In the NBA G League, defining success can be more difficult than in the NBA. Wins and losses are important and the most cut-and-dry measure of success is a playoff appearance and an eventual championship. However, unique to minor league sports, it is also important to account for NBA Call-Ups, overall player development, and basketball operations and front office staff earning NBA positions after each season. The list doesn’t end there. In a season deprived (so far) of its conclusion, first-year Head Coach Eric Glass looks elsewhere for positive takeaways.
This season marked the first opportunity for Coach Glass to coach a team of his own for an extended period of time. After working his way up in the video room for the Miami HEAT over the last nine seasons and coaching the HEAT Summer League team each of the past two years, Glass finally received the chance to call the shots for an entire season.
That’s a success.
OFFICIAL | @MiamiHEAT have named Eric Glass as Skyforce head coach, making him the 20th head coach in franchise history.
— Sioux Falls Skyforce (@SFSkyforce) July 26, 2019
“There’s nothing like being in that Head Coaching seat,” Glass said of this season with the Skyforce. “It accelerates every part of your craft. There are things that I have learned and tweaked about my philosophy, but the experience was the key. What you believe in and what you teach will always be paramount but being able to adapt through the season is what I think separates the best coaches. Experience is the only way to figure out how to adapt to situations the best.”
There are few leagues that offer more opportunity to adapt than the G League. Despite the season being cut short due to Coronavirus concerns, one of the successes Glass experienced was coaching three different players to NBA Call-Ups including Jeremiah Martin, Kyle Alexander and Mychal Mulder.
“Every player in the G League wants to get to the NBA, and when you have guys reach those goals it’s very exciting to be a part of,” said Glass. “There are so many pitfalls that come with constantly focusing on trying to get to the NBA, but all three of those guys stayed focused on bettering themselves each day and trying to block out things that weren’t in their control.”
Jeremiah Martin, who had quickly become one of the best sixth-men in the league in his debut season with the Skyforce, signed a two-way contract with the Brooklyn Nets on January 15, 2020. Similarly, Kyle Alexander was promoted to a two-way contract with the Miami HEAT after a hot start to his rookie campaign, averaging 10.6 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per contest in 23 games with the Force.
OFFICIAL: The Miami HEAT have signed forward/center Kyle Alexander to a two-way contract. https://t.co/RZJjm3OuZa
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) January 15, 2020
Most recently, however, was perhaps the most deserved NBA Call-Up of the season. Now in his third NBA G League season (first with the Skyforce), Mychal Mulder earned himself a 10-day contract with the Golden State Warriors on February 27, 2020. This marked the first NBA Call-Up of Mulder’s career.
“Mychal and I had a laugh the night the Warriors signed him to his 10-day,” said Glass. “We were working all year on helping him control his game when things weren’t going well for him and he had done an amazing job of that over the last month and a half. In his last game with the Skyforce, he lost his cool and was ejected. The irony of having a setback like that on the same day he got the best news of his career was a funny moment for us.”
Prior to his call-up, Mulder had appeared in 39 games (34 starts) for Sioux Falls and was putting together one of the best three-point shooting seasons in franchise history. Through 39 games he had compiled 152 made three-pointers on 39.9 percent shooting from beyond the arc. His 152 threes put him just five makes behind Duncan Robinson (157) for the most single-season threes in franchise history. He had been averaging a career-best 17.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists.
Mulder had no trouble transitioning to the NBA. In seven games (three starts) with the Warriors, Mulder was averaging 11.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.1 assists in just over 29 minutes per game. On March 10, just one day before the sports world came to a screeching halt, Golden State rewarded him with a multi-year contract.
Three players. Three perfect examples of individual success during the 2019-20 NBA G League season.
Basketball is a team sport, nonetheless, and wins and losses DO matter to fan bases, especially the one in Sioux Falls. NBA Call-Ups are great to acknowledge, but local fans have high expectations for a team being able adjust and keep moving forward while players are coming and going. Down the homestretch of the regular season, Coach Glass had made that adjustment and then some.
“The thing that game me the biggest joy this season was how the team came together towards the end of the year,” said Glass. “We had the second-best record in the NBA G League from January on, and it was really exciting to watch the team start to gel and play high-level basketball together. During that stretch we had a lot of player movement (like most G League teams do) due to injuries, call-ups, and acquiring new players. I was so proud of the way the team stayed together while dealing with all the moving parts.”
As Glass mentioned, there were a lot of moving parts. Eight G League roster transactions were made after January 1 of this season, and four more NBA transactions were made that effected players in Sioux Falls. Some of the most notable of those moves included the Miami HEAT converting two-way player Chris Silva (who hadn’t appeared in a game for Sioux Falls to that point) to a standard NBA contract and signing Gabe Vincent to a two-way contract. The Skyforce made valuable waiver claims of Tim Quarterman and Angel Delgado, along with acquiring Jacobi Boykins in a trade with the Rio Grand Valley Vipers at the deadline.
Vincent, Quarterman, Boykins, and Delgado were all beginning to make major contributions for the Force when the season was put on hold. Contributions that were on full display in Sioux Falls’ most recent win over the Midwest Division-leading Memphis Hustle on March 7.
The team and its fans alike were excited about where the season was headed.
“That was hard to handle and it’s still tough today,” said Glass. “The league obviously made the right decision [to suspend play amid the pandemic], but I didn’t seen anyone that we couldn’t beat playing the way we were playing. We turned into a very tough, gritty defensive team and on the offensive end, we really shared the game and played together.”
Sioux Falls was 14-7 in the new year and had won nine of its last 13 contests, working its way into the sixth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with the opportunity to improve on that position before the season’s would-be end. A playoff appearance this season would have been the first return to the post season since the Force won the NBA G League Championship in 2016.
Alas, there’s no timetable for finding out if or when we’ll get to see this year’s rendition of the Skyforce finish what it started, but the team was playing its best basketball of the year when it mattered the most, and there’s a success to be found in that.
Without a playoff appearance or G League Finals run to use as a measuring stick, Coach Glass again looked for a few things that he viewed as personal successes as a first-year Head Coach. Helped, he says, by a great supporting cast.
“Managing the group on a day-to-day basis is something that came easier than I thought it would be,” said Glass. “At first I was a little overwhelmed by being in charge of 12-15 players and 10 staff, but as the year went on it went much smoother than I anticipated. We had an amazing coaching and support staff and they were obsessed with coming in each day and helping our players get better. That made all the difference.”
Whether this season continues, or we must hit the “reset” button and start over next year, there are many things about this year that should not be overlooked. Head Coach Eric Glass, GM Eric Amsler and President Mike Heineman had the franchise back on track and moving in the right direction, and that alone sets the stage for a highly anticipated return.