FORT WAYNE – Not long ago, being traded to the Mad Ants might not have seemed like such a great deal. The bulk of the team’s seven-season existence has been spent at the bottom of the standings.
But since the middle of last season, the Mad Ants have been among the D-League’s best teams. They got their first playoff berth in 2013. They set a franchise record this season by going eight games over .500. And they’re currently atop the East Division.
So when Matt Bouldin was traded by the Delaware 87ers to the Mad Ants on Feb. 14 for a second-round draft pick, he was excited and that, as much as anything, signifies this new age of Mad Ants winning basketball.
It feels good to be here, said Bouldin, who has played five games with the Mad Ants (23-14), especially coming from where I was. We were in last place in Delaware (11-29). It’s a good feeling here, and it’s a different atmosphere, and it’s fun to be a part of it.
Bouldin, 26, is a 6-foot-5 guard/forward out of Gonzaga. Aside from the D-League, he’s played in Greece, Israel and the Adriatic League.
With the 87ers, he averaged 11.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 37 games. With the Mad Ants, he’s averaged 13.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists, an increase in production all the more impressive because it’s not easy to crack the Fort Wayne lineup.
The Mad Ants have a lot of similar players – Bouldin, all-star Ron Howard, Trey McKinney-Jones, Memphis Grizzlies prospect Jamaal Franklin – who can do everything from run the point to be a small forward. Bouldin always believed the Mad Ants would find a place for him on the court, though.
I understand they had to integrate me into the offense, he said. Some of these guys have been here a long time. But you need to get used to everything and the guys have been great. And the coaches have been great, and it hasn’t been that hard.
Bouldin’s value increased Tuesday, when the Milwaukee Bucks signed Mad Ants star Tony Mitchell to a 10-day contract. Mitchell, the D-League’s Rookie of the Year last season, averaged 19.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 21 games this season, when he also won his second straight slam dunk championship at the D-League All-Star Game.
Because the Bucks have the worst record in the NBA, few would be surprised if they have an extended look at Mitchell, who replaced Caron Butler after his contract was bought out and he moved to Oklahoma City.
The Mad Ants play tonight and Sunday at Maine (16-21). The Red Claws have former IPFW star Frank Gaines, who has averaged 20.1 points and 3.5 rebounds in 35 games during his rookie season.
Bouldin will be an integral part of easing the loss of Mitchell for the Mad Ants.
I just try to make plays for other people and try to knock down shots, he said. That’s really it. Create for others and make as many open jumpers as I can make and play within the game.