No part of the Vipers’ season is more important than now. The NBA D-League Showcase tipped off Sunday in Nevada, with NBA scouts and general managers from all 30 teams convening at the Reno Events Center for a first-hand look at the talent available.
The Vipers have a couple of players who figure to draw attention.
Undrafted rookie guard Troy Daniels is the 13th-ranked D-League prospect, and the fourth-ranked guard. The league’s fourth-leading scorer at 23.6 points per game, gaining quick notoriety for his shooting ability, Daniels has looked forward to the next couple of days. The Vipers play Maine at 2:40 p.m. Wednesday and Santa Cruz at 2:40 p.m. on Thursday for their two-game Showcase stay.
During the event’s nine-year history, 40 D-League players have earned NBA call-ups during or in the week following the Showcase. Twenty-six of the 36 call-ups last season came during or after the Showcase.
Now that NBA teams are allowed to sign players to 10-day contracts this season as of Monday, stakes are high.
“I’m excited,” Daniels said. “I get to play in front of scouts and they get to see first-hand what I can do. There aren’t nerves or anything. I’m just excited to get out there and show what I can do.”
While Daniels is more excited than anxious or nervous, Vipers associate head coach Paul Mokeski, a 12-year NBA veteran and longtime scout and coach at the D-League and NBA levels, said that won’t be the case for everybody as scrutiny will never be higher during the season.
“It’s going to be unique for these guys,” Mokeski said. “They’ve been through something like this a little bit, like in college playing in a specific tournament with a lot of scouts, but this is different because it’s just scouts and GMs in the gym pretty much and it’s really quiet and everybody is focused and watching.
“Off the floor, on the floor. How you react to referees, with teammates, coaches … they’re watching your mannerisms as much as how you play basketball. You have to learn to block that out and play the game, play the moment, play the possession.”
The Vipers enter the Showcase as the league’s top team at 13-3. They have gained national attention for their 3-point-heavy offense that is No. 1 in points per 100 possessions (113.7), thanks to 16.6 3-pointers made and 45.6 3-pointers attempted per game.
Vipers general manager Gianluca Pascucci, who also serves as the Houston Rockets’ director of player personnel, said his eyes will be on other teams’ players as much as his own.
“It’s our job as both the Rockets and Vipers to evaluate other players, other teams and look at their situations,” Pascucci said. “You never know what’s going to happen next. Our job is to always be alert.”
Prior to the Showcase, many NBA teams sent eligible players down to the D-League so that more NBA scouts and general managers can see them play, potentially setting the stage for a move down the line if need be. As of late Tuesday afternoon, the Rockets had not sent anyone down to the Vipers.
Pascucci said the Vipers, who have one open roster spot and are thin at point guard, are content letting the roster play out for now, with players who had been used little before the call-ups of Isaiah Canaan and James Johnson stepping up and playing well given more responsibility.
The Vipers’ two Showcase games will be broadcast live on NBA TV. Both games are scheduled for 2:40 p.m. tip-off.
JOHNSON AN EXAMPLE
Last season, current Viper Chris Johnson parlayed a strong Showcase performance into a pair of 10-day contracts with the Memphis Grizzlies. Johnson, who helped the Vipers to a second D-League championship last season and is averaging 19.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals this season, is another potential NBA pick-up again, the D-League’s 23rd ranked prospect.
ON THE ROAD … STILL
After the Showcase games, the Vipers stay on the road for a pair of games this weekend. They play at Texas on Saturday at 7 p.m. before traveling to Iowa for a game there Sunday at 4 p.m. After that, the Vipers return to the Valley to play six of seven games at home, beginning with Texas on Jan. 17.