SIOUX FALLS – Currently, the NBA G League is in the midst of a pause. With a new COVID variant ravaging through the country, nearly every NBA team needs players to have enough guys to fill their roster.
This has led to handfuls of call-ups, including two recent names from the Skyforce: veteran Brandon Knight to the Dallas Mavericks and big man Micah Potter to the Detroit Pistons.
“That’s the way the league is working,” head coach Kasib Powell said. “If you’re a productive player that impacts the game – and you’re healthy – you have a chance to go play in the NBA.”
The delay allows G League teams to replenish their rosters after the NBA call-ups as well as lets their players safely return after the holidays. Games that were originally scheduled between December 27 and January 4 will be rescheduled for later dates.
All of this means that the last time the Skyforce were in action was December 22 during the G League Winter Showcase in Las Vegas. The Force went 1-1 in the Showcase behind the efforts from 6-5 guard DJ Stewart.
Prior to the Winter Showcase, Stewart was finding his stride as a pro, but the Showcase was his coming out party.
In their first game against the Stockton Kings, Stewart played for a team high 36 minutes, scoring 20 points, and grabbed eight rebounds.
In their second game against the Austin Spurs, Stewart played for 42 minutes, again a team high, scoring 30 points and added seven rebounds.
FINAL | Skyforce 99, Spurs 112
The Force drop one in Vegas to the Austin Spurs. DJ Stewart had a career night scoring 30 points, grabbing 7 rebounds and dishing out 4 assists. Micah Potter added 16 points and 15 rebounds. pic.twitter.com/4xsaHQOts5
— Sioux Falls Skyforce (@SFSkyforce) December 23, 2021
“Just being able to see his progression is great,” Powell said. “That’s what this league is about. We still think he has only scratched the surface. He is just overall a better professional and it has shown in his recent play.”
While Stewart is turning the heads of everyone from the fans to the coaching staff, he knows that his recent play is not surprising. He has been doing this for a long time.
“I’m confident in my game,” Stewart said. “I put in the work to get to this point. I just have to be confident in my game and the coaches give me that confidence, too.”
Stewart played college ball at Mississippi State in Starkville, Mississippi, roughly three hours from his hometown Grace, Mississippi. The four-star recruit turned down schools like Alabama, Illinois, and Ole Miss to stay close to home.
In his last season, Stewart averaged 25.3 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.9 rebounds a game. He earned Second-Team All-Southeastern Conference (SEC) honors and was a finalist for the Howell Trophy. After his successful senior year, Stewart declared for the NBA draft.
6'6 Soph. DJ Stewart was unconscious in @HailStateMBK's comeback win over #13 Missouri, getting to his spots in a way that is rarely seen in the collegiate game, continuously drilling midrange pull-ups, including 13 straight points in the 2nd Half.
— League Him (@League_Him) January 6, 2021
After going undrafted, Stewart joined the Miami Heat for the 2021 NBA Summer League before joining the Sioux Falls Skyforce as an affiliate player.
At age 22, Stewart is the youngest member of the Skyforce, but he is determined to take on a larger role as others get NBA Call-Ups.
“When they’re leaving [Brandon Knight, Micah Potter], my role becomes way more important,” Stewart says. “But it’s really the same when they are there and when they are gone. I’ve got to stay aggressive and be a leader no matter who’s here.”
Coach Powell noticed a void after Knight left the team, but he believes that Stewart is the right guy to fill it.
“He is the youngest guy on the team,” Powell said. “Sometimes, he isn’t as vocal as he can be, but he has shown flashes of being the leader we need. I think with the void, he is the perfect guy to fill that leadership role.”
As Stewart and the Force enters the New Year, there is a lot of uncertainty they face.
Now more than ever before, rosters are constantly changing with guys coming and going at a steady rate. It presents a mental challenge that goes beyond the X’s and O’s that these young guys have to overcome.
“The mental aspect of it is probably the hardest part as you never know what is going to happen day to day,” Coach Powell said. “If we stay tight as a family, it will help them get through the mental side of it as well.”
Stewart notices the mental impact that the uncertainty brings, but he chooses to ignore it and remain focused on the task at hand.
“It’s a really weird time right now,” Stewart said. “But my job is to just stay focused through it all. I can only control what I can control.”
While there is a high level of uncertainty, there is also an equally high level of opportunity. Dreams of reaching the NBA are heightened and right in front of the eyes of DJ Stewart.
“I have to stay ready for my chance,” Stewart said. “I never know when I will get that call up. I have to just stay aggressive, be myself, and be a leader.”
Stewart is not sure when he will get that coveted call-up, but coach Powell would not be surprised if it happened sooner rather than later.
“DJ brings versatility to the game,” Powell said. “He can do everything on the court and when he is locked in on both ends of the floor, he has the potential to be a pro at the next level for many years. If he wasn’t out in health and safety protocols right now, he would be on an NBA roster.”
The opportunity to seize hopes and dreams are incredibly high, but these men must remain focused on the task at hand: to deliver wins in a Skyforce jersey.
“I think we haven’t got the wins we were hoping for yet in the season,” Powell said. “But moving forward, we have to learn how to finish games and be consistent for 48 minutes. I would like to think we have learned from those losses, and it will help us in the future this season.
Coach Powell has goals for the team in 2022 that are built on the back of consistency. Stewart has also set similar New Year’s resolutions of his own that will propel the team into the new year.
“I want to win, first and foremost. That shows the guys at the next level you have what it takes,” Stewart said. “I can take my game to the next level, around 15 points and eight rebounds is something I can do each night.”