The Los Angeles Lakers are terrible. Starting the season with a lineup that was already wrecked by injury, the team struggled and progressively got worse.
But the Lakers aren’t the only team in L.A. that started off slowly. The L.A. D-Fenders, the Lakers’ D-League affiliate team, started this season 5-7, only a year after making it to the NBADL championship.
Brandon Costner and C.J. Williams play for the D-Fenders, and both say that the team’s slow start can be attributed to unfamiliarity with their offensive system.
“We run the Lakers’ system, which runs five guys out [on the perimeter] and uses a lot of ball screens,” Williams said. “But it was just a learning experience for a lot of us, getting accustomed to this league and learning to play to the system.”
The hard part, Costner said, was finding cohesiveness as a team. As the season went on, the D-Fenders lost multiple players to signings by either the NBA or foreign leagues.
But, fortunately, the team battled through. The D-Fenders are currently one game back in the Pacific Division, going 15-8 since the start of 2014. And according to Costner, it was because his team became well-focused.
“I think the season has gone well,” Costner said. “With all the guys leaving, to be on such short notice when it comes to getting guys in [the rotation] and acclimated to the system, we have come together to play well as a team.”
Costner said that the changes in the locker room created a next man up mentality that allowed guys, including the two former Wolfpack members, to flourish.
For example, Williams started the season on the bench, averaging roughly 20 minutes a game. But around Jan. 18, he saw his minutes rise. After ten straight 30- and 40-minute games with double-digit scoring in eight of them, Williams became a key component in the team’s rise in the rankings.
“At the beginning of the season, I had to find my comfort level,” Williams said. “I wasn’t getting into the game often. But once coach gave me the opportunity to get into the starting lineup and get 30 and 40 minutes a game, I have been able to take advantage of it.”
Costner found his comfort level as well. Though he is scoring a career-low 13 points a game, he has become very effective of late, averaging 16.4 points in the month of February.
Costner says this is a product of his improving health. Last season, Costner broke his shinbone. After mission all of 2012-13, Costner said that the process has been a slow and painful one.
“Initially, I had to adapt to the flow of things,” Costner said. “It is hard to just jump right in after missing a whole year.
“But as my leg has gotten stronger, I have gotten more confident, and I feel like I am pretty much back to normal.”
Currently, neither Williams nor Costner has heard anything from NBA teams about a call up. And with March 1 being the deadline for players to sign contracts and remain postseason eligible, it appears that both guys will finish the season as D-Fenders.
Costner and Williams said that all they are focused on right now is helping the team reach the playoffs and winning an NBADL championship. They can deal with business portions of basketball after the season is over.
“One thing that all my coaches have told me to control what I control,” Williams said. “And all I can do right now is continue to play hard and well here.”