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12 Games: 12 Takeaways

By Matt Dykstra | December 7, 2017
  1. Torrey Craig is in a league of his own.

When Torrey Craig is on the court, the atmosphere in the building changes. Whether it’s at the Sanford Pentagon or in an opponents’ building, fans tune in when #5 steps onto the court. There’s an increased confidence seen in his teammates, and opposing teams are forced to account for his every action. On a Skyforce roster that features plenty of star potential, Craig has proved himself to be the most polarizing player on both ends of the floor, averaging 24.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game.

  1. Erik McCree’s offensive skillset is the real deal.

Erik McCree came into the season without the same pedigree or history as some of his Skyforce teammates. He’s a rookie out of Louisiana Tech, he’s not on a two-way contract with anyone, and he has no NBA G League or major NCAA accolades to his name. None of that has stopped McCree from averaging 19.0 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.

McCree has reached double figures in the scoring column nine times in 10 games played so far this season, and leads the team with six 20+ point performances. He burst onto the scene with a 29-point outing in the first game of the season, and has served as one of the most consistent contributors on the offensive end of the floor so far this year.

  1. Tony Mitchell’s still got it.

It’s hard to argue with numbers. Tony Mitchell might not be as flashy as he was during his Rookie of the Year season in 2012-13, but he still gets the job done. He’s been one of the most consistent offensive centerpieces for the Skyforce so far this season, averaging 19.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. Mitchell’s shooting a team-best 38.8 percent from beyond the arc, and has made a team-high 33 three-point field goals on the season. He’s got a smooth mid-range and post-up game, and can score from almost anywhere on the floor.

Mitchell is not afraid of any moment, and he’s proven to be one of the best closers on the team. He scored 23 points in the fourth quarter alone against the Grand Rapids Drive on Friday, November 24 earlier this year, and recently scored 14 points in the final quarter against the Agua Caliente Clippers. Both games were on the road, and Sioux Falls was victorious in each one.

  1. Kadeem Jack is ultra-efficient and it’s starting to be noticed.

Kadeem Jack has now started three games for the Skyforce this season, and has posted quality-if-not-massive numbers in each game he’s received over 20 minutes of playing time. That’s been the trend throughout his career. Whenever he’s gotten the minutes, he’s thrived.

This is starting to become commonplace early this season. On Monday, November 27 Jack started in place of AJ Hammons, who missed the game due to an illness. Jack played a season-high 33 minutes and posted 20 points to go along with a career-high 19 rebounds in the win. Jack is shooting a team-best 62.7 percent from the field this season, and is averaging 9.4 points and 6.6 rebounds in just over 20 minutes per game.

  1. When Skyforce control the paint, they control the game.

Put simply, the Skyforce are just 1-5 when being outscored by their opponent in the paint this season. On the contrary, when the Skyforce manage to outscore their opponent in this category, or even tie them, the team is 5-1. For a team that hoists over 40 three-point shots per game this season, the deciding factor has been Sioux Falls’ success near the rim.

On a similar note, when the Skyforce either tie or outrebound their opponent, the team is 3-0 this season. On the other hand, when they’re outrebound by their opponent they’re just 3-6. Needless to say, rebounds and points in the paint have meant all the difference for the Skyforce this season, and may need to become a larger point of emphasis going forward.

  1. Much like the NBA, the Western Conference has provided stiff competition.

The Western Conference is a tough place to be in the NBA G League this season. With teams like the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (11-3), the South Bay Lakers (9-2), and the Santa Cruz Warriors (9-5), matching up with a Western Conference foe is not for the faint of heart.

The Skyforce are just 2-5 on the season against Western Conference opponents, being swept two games to none thus far by both the Vipers and the Warriors. In stark contrast, Sioux Falls holds a 3-1 record against eastern conference opponents this season, and in their one loss (to the Lakeland Magic) they trailed by as many as 22 points. The silver lining here for the Skyforce can be found in that they remain only one game back from the division leader, the Oklahoma City Blue, who sit with a 7-6 record on the year. There’s still plenty of time to turn things around and recapture the division lead.

  1. When the Skyforce are healthy, they can be really good.

The Skyforce have been missing at least one of their key contributors in eight of 12 total games this season, and that’s not including the fact that Derrick Walton Jr. missed the first four games while playing with the Miami HEAT, and Larry Drew II missed three games playing with USA Basketball.

