The nature of playing in the NBA G League can present more highs and lows than nearly any other professional sport. Now in what is part of his sixth season with the Sioux Falls Skyforce, veteran guard Bubu Palo has been through it all.
In just his second year as a pro during the 2015-16 season, Palo played a key role in winning the Skyforce franchise its third championship, and its first as a member of the NBA G League. Including that season under Head Coach Dan Craig, Palo has now had to adjust to four different coaches in his six seasons with the franchise, but he’s risen to the occasion each time.
“It’s really been an adjustment every year,” Palo said of his time with the Skyforce. “But overall, I’m pretty blessed, even with the coaching changes. I’m fortunate to have a relationship with the Miami HEAT. First thing that pops up is culture with the HEAT. I think the coaches have done a good job of bringing that same culture to Sioux Falls. Luckily for me, being a part of the HEAT and Skyforce for so long, I have some of those habits ingrained in me. That has made the transition a bit easier.”
It’s becoming less common for players to “stick it out” in the G League for longer than a few seasons, so why has the Ames, IA native made the choice to return to Sioux Falls each year?
“The organization has everything you need to develop; with the facilities, coaches and the fans in the community, it really makes it a special place,” Palo explained. “This opportunity has been a great option for me to keep going and will hopefully be a pathway to reach my goals.”
“Sioux Falls reminds me a lot of home. It’s a real close, tight-knit community, and they have really embraced me and have made me feel like family. The community really rallies behind and embraces us as a team, and they really make you feel a part of it, and it’s very welcoming.”
Kasib Powell, now in his fourth season as an assistant coach for the Skyforce, noted how crucial it is to have a player like Palo around.
“He’s a great guy,” Powell expressed. “Bubu stays to himself, for the most part. When you get to know him, he’s very intellectual and I’m able to have good conversation with him always. Whether it’s about sports, or just about regular things in life. He’s a well-rounded individual that you know can relate to a lot of different people.
“Just to have somebody that you know you can rely on and will be dependable and is a professional is huge. It’s always good to have a professional guy that you know will be there year in and year out. He’s a solid guy to have in this organization.”
As time has passed, Palo has found himself embracing the role of a leader, especially this season. Seven-of-12 players on the current roster are under the age of 25 years old.
“I used to be one of the younger guys on the team and even when I was one of them, we’ve kind of always had an older group,” Palo added. “So, with the youth movement coming in, it’s just a breath of fresh air and the energy’s been refreshing. It’s been fun to be more of a leader. I’m able to pass some of that wisdom down and that’s been a new adjustment for me that I’ve been enjoying.”
Palo’s continued development as a leader is something that Powell has noticed over the years as well.
“My first year here, he was coming from a championship team where his voice maybe wasn’t as loud, and each year he just becomes more of a leader,” he said. “The growth of him being a leader from my first year here to now is tremendous and is something we need with a younger team.”
Even though he’s emerged as a leader, Palo lets his play do the talking. Last season, he closed in on his first all-time records with the Skyforce. He currently sits atop the all-time charts for free throws made (728) and free throws attempted (916).
“It’s been great to watch him play, because I’m actually seeing him break records right in front of me,” Powell said of Palo’s continued accomplishments. “Being a part of that and seeing him get those different accolades and being a part of it is something that I cherish, and I don’t take for granted. Being in the Skyforce Hall of Fame, I see the different things he’s doing with his game and he’s headed in that same direction.”
Palo, who has found himself back in the starting lineup in recent games, is averaging 6.9 points, 3.3 assists and 2.2 rebounds in 27 games played this season, inching closer to even more franchise records.
He credits his routines and work ethic over the course of his career in how he’s been able to climb the ranks among the best in Skyforce franchise history.
“Habits have been ingrained in me,” Palo said. “How I carry myself and how I handle myself is how I try to lead. Habits aren’t built overnight. It’s a lot of hard work and that’s starting to pay off.”
Ahead of the Skyforce contest against the Santa Cruz Warriors on Friday, Palo is currently third in the record books for games played (181), fourth in minutes played (4,967), sixth in assists (670), seventh in three-point-percentage (.399) and ninth in points (2,001). He’s one of only nine players in franchise history to have scored over 2,000 points and can pass former teammate Keith Benson (2,003) for eighth all-time on Friday night.
“It means a lot to me,” Palo said of records broken and those he’s closing in on. “I’ve been here a while and that wasn’t necessarily planned, but through my time here to be able to leave a mark and have a relationship with the community that has grown each year is huge.
“It’s something that I can look back and be proud of the accomplishments that I’ve been able to accumulate while I’ve been here. It has been a testament to the great coaches and teammates that I’ve had along the way, and I’m just thankful for it all as I continue to keep building.”
As he continues to hone his craft on the court, Palo has also grown in a lot of ways as a person off the court during his time in Sioux Falls.
“I’ve spent a lot of time as a human being here,” he stated. “I’ve had the chance to develop and grow here on a lot of different levels. The community has done a great job of welcoming me and making me feel a part of it, and that’s part of reason I keep coming back. It’s something that I really cherish.”
👀 Back at it! 📚
Skyforce players Bubu Palo and Shane Richards visited classes of fifth grade students at Lowell Elementary School today to help with story writing! 📝 pic.twitter.com/fZIOKtEvuT
— Sioux Falls Skyforce (@SFSkyforce) January 21, 2020