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SKYFORCE ALUMNI TRACKER: 2019 NBA PLAYOFF EDITION

By Matt Dykstra | April 25, 2019

Torrey Craig, Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez and the Denver Nuggets lead the San Antonio Spurs 3-2, and have a chance to clinch the series with a victory in tonight’s matchup. Meanwhile, Assistant Coach Nate Tibbetts and the Portland Trail Blazers, with the help of a Damian Lillard dagger at the buzzer, just ended the Oklahoma City Thunder’s campaign.

However, it’s not been smooth sailing for all Skyforce alumni in the 2019 NBA Playoffs. Assistant Coach Pat Delany, Khem Birch and the Orlando Magic were just ousted by the Toronto Raptors 4-1 after stealing the opening game of the series in Toronto. In addition, Shabazz Napier and the Brooklyn Nets were sent packing by the Philadelphia 76ers in similar fashion with Philly taking the series in just five games as well.

Though their teams were sent home early, Napier and Birch took full advantage of their minutes in the final game of their 2018-19 campaign. On the other hand, Craig and Beasley have both come up with some BIG performances for the Nuggets in recent games. Below is a glimpse into how each former Force player did, or is still doing, in this year’s NBA playoff run.

Still Alive, Still Thriving

Malik Beasley

As mentioned in the last article, Beasley remains an important spark plug off the bench for the Denver Nuggets. In five playoff appearances so far, Beasley has averaged 11.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game. On April 18, Beasley poured in an NBA Playoff career-high with 20 points and nine rebounds, playing 27.5 minutes in the eventual loss. Most recently, Beasley notched 11 points in 26.5 minutes off the bench in the Nuggets’ win on Tuesday.

Beasley has scored in double-figures three times in five games so far, and is shooting 48.7 percent from the field and a blistering 57.9 percent from beyond the three-point arc this postseason. If the Nuggets hope to make a legitimate run at the Western Conference Finals, Beasley will have to keep performing at a high level with the second unit.

Torrey Craig

Torrey Craig makes game-winning plays. The former Skyforce two-way player has always gone about his business, excelled at his role and has never demanded too much attention or recognition. He’s a chameleon. You can bring him off the bench in the fourth quarter to guard the other team’s best player, and he won’t let you down. You can start him and play him 40 minutes and rely on him to score the ball, and he won’t let you down.

Craig has proved his versatility through his first five NBA Playoff appearances this year. He’s currently averaging 7.4 points and 5.6 rebounds in just over 19 minutes per game, but those numbers don’t do justice to the impact he’s made on the court. After coming off the bench for the first three games of the series, Craig moved into the starting lineup in Game 4 and promptly took advantage of the extended minutes, scoring an NBA Playoff career-high 18 points while adding eight rebounds, two steals and a block in 37 minutes. He followed that up by scoring just a single point on one shot attempt on Tuesday, but tallied 10 rebounds and a block in the victory.

Arguably his most important statistic is that in just under 96 minutes of playing time over the last five contests, Craig has only turned the ball over one time. He’s been a perfect complimentary piece to the puzzle for the Nuggets so far this series and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Every successful playoff team needs its own version of a Torrey Craig. The Nuggets have the man himself.

Going Out with a Bang

Khem Birch

In five postseason games, Birch averaged 5.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in just over 18 minutes per contest. Birch saved his best for last, though, tallying a post-season high 11 rebounds, nine points, four blocks and three assists in what would be a series-ending loss to the Raptors last Tuesday night.

The Orlando Magic as a whole were considered irrelevant heading into this season, and though their first-round exit in just five games was disappointing, there is a sense of accomplishment after having won the Southeast Division, finished above .500 on the season and getting back into the playoffs after a seven-year drought. Head Coach Steve Clifford, along with former Skyforce Head Coach Pat Delany and the rest of his coaching staff, were largely responsible for the team’s turnaround in just their first season at the helm.

Shabazz Napier

Napier played in just three of the five playoff matchups between the Brooklyn Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers, but showed out when he was given the minutes to do so. In Brooklyn’s final game, Napier tallied an 11-point, 10-assist double-double in just under 16 minutes of action. In his 2019 NBA Playoff debut, Napier scored 13 points in just 10 minutes of playing time. He split those performances by failing to record a basket in just over two minutes of action in the Nets’ loss on April 18.

In the end, Napier averaged just 8.0 points, 3.7 assists and 2.3 rebounds in his three playoff appearances, but those numbers were skewed by checking in for just two minutes in one of the outings. In total, Napier recorded 24 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds and a steal while shooting 63.6 percent from the field in just over 28 minutes of action between the three games. That’s… efficient!

Who else is in the Mix?

As mentioned, former Skyforce Head Coach Nate Tibbetts and the Portland Trail Blazers recently punched their ticket to the Western Conference Semi-Finals with a thrilling victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Meanwhile, former Skyforce players Juancho Hernangomez (Denver Nuggets) and Amir Johnson (Philadelphia 76ers) are still alive with their respective teams. Hernangomez has appeared in just three games for Denver, while Johnson remains inactive for the Sixers so far this postseason.