1. The slump is over.
The Sioux Falls Skyforce entered last week’s MGM Resorts Winter Showcase on a four-game slide, needing to right the ship in a competitive Midwest Division. After back-to-back convincing wins in Las Vegas, it’s safe to say the recent Skyforce woes are officially over.
More important than Sioux Falls’ two showcase wins was the manner in which they won. First, the Skyforce displayed the ability to shut the door on an opponent, something it did so well early on in the season. The Force led the Canton Charge by as many as 21 points on Thursday night, and after a second-half Charge run, closed out the game with a 13-point victory. On the following night, Sioux Falls found itself on the wrong side of a 15-point deficit, trailing the Maine Red Claws in the first half before narrowing the deficit to just five points at halftime. In the second half, it was all Skyforce before ultimately achieving a 20-point, 104-94 win.
2. Jarnell Stokes is back…officially.
After a somewhat underwhelming return for the former NBA G League MVP in his first four games with the Skyforce, Jarnell Stokes found his stride and earned 2018 MGM Resorts All-NBA G League First Team honors in doing so. Vintage Stokes was on full display as he averaged 23.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game in the two contests.
Stokes has eclipsed 20 points in each of his last two games, and tallied career-highs with five blocks and four steals in Thursday’s win over the Canton Charge. Now averaging 15.2 points and 10.0 rebounds per game on the season, Stokes appears to have officially made his return. The first few years of Stokes’ career have been a roller coaster, but the 24-year-old still has plenty left in the tank and will look to continue to prove that as the season progresses.
3. Sioux Falls’ defense is the real deal.
The two Winter Showcase victories marks the first time under Head Coach Nevada Smith that the Skyforce defense has held its opponents under 100 points in back-to-back games. Known for playing at one of the NBA G League’s fastest paces, the Skyforce typically rely on outscoring opponents in a game with increases possessions.
After struggling in recent games, especially in the second half, Sioux Falls made a statement while holding the Maine Red Claws to just 34 second-half points on Friday night. In what ultimately ended up being a 38-point swing from being down by 15, to leading by 23, the Skyforce defense held the Red Claws to just 38.5 percent from the field in the win.
4. The Skyforce is finally healthy again.
Depth is extremely important in the NBA G League, especially when two-way players and NBA Call-Ups can leave a team short-handed at a moment’s notice. The Winter Showcase marked the return of both Malik Newman and Charles Cooke III after each of them had missed the last three games with a hamstring injury and a concussion respectively.
Cooke III in particular played a major role off the bench last week, most recently tallying 10 points, seven rebounds, and five assists while providing a defensive spark off the bench for Sioux Falls in Friday’s victory. With talents such as Cooke III, accompanied by the likes of Raphiael Putney and Rodney Purvis coming off of the bench, the Skyforce have one of the league’s best second units and will look to continue to capitalize on that going forward.
5. Winning is possible without Yante Maten.
After Miami HEAT two-way player Yante Maten was transferred back to the HEAT, there was a sense of mystery heading into Sioux Falls’ two Winter Showcase matchups. Maten hadn’t missed a game yet this season, and was due for some time in the NBA. However, it had remained to be seen whether the Skyforce could survive without Maten’s team-leading 27.0 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.
In the absence of Maten, Jarnell Stokes and Raphiael Putney stepped up to fill the gap. Putney and Stokes combined for 72 points, 42 rebounds and 11 blocks in the two-game span, erasing any doubt that, although Maten remains a vital piece to the Sioux Falls puzzle this season, it’s possible to win without him.