Torrey Craig, Derrick Walton Jr., Larry Drew II, Tony Mitchell, Erik McCree, AJ Hammons, Ike Nwamu, Kadeem Jack, and Geron Johnson have all missed at least one game due to injury or illness so far this season, and we’re only 12 games in. On top of missing out on the obvious production that each player provides, the Skyforce have missed out on the opportunity for new teammates to gel with one another early in the year. As long as the team’s health continues to improve, so too will their record as the season goes on. They’ve proven they can be a dangerous matchup when on the floor together, and the more weapons Head Coach Nevada Smith has at his disposal, the better.

  1. Skyforce still haven’t played their best basketball this season.

The closest thing we’ve seen to the Skyforce firing on all cylinders was in their 136-100 victory over the Erie BayHawks at the end of November. It was a dominant performance as the team shot over 51 percent from the field, while Torrey Craig led the way with a 35-point, 11-rebound double-double. Kadeem Jack had a career night with 20 points and 19 rebounds, but outside of that, performances were just “okay” across the board.

Not everyone is going to have a breakout performance on the same night…that’s impossible. But the game saw Derrick Walton Jr. score just nine points and tally just five assists, while Matt Williams Jr. went 0-4 from the field and failed to score in the game. It was a good team win, to be sure, but Sioux Falls still has a lot more fire power that has yet to be unleashed.

  1. Derrick Walton Jr. is an equally good passer as he is a scorer.

Miami HEAT two-way player began the season known for his prolific scoring ability, coming off of a four-year collegiate career at Michigan which culminated in a Big Ten Championship and a run into the NCAA Tournament a season ago. Walton Jr.’s passing ability is no secret, but he’s proven to be even better-rounded with the ball in his hands than anticipated so far this season.

In each of the seven games Walton Jr. has played in for the Skyforce this season, he’s led the team in assists (including ties). Walton Jr. is tied for the lead with two double-doubles on the season, tallying 23 points and 10 assists over the Grand Rapids Drive and 12 points and 12 assists against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in back-to-back outings. Walton Jr. is averaging 7.1 assists per game on the season, second only to assist-maestro Larry Drew II (8.5).

  1. No such thing as home court advantage?

One year ago at this time, the Skyforce were in the midst of a 20-game home winning streak that tied the NBA G League’s record for most consecutive home wins spanning from the end of the 2015-16 season and into the 2016-17 season. Since the streak ended, it’s been an entirely different story. The Skyforce are now just 8-13 on their home floor since starting the 2016-17 season 10-0 in Sioux Falls.

The Skyforce have actually been better on the road so far this season than they have been at home. They hold just a 3-4 record at the Sanford Pentagon, which was once recently considered one of the toughest places to play in the league. Sioux Falls, however, holds a 3-2 record on the road this season, with one of those losses coming as the Austin Spurs downed them at the buzzer after the Skyforce led by upwards of 20 points earlier in the game. The Skyforce will have ample opportunity to get back on track on Heritage Court before month’s end, as the team has a five-game home stand spanning just 11 days at the end of December and into early January.

  1. The Skyforce are less three-point dependent than you might think.

40 three-pointers. That’s how many long-range attempts the Skyforce are averaging per game this season, good enough to rank first in the NBA G League. However, the Skyforce rank just 19th in three-point percentage on the season. That’s not a great combination. Nevertheless, as much as it seems like the Skyforce live and die by the three-point field goal, whether those shots are falling or not have had little-to-no impact on the end results of games so far this season.

On one hand, the Skyforce once made 19-of-33 attempts (57.6 percent) from distance in a loss to the Austin Spurs earlier this season. On the other hand, the Skyforce made just 10-of-38 attempts (26.3 percent) in a win over the Grand Rapids Drive. As mentioned earlier, a large amount of Sioux Falls’ success is reliant on their ability to get to the rim, and win the battle in the paint. No number of made three-pointers has been able to overshadow that statistic yet this season. So, though they attempt over 40 threes per game, three-pointers are not what are winning and losing games for the Skyforce so far this season.

  1. It’s still early.

Everyone take a deep breath. After the Skyforce went just 2-5 in their last seven games (including four losses by at least 20 points), it was easy to view Sioux Falls’ 5-6 record as the beginning of the end. However, after the Skyforce bounced back nicely with a 117-112 road win over the Agua Caliente Clippers, things appear to be trending upwards.

We’re just 12 games into a 50-game regular season, and the Skyforce appear to be getting healthy (finally) once again in recent days. Sioux Falls has had nine different players miss time due to injury or illness already this season, and there have been signs that they can be a much better team than their 6-6 record would suggest to this point.