After beginning the season 6-0, the Sioux Falls Skyforce appeared poised to perhaps rise up as one of the NBA D-League's powerhouses this season. Led by the likes of versatile forward Jarvis Varnado and former Lakers' guard Andrew Goudelock, the team went to war each and every night with two of the league's more formidable prospects on their side.
But because of Varnado's combination of immense promise and talent, the Skyforce were bound to soon face the question dreaded by teams each and every season: how does a squad cope when their top talent(s) earns a call-up?
Of course, it's the ultimate goal of minor players to eventually reach The Association, and it's undoubtedly part of his NBADL team's duty to help get him there. That said, teams in the D-League still enjoy creating a winning environment. Plucking away a key cog in your team's engine for success can certainly throw a wrench into those very plans. It's up to the coaching staff to make sure the team stays afloat despite any existent voids.
In addition to losing Varnado to the NBA, the Skyforce traded away Goudelock in an NBADL blockbuster of sorts, getting former Knicks' training camp participant Mychel Thompson and the recently released Cavaliers guard Donald Sloan in return.
Despite the team's strong start, their success gradually fell to the way side in the midst of these various roster shakeups. Though the Skyforce had failed to consistently win back to back ball games over the month of December, it didn't help their cause later on when Sloan ventured off to New Orleans to play out a ten-day contract.
Throughout a struggling stretch over the weeks in December and early January, Sioux Falls went on to lose 8 of 12 contests.
But perhaps the Skyforce saw a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel as Sloan returned from his second NBA stint of the season. No longer led by players like Varnado and Goudelock, the team has allowed a more balanced attack be the key to their most recent success. Sioux Falls has won its last four contests.
Of course, the team undeniably received a boost from the presence of Miami Heat assignee Dexter Pittman, who contributed double-double efforts through the first three victories of the streak. But with Pittman back in Miami for the moment, the Skyforce can take pride in thanking some of their more regular players for similar efforts.
Such a streak, of course, started with the addition of Sloan, who has seemed to rise up as quite the leader. The guard is so far averaging 21.8 points 7 rebounds, and 5.3 assists.
What's more, knowing full well his team had a void of a more dominant scorer to be filled, the ever efficient Demetris Nichols has also taken advantage of some notable time to shine. The swingman has averaged 18.4 points over his last five games, shooting 51% from the field and an even more impressive 53% from downtown. His most recent efforts even helped him earn the honor of being named "D-League Performer of the Week," through a stretch during which the Skyforce more importantly went 3-0.
As one looks across the roster, it's easy to see the steady level of talent, highlighted by players with NBA experience. Guards like Thompson, Gabe Pruitt, and Troy Hudson (who on Friday night returned from a long injury absence) have been put in place to help pace the Skyforce's winning ways.
The bigger names are undoubtedly abundant on such a roster, but the beauty of the D-League often comes from an up and coming prospect turning heads for the very first time as well. The Sioux Falls' front office staff is also very high on reserve guard Mark Tyndale, a good kid with an even steadier head on his shoulders as he aims to provide a boost for his team on a nightly basis. Pouring in quite the versatile stat-sheet stuffing effort this season, the Temple alum owns averages of 10.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and even 1.9 steals per game.
It's easy to see the talent level on a team like the Skyforce is high. The staff they've put in place has done a solid job of bringing together promising talent all season long. It's just a point of everything clicking at once, but perhaps after some bumps and bruises along the way, now is their time to take the league by storm once again.