Halifax’s newest player is a buddy of Jay-Z and gets mentioned at the 30 second point of this song: “My homey Strict told me, “Dude finish your Breakfast.” Strict always finishes his breakfast… and his lunch, dinner, second lunch, afternoon tea, dessert, midnight snack…
So now that the suspension of the Rainmen’s franchise player has sunk in, it’s worth discussing just what the Rainmen need to do to move on past this and keep their season on track. The loss of Eric really hits the team hard in two distinct places: off the court, and on the court. It’s a bit long so you’ll have to read it after the jump.
I’ll start with off the court because I think that what he brings when it comes to branding, community work, on court highlights, and personality is much harder to replace than what he does on the court. In part this is a result of him already being here for a year, but he is far and away the most popular player on the team. This established “star power” is virtually impossible to build for another player during a three month season. So who actually steps up and becomes the new fan favourite and public face of the team? Brian Silverhorn is a good player and in his second year with the team but he’s quiet and seems shy. Rob Sanders is arguably the most effective player on the team but he has a bit too much of a mean streak to play the family friendly angle that the Rainmen so desperately try to use, even though I find the guy likable on and off the court. David Bailey certainly seems like the guy who is the best with kids and in some ways replicates many of the on court things that made Eric popular – athleticism, put back dunks, the kind of size you don’t normally see walking down the street – but he may be a bit too Lunch Bucket, hussle guy to be a bonafide star. He’s more JYD than Vince Carter (I mean pre-everything Carter did to become hated Vince Carter).
Two of the biggest personalities on the team are now SirValiant Brown and John Strickland (who hasn’t even shown up yet), but both guys are in a lot of ways players well past their primes and there is no hope in them which is one thing that made Eric so popular. People rooted for Eric because some thought he could be the Halifax player who cracked an NBA roster (personally I set my hopes on him getting a good contract in Germany or another solid European league) no matter how far fetched that hope was given his age and height. Strickland will no doubt entertain us, and SirVal has an incredibly interesting history, but neither of them embody that (perhaps self delusional) hope that there is even a chance we will turn on the TV one day and see him on it.
I actually think on the court Halifax have the personnel to adjust. Don’t get me wrong – I think Eric is a phenomenal player who is impossible to replace. He’s athletic in a way that you rarely see in the minors and is one of the best back to the basket scorers you’ll see in the PBL. His passing in the half-court is incredible and he plays well above his size. But Halifax do have three powerforwards who are good enough to start (Sanders, Jeanty, Bailey) and are bringing in a crafty powerforward who will likely give us 15 minutes per game. If there is a team who can cope with losing their starting power forward it is the Rainmen.
It’s actually a big of a conundrum to replace a star player (shocking) so here’s how I am going to proceed:
- List what Eric brought to the team to establish what actually needs to be replaced
- See where the Rainmen are likely going to try to get those things
- List how this affects the team as a whole
What Halifax Need to Replace: Eric is a great minor league player. Realistically, despite the significant jump in talent from the ABA to the PBL, he’s still undoubtedly a top 20 player in the league. He only played eight minutes in Montreal so if you just count his other three games his numbers are great: 15.3ppg, 9rpg and 2.7 bpg. So what exactly does he bring to the team that they will need to replace?
- Scoring – 15.3 points is a lot. Period. More importantly he gets his points in two ways that are difficult to replace: put back dunks and offensive rebounds, and post ups. Unless McNeal is hiding something Halifax do not have a consistent post threat without Eric.
- Rebounding – he has been Halifax’s best rebounder when healthy.
- Defending the paint. When he is active and focused on defense Eric is a good off the ball defender. He can block shots from the weakside and has the length to pick off passes and clog the lane.
- Versatlity – He was playing as Halifax’s starting centre, with him gone it means that Bailey, Sanders and Strickland will all have to play out of position. He moves up and down the court very well for a guy at his position at this level, so the team won’t have the same ability to run with a McNeal, Sanders or Strickland in the middle.
- Momentum Changer – Eric’s ability to put up highlight dunks is great for the fans, but it also really helped to energize his teammates when Halifax needed to try to get back in the game, or demoralize an opponent.
- 25 minutes per game at centre and power forward.
- 12.3 shots per game.
How Do Halifax Replace These Lost Contributions? As I said earlier, they have lots of big men who are high calibre players and would not be out of place starting in the PBL. They’ve also added John Strickland who should give them some post scoring and 10-15 minutes per game. This means that they’re looking at giving 10-15 minutes and probably 5-7 shots per game to players already on the roster. I think most of the minutes need to go to Bailey and most of the shots to Sanders. Bailey is the obvious person to come in and replace Eric in the starting line up – finding people to take his shots and make up for the lost scoring is easy on this team, but finding someone to grab boards, block shots, and get second chance opportunities is major hole. Strickland is out of shape so starting him is a no go, and McNeal has shown little evidence that he’s ready to start. Halifax should also move Sanders into the starting line up to give them a bit more intensity and defensive rebounding, as well as to have a go to scorer in the starting line up. The loss of Crookshank also means that they will need the guards to step up, particularly Hammack and SirVal. The easy look inside won’t be there so the guards will need to penetrate more nad look to exploit other mis-matches for easy buckets.
How Does This Alter the Team as a Whole? I don’t think the team runs as much as they did earlier in the season. The addition of Strickland essentially means that the team now has three bigs who do not thrive in a full court style (Strick, McNeal and Sanders) and only two who can play that way (Bailey and Jeanty). The Rainmen used to have to guys who could play centre and run the floor in an undersized line up (Bailey and Eric) but now will end up seing more than 50% of the game with a half court guy at that position. Eric also created at least a few turnovers a game from the other team and was good at pushing the pace off of rebounds (even though sometimes he turned the ball over as a result).
The team also loses a focal point of its offense with Eric gone. It means someone else will have to emerge as a crunch time scorer and we’ll see if anyone decides to step up as a result. I am hoping that Sanders is given more touches and opportunities since I think that when he’s motivated he’s near unstoppable as we saw when he was guarded by Kevin Dulude on Sunday. As much as it’s nice to see shots evenly distributed we need someone to stop it up and post-up or drive to the net to constitantly force double teams or get easy scores. The obvious places to get this is Sanders, but I actually think the easy post up opportunity is with Dandridge when he’s play shooting guard – he is often guarded by 6’2-6’3 guards and he needs to take them into the post instead of settling for long jumpers. He’s the same height as Eric and being guarded by players six to eight inches shorter, he needs to work on some post moves.
The combination of Eric gone and Silverhorn injured means that other guys will have the chance to prove their worth. In particular McNeal and Mayes have a real chance here to grab some more minutes. Mayes is an athletic rebounder who should be able to steal some small forward minutes now that Silverhorn is out and Jeanty is going to need to play more powerforward. If he can show some defense and rebounding then he should be able to crack the rotation, at least for few games. McNeal has not done the things we had hoped, but with Eric gone we need him to show a willingness to mix it up down low. If he can play five more minutes a game and post guys up, play tough on post defense, and grab a couple more defensive rebounds per game then I will be happy.
The short version: I don’t think replacing Eric is impossible but other guys are going to have to step up. In some ways this actually opens up the opportunities for the team, and I am not so pessimistic as to say that this means Halifax will have a losing season. In the short term it makes winning both upcoming road games a real challenge, but in the long term it means that the log jam on the front line is at least loosened up a bit.
Just to keep everything in one place I’d prefer if comments on this post be about this post and the topic of what the Rainemn do now, not if their actions were just. If you want to discuss the actual suspension try to do so in this post.