The Sioux Falls Skyforce sat with a 9-13 record after December, having lost seven of 10 games to end the month. At the time, playoffs seemed like an afterthought, but it was “still early”. Since then, the team has won 15 of their last 21 games, including a six-game winning streak during the month of February to retake the divisional lead with a 24-19 record.
The right mix of players and a little bit of confidence has made all the difference for the Force, who have now won eight of their last 10 games, while the Oklahoma City Blue (23-20) and the Iowa Wolves (18-22) are 4-6 and 2-8 over their last 10 games respectively. A decisive 125-102 win over the Memphis Hustle tied Sioux Falls with Oklahoma City entering the much-needed all-star break, and the Skyforce have now built a 1.0 game lead on the Blue over the last couple weeks.
Sioux Falls has found success while featuring a smaller lineup of late, and among those responsible for the recent shift in mentality is Sioux Falls’ trio of guards in Derrick Walton Jr., Larry Drew II, and Briante Weber. According to Head Coach Nevada Smith, “they’re all too good not to have on the floor.” Featuring a lineup with three players that stand at 6-2 or under may seem like a disadvantage, but playing smaller and faster has been one of the keys to success in recent weeks. The lineup has been put on hold since Derrick Walton Jr. returned to the HEAT via his two-way contract, but Larry Drew II and Briante Weber have picked up the slack in his absence.
“The three-guard lineup we’ve been using, those guys have all learned how to play with each other and share the ball,” said Skyforce forward Kadeem Jack. “It kind of all started with them because it’s a very unorthodox thing to do in this league. They had to experience success doing that for us to be successful so I think once those guys started to click, it was easy for everyone else to fall into place and do their job. Those guys have had to adapt to a new style of basketball, and I think we started winning really quickly as soon as that lineup started to get used to playing together.”
The Force have had a thin frontcourt over the last few weeks, as he and Jimmie Taylor represent the only legitimate inside threats for Sioux Falls. Jack has not missed his opportunity to shine, averaging 17.0 points and 8.2 rebounds while shooting 75.0 percent from the field in that span. His improved efficiency, he says, is a direct result of how the backcourt trio has been moving the ball lately.
“They’ve definitely freed things up for me,” said Jack. “We have three guys that are always threats to hit me on rolls and cuts to the basket. I know I have to be aware and have my head up every second I’m on the floor. Certain guys you know you might not be getting the ball from, so you can go set a screen or look to get into a better position, but with these guys you always got to be aware of what you’re doing. Someone like Briante might not even look at you for an entire possession, and then whip it to you late in the shot clock. I’ve loved it, because they’re so good at seeing the floor and I’ve gotten more touches.”
Coming off of a dominant home victory over the Santa Cruz Warriors, Sioux Falls now embarks on a three-game road trip that will start in Austin, Texas against the Western Conference-leading Spurs (27-16). The Spurs defeated the Skyforce on a last-second layup in their lone matchup to this point in the season, a game in which Denver Nuggets two-way player Torrey Craig exited early with an injury. However, Sioux Falls features an entirely new roster than they did on November 14. Briante Weber, Alonzo Gee, and Derrick Jones Jr. had yet to join the Skyforce roster at the time, and Jimmie Taylor went down as a DNP – Coaches Decision.
If Sioux Falls is able to keep its core of players together for the last seven games of the regular season, they’re in shape to make some dangerous waves as they head toward the playoffs. However, with talents such as Weber, Tony Mitchell and former NBA veteran Alonzo Gee, the Skyforce could see some of their most consistent players receive NBA Call-Ups in the near future. Not to mention, Miami HEAT two-way players Derrick Walton Jr. and Derrick Jones Jr. each have NBA days left in their contract. Albeit not many, if Walton and Jones Jr. are called back to the parent club at the wrong time, the Force could be left short-handed for some key matchups near the end of the season. However, that’s NBA G League basketball at its finest, and it’s certainly nothing new for Coach Smith, now coaching in his fourth full season in the league.