Few organizations in recent years have mastered player development like the Miami Heat. On Tuesday night, the Sioux Falls Skyforce — the NBA Development League affiliate that helped produce Miami’s Hassan Whiteside, Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson, among others — carved out their own piece of history.
At 39-9, Sioux Falls took hold of the NBA D-League’s all-time wins record, held by current Heat wing and former NBADL standout Gerald Green and the 2011-12 Los Angeles D-Fenders. The Skyforce have two chances to extend the mark before the 50-game regular season ends on Saturday.
Head coach Dan Craig, a Heat staffer since 2003, made his team aware of the wins record earlier this month.
“This team really responds to challenges,” Craig said. “We had a big game [in Canton on March 11] and before our shootaround, I had a couple of keys for the game that night and I had ’38’ circled at the bottom as the last key. I said, ‘I want to give you guys another healthy challenge: The D-League record is 38 wins … we have a chance at it.’”
The Skyforce have existed as a minor-league franchise since 1989, joining the NBA D-League in 2006. They became singly affiliated with the Heat in 2013.
“What we’ve set up now in Sioux Falls,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra told media in Miami, “and it’s been three years in the making, but now it is an absolute mirror of what we’re trying to do.”
For the Skyforce players, like top gun Jarnell Stokes, the wins record is also a way to build a resume in order to lure NBA suitors in the future. This chase for history is yet another way to grow as a person and a player, mentally preparing for life in the NBA.
“I want to be known as a winner,” Stokes said. “Even though I didn’t get the opportunity that I wanted to play in the NBA, I feel like this had made my season worth it because winning the D-League definitely shows transference into the league as far as showcasing certain skills and being a winning player.”
Here’s an in-depth look at what has made the Skyforce so dominant this season and a historical overview of the wins record they now own.
Skyforce Record: 39-9
Previous Record Holders: 2011-12 D-Fenders (38-12)
The Los Angeles D-Fenders set the NBA D-League wins record when they went 38-12 during the 2011-12 season. They were led by Coach of the Year Eric Musselman — former head coach of the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings — and had six players called up to the NBA, eventually losing to the Austin Toros in the NBADL Finals.
The D-Fenders were so deep that they had 11 players average double-figure scoring and current Miami Heat shooting guard Gerald Green was only their third-leading scorer at 19.1 points per game. Green would appear in 60 games with the Indiana Pacers the following season, propelling his career until it really took off in 2013-14, when he averaged a career-high 15.8 points per game with the Phoenix Suns.
Point guard Jamaal Tinsley also made a successful comeback that season, playing in eight games for the D-Fenders and dishing out a team-high 7.6 assists per game. Then 34 years old, the former Pacer earned a Call-Up to the Utah Jazz.
|Best NBA D-League Regular Season Records*|
|2015-16||Sioux Falls Skyforce||39-9||.813|
|2011-12||Los Angeles D-Fenders||38-12||.760|
*Note: The 2001-02 Greenville Groove and North Charleston Lowgators each finished with 36 wins, playing a 56-game schedule. The above list reflects the top three wins totals under the current 50-game schedule.
|Skyforce 2015-16 Offensive Statistics|
|Field Goal Percentage||49%||1|
|Assists||21.8 per game||5|
|Free Throws Attempted||28.0 per game||3|
|Personal Fouls Drawn||24.3 per game||3|
|Offensive Rebound Percentage||28.4%||3|
|Points In The Paint Percentage||50%||1|
|Skyforce 2015-16 Defensive Statistics|
|Steals||9.7 per game||1|
|Personal Fouls Committed||21.1 per game||2|
|Net Rating (Off. – Def.)||10.0||1|
|Defensive Rebound Percentage||75.4%||6|
|Opponent Shooting Between 5-9 Ft.||24%||1|
The Heat second-round pick out of Tennessee was assigned to the Skyforce for four games in late December – early January, including the NBA D-League Showcase. His play helped Sioux Falls win the Showcase title and earn him a spot on NBADLeague.com’s All-Showcase team.
Six weeks later, Richardson worked his way into Miami’s rotation and has taken off ever since. The 6-6 wing is averaging 10.8 points per game since the All-Star break on 57% from the field and 64% from three-point range.
Though he’s had brief cups of coffee in the NBA this season with the Memphis Grizzlies and Miami Heat, Stokes has made his greatest impact with the Skyforce.
He leads the team in scoring (20.5 ppg) and rebounding (9.6 rpg) and has been a force down low, shooting 66% this season, which ranks second in the D-League among players who have played at least 10 games. Stokes, who has confirmed that he has multiple NBA suitors and feels as if he has “turned some heads,” is trying to become more versatile and make his teammates better by making the right play.
“I feel like I have the skills of a Draymond Green-type except I can score more in the post,” Stokes said. ” I feel like I’m a beast on the glass, I’m very good at scoring but the next thing I’m working on is being a good play-maker. Teams are starting to double and get into the scouting reports … and I want to make the team play. That’s why I bring up a guy like Draymond, he always makes the right play. I definitely have the aspirations of being a player of his caliber.”
Liggins is the chief orchestrator on the Skyforce, leading the squad with 7.0 assists per game. The 2011 second-round draft pick hasn’t stuck with an NBA franchise just yet, but his overall skill set is appealing, as he has become quite the stat stuffer in the D-League.
In addition to his assists total, which ranks No. 7 in the league, the 27-year-old is also scoring 13.3 points and grabbing 6.5 rebounds per game. Among players currently in the NBADL and averaging seven dimes per game, Liggins has the highest rebounding totals. He has enjoyed stints with the Thunder and Heat during his five-year pro career.
Other Top Prospects:
Keith Benson – Veteran big man who has enjoyed a solid third NBA D-League season, averaging 13.8 points and 7.4 rebounds while shuffling between a bench and starting role.
Rodney McGruder – Former star at Kansas State who has been one of league’s most improved players this season. Intriguing “3-and-D” prospect for the next level.
Briante Weber – Defensive ace who suffered torn ACL and MCL last January at VCU, 12 steals shy of becoming NCAA’s all-time career steals leader. Earned brief Call-Up to Grizzlies in March.
Greg Whittington – Another prospect on the NBA radar while bouncing back from injury. Joined Weber in Heat camp during the offseason and now serving as defensive stopper/secondary scorer for Skyforce.