The Skyforce have started the New Year with an 10-4 record, and have fought their way back over .500 with a record of 19-17 on the season. In a closely contested divisional race for the playoffs, it’s a good time for the Force to be playing their best basketball, and Head Coach Nevada Smith isn’t singling anyone out when offering praise to his frequently short-handed team. There has been a shift in mentality from December to now, and according to Coach Smith, one area of improvement has played a large role in that.
“The defensive intensity, I think, has been better,” said Coach Smith after today’s practice. “We’re coming out with a mindset to stop people. I think our energy level through 48 minutes has been better than it was previously, and it’s reflecting on both sides of the ball. We’ve been really good on offense [over the last month] and it’s because our defense has been really good.”
A different player has stepped up in each of the last seven games for the Force. On February 2 in a win over the division-leading Oklahoma City Blue, Miami HEAT two-way player Derrick Walton Jr. poured in a career-high 41 points and 11 rebounds while making 9-of-11 attempts from beyond the arc.
In the win before that, it was Ike Nwamu who dropped a career-high 37 points and Kadeem Jack who matched a career-high with 28 points. Most recently, it was Briante Weber who led the Skyforce over the Reno Bighorns turning in a 27-point, 11-rebound double-double.
This team-oriented approach has saved the Skyforce from spiraling as their roster has been a revolving door of players in recent weeks. Both Tony Mitchell and Alonzo Gee have missed games recently due to personal reasons, Larry Drew II recently returned from a 10-day NBA Call-Up to the Philadelphia 76ers, and Derrick Jones Jr. has been such a consistent contributor for the Miami HEAT that he can’t be counted on in a game-to-game basis. Nevertheless, the Force are thriving in 2018.
“I think everyone’s been playing pretty well,” said Coach Smith. “Both bigs are playing well. All of our little guards are playing well. Our shooters are making shots. Everyone’s playing their role very well right now.”
With a depletion of wings and big men, Sioux Falls continues to rely heavily on the deadly backcourt trio of Derrick Walton Jr., Larry Drew II and Briante Weber. The three primary ball handlers all started this weekend in a back-to-back sweep of the Reno Bighorns, and they slashed the Blue last Friday to the tune of 70 combined points, 27 combined assists and 23 combined rebounds. With only one healthy big man in Kadeem Jack, who still only stands at 6-feet, 9-inches the Force have adjusted to playing smaller and faster than they have all season.
Starting the three-headed monster that is Weber, Walton Jr. and Drew II worked to perfection against the Bighorns, but is starting three different ball-dominant guards something that can be sustained throughout the remainder of the season?
“Honestly, I don’t know,” said Smith. “Every game’s different. We’ll see what the matchups dictate, but they’re all going to play. They’re all going to play at least 30 minutes, we just have to figure out how to get them there.”
We may need to wait a few more games before we truly find out how these three will continue to mesh on the court, but depth is certainly never a bad thing. The most dangerous part of the trio, is that they all average over 7.0 assists per game, a number they’ll look to continue to build on as the team heads into its game against division-rival, the Memphis Hustle on Tuesday, February 13.