Cliff Clinkscales actually leads the league at 4.02. Now the pressure is on Blake Ahearn to step up his game as a point guard. to In his debut at the position with the BayHawks, he had 15 assists with 5 turnovers against Sioux Falls. If he can maintain that kind of assist-to-turnover ratio, the BayHawks' hopes of winning will be in good hands.
- A healthy Jackie Manuel
After missing Erie's last game with a nasty case of the flu, Manuel will return to action tonight. Like PlayStation 3, he only does everything. He is second in the D-League in minutes per game (41.5) and Erie's best defensive player, always accepting the challenge to check the opponent's top offensive weapon. He's also shown an array of offensive abilities this season, including an improved jumper, a post-up game against smaller defenders, and a penchant for the where-did-that-come-from posterizing dunk. A healthy Jackie Manuel is a big boost for the BayHawks as they try to get off on the right foot on this three-game roadtrip.