Tuesday, 26 September 2017 11:34

Good start by Muscle threatened by injury

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2021 was expected to be another painful year in the motor city.  Coming off of the worst season in franchise history, the Muscle committed to a total rebuild by shedding veteran salary and making a total commitment to youth.  But a funny thing happened on the inevitable march to the #1 overall pick--it turns out that the Muscle are a pretty deep team getting solid contribution from their bench.    After 17 games, the Muscle check in with a 9-8 record, good for 3rd place in the American East Division and ahead of pre-season darling Philadelphia.  

The Muscle's surge to mediocrity has been fueled thanks in large part to a rebuilt front court featuring three first-round draft picks.  Starting PF Chris Spitz was drafted 9th overall in the June Draft after an superstar career at the University of California.  Spitz was a Freshman All-American, three-time first-team All-Pac-10, two time Pac-10 Player of the Year, and a 1st Team All American in his Senior year with the Golden Bears.   Despite his college pedigree, Spitz fell on many draft lists because he was considered too slow to play SF (his college position) in the OBWL and too short to play PF.  GM Mark Sands was thrilled to get Spitz, who was near the top of the Muscle war board.  That confidence has paid off.  Spitz has been a solid fixture in the Muscle lineup, averaging 10.8 ppg and 6.5 rpg, all while playing stout defense and making a minimum of fouls.  While he needs to be more efficient (he has a 49.2% TS%), Spitz looks to be at the beginning of a great career.  Joining Spitz in the starting lineup is 27-year-old C Ray Granger, who was signed as a free agent from the Denver Demons.  Granger has solidified the front-court with outstanding rebounding and tough defense in the post.  Granger is averaging 9.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg, and 3.7 bpg to start the season.

Backing up Granger and Spitz is 2018 10th overall pick Derrick Van Pelt.  Van Pelt is in his 2nd full season with the Muscle, after spending 2018 and 2019 bouncing back and forth between the Muscle and its OBDL affiliate.  Van Pelt has solidified his role as a key 6th man, with career bests in mpg (23.4), points (9.8), rebounds (6.1), and most critically has reduced his fouls/36 minutes by nearly 1.  Also getting significant minutes for the first time in his career is PF/C Lucas Williams, who was selected with the 9th overall pick in the 2019 draft.  Williams, an exceptional offensive rebounder who is a real force on the inside, forced his way into the Muscle rotation thanks to an exceptional training camp.  "It was clear that Lucas had worked extremely hard over the off-season," stated GM Mark Sands.  "We had planned to send him back to the OBDL again, but the he showed up and just outplayed everybody else on the roster.  The kid made it so that we had no choice but to put him into the rotation and give him minutes."  Williams is averaging 3.9 ppg and 2.7 rpg in just under 21 mpg.  Which he isn't scoring much, he has been a very efficient shooter and at just 21 year old, has plenty of time to improve as his playing time increases.

But the Muscle's good feelings are in jeopardy after Granger tore a ligament and team doctors opined that he would miss 2 months due to that injury.  This is the 7th season in a row that the Muscle have lost a starter for more than 10 games--Everett Dolinish for 13 games in 2015; Shawn Pace for 10 games in 2016; Trevon Booth for 24 games in 2017; Hollis Warren for 20 games in 2018; Warren again for 29 games in 2019; and Jimmy Cacace for 11 games in 2020.  The Muscle will turn their eyes to 33-year-old Gene Cantell, who is on the last legs of a distinguished career.  With the team expected not to compete, Cantell's minutes have been reduced to give more playing time to the team's young talent.  But in 2020, Cantell showed that he has some game left, averaging 10.7 ppg, and 5.6 rpg in just over 32 mpg.  Does he have another 23 good starts left in those legs?  The Muscle better hope so.


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