The 2014-2015 Korean Basketball League (KBL) regular season is in its last leg of action and teams are taking their last strides towards the playoffs. The KBL playoff format sees the top two teams advance to the semi-finals while the remaining four teams play in a quarterfinal round.
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The Knights have had one of their most consistent seasons in the last three years. They look like a team that has formed championship type chemistry. Led by foreign player Aaron Haynes and Korean superstar Kim Sun Hyun, the Knights offer a balanced inside-out attack. When they are not beating teams with their unstoppable transition game, the Knights do a fabulous job of attacking from the high elbows and finding shooters in the corners. Haynes is averaging 19 points per game in a year that saw him reach the 6,000 KBL points plateau and putting him second place all-time in KBL history for points scored. Korean/American David Michaels has been on a shooting slump recently but has been able to contribute by rebounding and playing solid perimeter defense. The Knights have won four of their past five games. Their recent loss to the Changwon LG Sakers didn’t look good at all but every team is due for a bad game here and there. Their next five games are against Dongbu, LG, Mobis, ET Land, and the Samsung Thunder. Four of those five teams are playoff teams. These next five games will prove if the SK Knights are for real. If they can win three of these five games, count them in as a lock for the semi finals.
Mobis are officially the San Antonio Spurs of the Korean Baskebtall League. Their coach is a no bullshit type guy just like Greg Popovich. Mobis point guard Dong Geun Yang is the Tim Duncan of Korean point guards in the sense that he is Mr. Fundamental. Foreign player Ricardo Ratliffe is a 20 and 10 guy who provides non-stop energy on the floor. When Ratliffe needs a rest, KBL veteran Ira Clarke has been able to come in and provide solid minutes as the backup foreigner. Mobis plays a system that puts the best players in the best possible position to take and make the best possible shots. And they don’t break this system. Their consistency over the past three seasons has been able to get them to the KBL finals each year and win two KBL championships in the last two years. They remain a heavy favorite to three-peat.
Wonju has done a complete 180 this season going from bottom of the pack last year to one of the stronger teams in the league this year. Credit first year head coach Kim Young Man for guiding Wonju in the right direction. Veteran Korean big man Kim Joo Sung has been able to avoid injuries that have plagued him his entire career and anchor Donbu’s inside presence. Foreign player Anthony Richardson impressed us all at this year’s KBL dunk contest. And he’s been showing signs of improvement throughout the year. But it’s been former Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne University walk-on David Simon who has led the team’s push to the top. He’s averaging just under 15 points a game and shooting 60% from the floor. He’s got great hands, a nice shooting touch, and plays solid defense on the low block. The playoffs are a chess match for head coaches, so let’s see how first year coach Kim Young Man plays the board.
The biggest surprise has been the late surge of the Changwon LG Sakers. At the beginning of the season they were hit with the injury bug and had two of their best players fatigued from a tough summer of playing for Korean national team. Moon Tae Jeong and Kim Jung Kyu are both key starters for LG and played in both the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain and the 2014 Incheon Asian Games. But in basketball, it’s not how you start the game, it’s how you finish it. And LG are having one of the best finishes to a season in franchise history. LG is on an eleven game winning streak. Yes, that’s right, eleven wins in a row. They peaked at the very best time, they haven’t lost a game in 2015, and have gone from 7th place to 4th place. Davon Jefferson is having an MVP type season for Changwon. Other foreign player Chris Massie was recently replaced (injury) by high-flying youtube dunk sensation Kwame Alexander. In last year’s playoffs, Changwon got all the way to the finals before losing 4-2 in a best of seven series against Mobis. Jefferson and the Sakers are hungry for revenge and are aiming to be back in the finals with a different result.
The Goyang Orions started off the season red-hot but have fallen from the top of the rankings. A mid-season trade that brought in one of the KBL’s top scorer Leo Lyons from Samsung was supposed to fix to the problems but the Orions are still trying to find the momentum they had during the first eight games of the season when they started 8-0. Since then, the’ve been able to win three games in a row just once. As it stands, Goyang is on a three game losing streak. Lyons and his foreign teammate Troy Gillenwater will need to carry the team on their backs or else it they might end the season opposite of how they started it.
Ricardo Powell is the team’s heart and soul. He’s desperately trying to rally his troops and make a push towards the playoffs. Right now, Incheon is in, but in the KBL anything can happen. Jung Yung Sam needs to continue his hot shooting from beyond the arc where he is 43% this season. Incheon has two big wins against Mobis this year, and will use that as motivation when they play some of the top teams in the league. But with the positives come the negatives, and Incheon’s negative side is on defense. They are one of the worst defensive teams in the league and are among league leaders in points allowed per game. If they can tighten up that defense, and stay consistent, Incheon should be able to hold down that 6th seed and advance to the playoffs.
Busan KT Sonic Boom has lost their step since Korean/American point guard Tony Akins went down with injuries to his knee and waist. The good news is Akins is scheduled to return within the week. Korean sharpshooter Cho Sung Min is coming off a knee injury that required surgery and hasn’t been the same since. At 12 points per game and 34% shooting from downtown, Cho Sung Min will have to step it up if KT wants any chance at a playoff birth. Charles Rhodes and Reggie Okosa have been handling everything inside, but will need the Korean players to start contributing more. The Sonic Boom have only two wins in their last seven games.
While it’s a long shot Anyang KGC still has a shot. They would need to go on a serious winning streak to catch up to Incheon and take over the sixth spot. Their next four games are really important. They play Incheon, Goyang, Busan, and Samsung. If they can win three out of those four games (must win against Incheon and Busan) then they could put themselves in a good position to make a push towards that sixth seed. After being relieved of his military duties thanks to a gold medal at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, Oh Se Keun has been able to be the main contributor for KGC averaging 13 points and seven rebounds per game. Foreign player Leon Williams has really been stepping it up as of late. Just last week he led KGC to a huge win over Mobis scoring 28 points and grabbing 18 rebounds.
The Seoul Samsung Thunder (8-35) and Jeonju KCC Egis (11-32) are losing a lot of games. And if you are like me and hate the word tanking, then you can just say they are in a race for last. Samsung was obvious in trying to hit rock bottom when they traded their best player Leo Lyons away right after the all-star game. KCC has been riding the injury bug all season. In KCC’s first year without Korean superstar Kim Mingoo, who might have ended his basketball career after a DUI accident, looked for answers in the return of Ha Seung Jin but learned that Ha Seung Jin was far from game ready after spending two yeas in mandatory military service. This might be the last call for Hur Jae and his reign as KCC head coach. As for Samsung, their rookie head coach will remain at the helm while this Samsung project evolves. It’s usually a three to four year process.