Currently on pace for 40 wins, a mark which would constitute an all-time NBA D-League record, the Sioux Falls Skyforce have been an unstoppable force all season long. With the moving pieces that accompany any D-League team, a big portion of their success can be credited to the stabilizing presence of first-year head coach Dan Craig.
After speaking with Craig about one month into the season, Ridiculous Upside had the chance to catch up with him once again. After coaching in the Las Vegas and Orlando Summer Leagues over the past three seasons, he had some preparation on the sidelines, but there were still some adjustments that had to be made for him to get accustomed to life in the D-League.
"This was an opportunity to come in and be challenged with preparing for practice every day, motivating players, delegating staff and all of the other work that goes into coaching a team. With a full season, you need to know how to motivate your players coming off of a loss and getting that kind of experience of being a head coach and a leader is really valuable," Craig said.
His instant success should come as no surprise, as he’s had the opportunity to work under a trio of solid head coaches in Erik Spoelstra, Pat Riley and Stan Van Gundy throughout his nearly 15-years with the Miami Heat organization.
"Working with them has been invaluable. When you look at it, I think you have three Hall of Fame coaches right there. All three of them pride themselves on their work ethic and it was really helpful to be able to learn from them and see what makes a team and an organization successful. The Heat are a very family-oriented organization and I think that’s a big part of success; you need to bring people together and that’s something that each of them do."
As the season has gone on, there have been some challenges that Craig has had to face. While the team is a force on the court, there are some bumps in the road that have occurred off of the court.
"One of your biggest challenges in the D-League is your travel. Since we’re in Sioux Falls, everything is a connecting flight so we’ve had a few situations with 3 AM wakeup calls and others where we arrived to the arena an hour before the game. Just organizing your schedule is a challenge because you can’t control travel or the weather or airlines, so you just have a lot of moving parts."
In addition to that, the D-League brings to light its own set of unique challenges that even coaches in the NBA don’t have to deal with quite as often.
"You have players with you that accept jobs overseas or get called up to the NBA or sent down and just juggling all of these moving parts and keeping everyone together can be a challenge. We’ve just tried to stay the course and we just want to make everyone one through twelve to get better and allow them to chase their goals. We pride ourselves on doing it together and being selfless."
This constant player movement can cause issues for many teams throughout the D-League, but the Skyforce have been able to weather any storm that has come their way. Jarnell Stokes has been up and down from the NBA throughout the year and players such as Tre Kelley have left for overseas, but the team has continued to be successful.
"I think that the next man up mentality is part of it, but we try to get 1% better every day. Everyone has been able to do that so even though we’ve had moving parts, guys have been able to improve in practices and in film sessions so that when they have their opportunity, we’ve still been able to win. It all starts with coming in and having a professional mentality and we’ve been lucky enough to have all of the guys on our team with that mentality."
With so many moving pieces, different players throughout the year have been called upon to take on added responsibility. Heading into the year Craig knew that he had a strong team, but a few different players have managed to catch him off guard with their skill-set.
"I think all of them have surprised me at different points throughout the year. I didn’t know that DeAndre Liggins had such a high basketball IQ or that he was such a great playmaker. Rodney McGruder comes to work every day and plays hard for every single minute that he’s out there and in practice he’s always going at 110%, he deserves the success that he’s had this season."
He continued, "Bubu Palo didn’t start for the first two months and then he came in and has been a major contributor. Same with Jabril Trawick, he wasn’t seeing a lot of minutes early on and then he was seeing major minutes and he’s helped win some games for us. I could go down the line, but all of them have been impressive and have helped us win a lot of games."
With the regular season quickly coming to a close, Craig noted that there was one lesson that he had learned through this year that he wishes he would have known when he first started with the Skyforce.
"I would have told myself to sleep; when you can, try to steal some sleep. One thing that I’ve learned as a head coach, and most coaches can attest to this, is that you can’t shut your brain off. You wake up in the middle of the night thinking of things that you could’ve done or what you want to do, so it’s hard to shut it off. When you can find some peace of mind and re-group, you need to do it. You will find that there are points in the season when you get run down physically and mentally and you need to limit that."
Though he still has high hopes for the remainder of the year and hopes to cap this historic season off with an NBA D-League Championship, Craig believes that this season has done wonders for the future of his career.
"I think that being a head coach at a professional level really fast tracks you. Everything from managing and delegating your staff and making sure you’re all on the same page, then dealing with people and having your players come together to play for the right reasons, it’s not easy and there’s a lot that goes into it. Planning practices and film sessions, building on what works and learning from what doesn’t and having the experience of doing that here has really fast tracked me towards helping me achieve some of the things that I want to in my career."