The 2019 NBA Playoffs are officially underway, and though there are six total former Skyforce players in the mix, this article focuses on a few you should keep a close eye on as the postseason progresses.
The Denver Nuggets lineup features former Skyforce assignees Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez, alongside former two-way player Torrey Craig. Beasley came off the Nuggets’ bench to score 10 points (3-5 FG) in just 15 minutes in his NBA Playoffs debut last Saturday, while Craig recorded six points and four rebounds in just under 11 minutes, drawing some of the toughest defensive assignments in the process. Hernangomez did not enter Saturday’s game.
Beasley specifically has been a spark plug for the Nuggets this season, and has carried his energy into the playoffs. On Saturday, he sent the Pepsi Center into a frenzy by MISSING a dunk.
— Joel Rush (@JoelRushNBA) April 14, 2019
The Nuggets are one of two teams in this year’s NBA postseason that are receiving consistent and regular contributions from a former Skyforce player, with Beasley and Craig being legitimate difference-makers off the bench. Ahead of the Nuggets’ second game against the San Antonio Spurs tonight, let’s take a look back at the impact each former Skyforce player made during his time in Sioux Falls.
Beasley played in 16 games (12 starts) while on assignment during the 2016-17 season, averaging 18.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists in over 31 minutes per game. He tallied four double-doubles on his way to finding his stride near the end of the season, highlighted by a massive 32-point, 19-rebound and seven-assist double-double on March 30, 2017.
Craig appeared in 15 games (12 starts) for the Skyforce as a Denver Nuggets two-way player during the 2017-18 season, averaging 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.0 blocks per game. Though he spent a limited time in Sioux Falls, Craig was one of the most dominant players the franchise has seen on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. Craig nearly recorded a 5×5 game in his Skyforce debut, scoring 24 points and adding six rebounds, five assists, five steals and four blocks on November 4, 2017 against the Memphis Hustle.
Hernangomez’s stint in Sioux Falls was a short one, but he put on a show for the home-town fans in his one appearance. Hernangomez came off the bench to score 17 points, adding 11 rebounds and two blocks in just 26 minutes on January 6, 2017.
The Nuggets, however, aren’t the only team receiving legitimate contributions from a former Skyforce player this postseason. The Orlando Magic, who have exceeded expectations this season and were able to steal a game 1 victory over the Toronto Raptors last Saturday, were helped by the play of former Skyforce forward Khem Birch.
Birch played just 15 minutes off the bench for Orlando, but tallied six points, seven rebounds, an assist and a steal while converting some highlight-worthy and momentum-shifting plays for the Magic down the stretch. Birch has carved out an important role off the bench for the Magic this season, backing up NBA All-Star center Nikola Vucevic.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) April 13, 2019
The Force’s connection to this year’s Orlando Magic doesn’t stop with Birch, though, as former Skyforce head coach Pat Delany currently serves as an assistant coach under Steve Clifford on the Magic’s staff. Formerly with the Charlotte Hornets, Clifford brought Delany with him to Orlando prior to this season. Delany was then charged with coaching this year’s Orlando Magic Summer League team in Las Vegas.
Before Orlando’s second game against the Toronto Raptors tonight, let’s take a look back at what Khem Birch and Pat Delany were able to accomplish during their time in Sioux Falls.
Birch appeared in 49 games (33 starts) for the Skyforce during the 2014-15 season, averaging 11.2 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in just over 26 minutes per contest on his way to earning NBA G League All-Star honors. Birch tallied 87 blocks that season, placing him in ninth place for all-time blocks in franchise history. Birch also shot a team-high 70.3 percent from the field that season, helping the Skyforce reach the 2015 NBA G League Playoffs. In addition to being named an NBA G League All-Star, Birch was selected to the NBA G League All-Rookie Team following the season.
Delany, who served as head coach of the Skyforce during the 2013-14 season, was the first coach selected by the Miami HEAT after Sioux Falls and Miami announced their single-affiliation partnership in May of 2013. In the Force’s first year at the Sanford Pentagon, Delany led the team to a 31-19 record and reached the 2014 NBA G League Playoffs.
When we caught up with Delany prior to the season, he had nothing but good things to say about the city of Sioux Falls and spending time coaching in the NBA G League.
“I honestly was spoiled, from the standpoint of coaching in the NBA G League, in all avenues of my time there,” said Delany. “When I got an opportunity to meet with both Mike [Heineman] and Jeremy [DeCurtins] during the NBA Summer League in Orlando the year prior, from that point on I knew if I ever got the opportunity to be the head coach of the Skyforce, if the HEAT ever gave me that position, it was going to be an awesome experience for me. In all capacities, from head coaching, to living there, to learning the business side and working for a family-run organization like the Heinemans have established, having a brand new facility in the Sanford Pentagon, and having the best fan base in the league… It was an all-around learning experience for me, but it was a fun one that I’ll always reflect upon with people here in the NBA.”
Who, What, When and Where to Watch
Rounding out the Skyforce alumni on other NBA Playoff teams this season are Nate Tibbetts (Assistant Coach, Portland Trail Blazers), Shabazz Napier (Brooklyn Nets) and Amir Johnson (Philadelphia 76ers). Two of tonight’s three NBA Playoff games feature a chance to see a former Skyforce player in action. Times and viewing options listed below.
Orlando Magic at Toronto Raptors
7:00PM CT on TNT
Game 2, ORL leads 1-0
San Antonio Spurs at Denver Nuggets
8:00PM CT on NBATV
Game 2, SA leads 1-0
Oklahoma City Thunder at Portland Trail Blazers
9:30PM CT on TNT
Game 2, POR leads 1-0