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Team-First Mentality Leading Skyforce to Early-Season Success

By Matt Dykstra | November 19, 2018

It’s one thing to have a roster full of talented players, it’s another thing entirely to convince those players to sacrifice personal numbers for the betterment of the team. Much like Dan Craig was asked to do during the 2015-16 season, current Head Coach Nevada Smith has had to figure out a way to turn a plethora of all-star-level players into a cohesive unit.

He’s been helped, however, by a pair of guards who have become known for their ability to seamlessly mesh with NBA-level talent. Veteran guards Briante Weber and DeAndre Liggins have been the heartbeat of a thriving Sioux Falls team on both ends of the floor this season, and both have shown a willingness to take a back-seat in the scoring column if it means better chances for team success.

Liggins enters the season with two NBA G League Defensive Player of the Year awards to his name, while Weber boasts the highest career steals per game average in NBA G League history at 2.8 per game. Between the two are 222 games of NBA experience, six NBA Call-Ups, four NBA G League All-Defensive Team nominations and three All-NBA G League Second Team nominations. Finally, both were a part of the 2016 Skyforce team that achieved a league-best 40-10 record and eventually won the 2016 NBA G League Championship.

Amidst their success, both Weber and Liggins have shown that the NBA isn’t always looking for scorers. Being a team-first player can pay dividends later on, and this year that mentality has led to a 7-1 start to the season for Sioux Falls.

Unselfishness by the veteran players has allowed Miami HEAT two-way player Yante Maten to explode into the G League scene as a rookie, averaging 25.0 points and 8.9 rebounds through the first eight contests of the season. Fellow two-way player Duncan Robinson has also thrived on their playmaking ability, averaging 18.0 points per game while shooting 41.0 percent from three-point range.

The two guards have also allowed former NBA G League All-Rookie selection Rodney Purvis to flourish alongside them. After a slow start in his new role, Purvis is now averaging 20.2 points over his last five games to go along with 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game.

Not to be outdone, veteran forward Raphiael Putney is quietly posting the best per-game numbers of his career. With so much attention being thrown at Maten and the backcourt, Putney has been thriving to the tune of 18.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game this season. Putney, another team-first player, has also proven his ability to step up when called upon, scoring a team-high 32 points on a career-high eight made threes in the Force’s recent win over Salt Lake City.

Sioux Falls has upwards of six players that can completely take over a game on any given night, and when a supporting cast of Charles Cooke III, Bubu Palo, and Malik Newman are added in off the bench, it’s only natural that the Force have found early-season success.