Entering the season, there were plenty of reasons to doubt the Sioux Falls Skyforce's legitimacy as one of the D-League's top teams. They exited in the first round of the playoffs, losing to the Canton Charge in three games. Then, they endured a massive roster overhaul and got a first-year head coach.
The start of the season brought even more obstacles. But Sioux Falls has found a way to overcome every last one. So far, so good.
The first obstacles were a package deal of sorts. The team started 0-2, including a 98-95 loss in the opener to the Iowa Energy. Sioux Falls then won 17 of its next 18 contests, riding a 10-game winning streak into its rematch with the Energy. On cue, the .500 Energy took down the Skyforce.
But head coach Dan Craig and his team showed resiliency in the third matchup five days later. The Skyforce had six players score 13 or more points, and point guard Tre Kelley had one of his best games of the season: 29 points, six assists and four steals.
The engine behind that 18-game stretch was forward/center Jarnell Stokes, on assignment from the Miami Heat. Stokes played in six of Sioux Falls' seven straight wins following its 0-2 start. In those games, he averaged 19.3 points and 9.1 rebounds, both team highs. He also shot 68.4 percent from the floor in that stint. In short, he dominated. It wasn't outlandish to wonder if the team could sustain the winning without him.
The Skyforce, though, have gone 7-1 without him since his original assignment. He's been back with Miami since Jan. 15, and Sioux Falls has won all three games its played since then. That is even more impressive when you consider the rash of injuries the team has dealt with.
The Skyforce have been without starting guard DeAndre Liggins since the D-League Showcase and starting forward Greg Whittington since Dec. 14. Liggins is leading the league in steals with 2.6 per game, and is second in assists with 6.7. He's also averaging 13.3 points and 7.5 rebounds with two triple-doubles. Liggins brings immense value to the team both on the offensive end of the floor and the defense, as he was the 2014 D-League Defensive Player of the Year.
Whittington was second to Kelley in scoring with 15.2 points before breaking his wrist. He was also the team's top rebounder, pulling down 9.3 per game, and was second in the league in steals with 2.4, but no longer qualifies because he hasn't played enough games.
Again, Sioux Falls has overcame the loss of these playmakers. The Skyforce are 14-1 since Whittington went down, and 5-1 since Liggins went down. Guards Bubu Palo and Briante Weber have taken on the majority of Liggins' minutes, while Jabril Trawick is filling in nicely for Whittington.
Sioux Falls has gracefully hurdled any obstacle thrown in its path. As injuries pile up in the NBA and teams overseas coming calling with boatloads of money, only time will tell if all of the Skyforce's obstacles are in the rear-view mirror.