LA Confidential: Fireballs All-Star Break Report
- By Jron Magcale, Day 120, 2024
LOS ANGELES - The Fireballs started slow but is now picking up and starting to gather some wins. They have been up and down with the new roster and still trying to build cohesion but at 30-37 and fighting for a spot in the playoffs, the Fireballs are doing good considering this is year 1 of the retooling effort that GM Jron and Head Coach Alton Wilkes have made in the offseason. The team made a few trades during the 1st half of the season and is now sitting at 12 players in contract. Running their very dangerous run and gun offense that lights up the scoreboard this season is a joy to watch however running such a high-octane offense with an average defense can hurt as that is the issue with the Fireballs so far, having a hard time closing crucial games but they are starting to gel and that is something that the team wants to develop over time. They are 8-3 in their division beating all teams except the Seattle Thunder who handed them the 3 losses already. That means that if their chemistry starts to kick in, they are pretty much a dangerous team to play against in the playoffs.
The team is already set on their rotation which except from the starting lineup has been seen a few depth changes. The team did a few trades to get their lineup set for a favorable rotation moving forward, here are the moves that the Fireballs prior to the break:
DAY 55 - The Fireballs traded reserves SG Jerrell Newman and C/PF Corey Anderton to the Mustangs for SG/SF Curtis Westley
DAY 99 - The Fireballs traded C/PF Rahmond Thompson, PG Ortay Defoe, SG Tremaine Miles and SG/SF Curtis Westley to the Vipers for PG Ashley Winters, SF Davon McKay and the 2026 Barons 2nd Round Pick
The trades set up the team's roster to 12 players and just $1.3M under the hard trading line of $95M with a $93.7M in committed cap on contracts. The team's decision to acquire both PG Ashley Winters and SF Devon McKay is a set up to secure at least 8 players that the team will consider as the "core" group moving forward, with Winters contract running until 2026 (and a team option for 2027) and McKay's running up until 2025 (and a team option for 2026) meaning they can build more cohesion with them assuming they will be part of the plan for this season and beyond.
POINT GUARDS: Chris LaCruz is the team's franchise player but the acquisition of a savvy veteran like Ashley Winters means LaCruz doesn't have to play 38-40 minutes solely at PG every game. Winters' playmaking and outside shooting gives the position more value as LaCruz can occasionally shift to SG alongside Winters and still be effective. The lineup with Winters-LaCruz at 1 and 2 posted a +/- of 20 (74-57 on 3 different lineup sets at 28:22 total time on the court). PG Jabari El-Amin has seen little to no playing time, right now he is listed as the 3rd string PG but playing time hasn't been assigned to him.
SHOOTING GUARDS: Jamaine Curry holds this position right now and has been playing major minutes on it like Chris LaCruz at the PG position. He has been the team's 2nd scorer behind LaCruz and that won't change this season. The backup SG position has seen a few changes here and there but as of press time Curry is sharing it with LaCruz and Cortez Ellison. Curry still owns the lion's share of the minutes at 36-38 mpg set up but when he rests LaCruz and Ellison takes care of the minutes left. Earlier this season recently traded Curtis Westley played some SG as well as Tramaine Miles but only minimal. Rookie Quinn "Ziggy" Dziagwa played a little bit of SG early in the season too but has since removed from the rotation.
SMALL FORWARDS: This is a position that the Fireballs have a few players sharing the minutes although Cortez Ellison is listed at the starter he is also sharing it with versatile combo forward Randall Dozier (who started at SF when Ellison went down with an injury) and recently acquired scoring wing Devon McKay. The minutes distribution so far has listed Ellison as the starter, McKay as the 2nd string and Dozier listed as the 3rd string. Rookie Quinn Dziagwa early in the season was getting some looks at SF but his inconsistencies and the team acquiring more talent on the wings pushed him out of the rotation for now. Ellison hasn't been shooting well this season but is finding it hard to not play him because he has been playing well in other areas of his game. He has been steadily improving in his shot selection and connecting at a higher percentage since coming back from injury.
POWER FORWARD: Randall Dozier has the starting bid locked to him but Anthony Egezeke has surprised everyone with his intangibles and hustle that the coaching staff decided to raise his minutes and role to the team. His play as of late made it easy for the team to move T-Rex Thompson who fall in the rotation in favor of Egezeke. Doze is listed as the starter but he is basically splitting time with Zeke. The 6'7" beefy PF has shown that he can contribute defensively and willing to do the dirty work, setting hard picks, contesting shots actively and defending the post. He is one of the reason why the Fireballs is ranked #1 in screen assists and 7th in contested shots. Doze is still trying to find his consistency but he is young and the team is being patient with him and his development, like Egezeke his intangibles and defense has been a key factor for the team.
CENTERS: The emergence of James Spencer has to be one of the surprises this season for the Fireballs, acquired from the blockbuster trade this offseason, Spencer has legitimately proved he can play in this league after he left Taquan Slattery's shadows. A double-double regular and a rebounding machine with an inside presence that is hard to penetrate, Spencer has solidify his case as the Fireballs 3rd star alongside LaCruz and Curry. His offensive game has been evolving and his activity in the boards truly is in the elite level. Backing up Spencer is Ivan Vujosevic, the young Serbian big man has shown some flashes of what he can do and is getting more looks now that T-Rex is gone. He is getting a few minutes at the center position relieving Spencer. Egezeke is also getting some minutes at the center position despite being just 6'7", as his defensive presence helps gap the time when Spencer rests. T-Rex used to be the main recipient of the leftover center minutes but since he was traded Vujo and Zeke has been sharing the load.
FIREBALLS BY THE NUMBERS:
Games Played - 52
Standing - 30-27 (8th in the West/4th in the Pac Div)
Power Rankings - 12th
Notable Team Rankings (Top 10 Ranks)
2nd in Points Scored - 6999
6th in FGM - 2668
8th in FGA - 5585
1st in FTM - 1153
2nd in FTA - 1501
5th in OREB - 891
5th in STL - 528
1st in PPG - 122.8
3rd in FGMPG - 46.3
4th in FGAPG - 98
9th in FG% - 0.478
1st in FTMPG - 20.2
2nd in FTAPG - 26.3
4th in FT% - 0.768
4th in ORPG - 15.6
8th in DRPG - 34.9
6th in RPG - 50.6
2nd in SPG - 9.3
3rd in Trans PPG - 18.7
9th in ORtg - 117.9
2nd in Pace - 103.6
3rd in FT Rate - 0.269
6th in OREB % - 0.309
3rd in FT/FGA - 0.206
7th in Contested Shots - 77
1st in Screen Assists - 22
5th in Loose Balls Recovered - 5