The 2017-18 NBA G League season was a roller coaster for the Sioux Falls Skyforce, serving as a perfect example of how the ever-changing roster landscape can directly impact wins and losses along the way. A smooth start was followed by a massive drought. Then, the Skyforce ascended to one of the best teams in the league before falling, hard, out of playoff contention.
November began swimmingly. The Skyforce jumped out to a 4-1 record early on led by Denver Nuggets two-way player Torrey Craig, who may be one of the most talented players Sioux Falls has ever seen. The Skyforce ultimately went 6-4 in the 10 games Craig was in uniform, and could have easily gone 7-3 if he hadn’t been injured in the fourth quarter of a tight road game against the Austin Spurs on November 14. With Craig’s departure to the NBA, the Force began tinkering with the lineup in order to find a new go-to scorer and playmaker to depend on. The result: finishing the month of December with an overall record of just 9-13, tied with the Memphis Hustle for last place in the Midwest Division.
With the new year came new stability within the rotation, and the additions of Briante Weber (who was waived by the Houston Rockets) and Derrick Jones Jr. (who was signed as a two-way player by the Miami HEAT) Sioux Falls found itself with an abundance of firepower at its disposal. The Force found success in sticking with a small-ball lineup, which on occasion featured Briante Weber, Larry Drew II and Derrick Walton Jr. on the floor at the same time. Their ability to move the ball and get to the rim increased shooting percentages across the board, and allowed complementary players like Kadeem Jack, Ike Nwamu and Matt Williams Jr. to thrive.
After a six-game winning streak to start the month of February, Sioux Falls was the team to beat heading into the final month of the season. They had surpassed the Oklahoma City Blue for the Midwest Division lead and were playing their best basketball of the season. As a result, Head Coach Nevada Smith earned NBA G League Coach of the Month honors for games played in February for the first time in his career.
ICYMI | Head Coach Nevada Smith was named @nbagleague Coach of the Month for the month of February after leading the Force to a 6-1 record.
— Sioux Falls Skyforce (@SFSkyforce) March 2, 2018
However, Coach Smith was almost immediately thrown yet another curve ball when Briante Weber earned an NBA Call-Up to the Memphis Grizzlies. Larry Drew II earned his second call-up of the season when he signed a 10-day contract with the New Orleans Pelicans (his first call-up to a team other than Philadelphia), and a brief return by Torrey Craig was ended when he was transferred back to the Nuggets.
ROSTER UPDATE: We have signed Briante Weber (@Sir_deuce2) to
a 10-day contract.
— Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) March 14, 2018
In just 24 hours, the Force had lost three of their most influential players, and were about to play an important divisional game against the Memphis Hustle in an attempt to pull further away from the Blue approaching the 2018 NBA G League playoffs. With little time to game plan and make up for their missing pieces, the Force were unsurprisingly blown out in a game where they lacked identity, defense, and playmaking ability.
In the ensuing weeks, Sioux Falls lost control of their own destiny, and ultimately missed the playoffs. As disappointing as the stretch run was, Miami HEAT Vice President of Basketball Operations Andy Elisburg provided some insight on what success in the NBA G League is all about in an interview with the Sun Sentinel’s Ira Winderman.
“It’s a developmental league,” Elisburg said. “Its different from the NBA, where you obviously want guys to stay. In the G League, you’re looking for guys to promote up to the next level. That’s what you’re there for, for guys to get to the next level.”
It was yet another season of at least three NBA Call-Ups for the Skyforce, and the development of young players like Ike Nwamu and Matt Williams Jr. is undeniable. Nwamu, a second-year guard out of UNLV, became an impact player toward the latter half of the season. Nwamu set a new franchise record with 144 made three-pointers in a single season, which is no small feat considering the organization’s 29-year history. Known mostly for his athleticism coming out of college, Nwamu vaulted himself up to fifth-place in franchise history for career three-pointers made (227) in just two seasons.
Along with Nwamu’s record-breaking season came other successes, such as a franchise record 42 assists as a team on December 8, 2017 in an overtime loss to the South Bay Lakers. Larry Drew II tallied 14 assists and Tony Mitchell added 10 to lead the way. Sioux Falls fans also witnessed Larry Drew II surpass the 1000-career assist mark, becoming just the fourth player in franchise history to do so. Lastly, Briante Weber cracked the franchise top-10 in career steals. Now with 190 thefts, Weber passed former teammate and two-time defensive player of the year DeAndre Liggins for 8th all-time.
Larry Drew II records his 1,000th career assist on an Ike Nwamu 👌
Drew II is now one of 4 players in franchise history to hit that mark! 🔥 pic.twitter.com/AuDsis9IPl
— Sioux Falls Skyforce (@SFSkyforce) March 7, 2018
All-in-all, Sioux Falls’ overall record of 25-25 this season should go down as anything but a failure. Though missing the playoffs stings, the league has grown increasingly competitive over the last few seasons, and is filled with more talent now than it has ever had in the past. This year marked the sixth-straight season the Force have finished at least .500 or better, an impressive mark in what is now a highly competitive league.
Ultimately, the goal is to develop players. With Derrick Walton Jr. (Miami HEAT), Derrick Jones Jr. (Miami HEAT), and Torrey Craig (Denver Nuggets) finishing the season with their respective NBA clubs, and with Larry Drew II now in his second 10-day contract with the New Orleans Pelicans, we’ve seen that goal come to a fruition yet again this season.
— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) March 26, 2018