Two dozen fervent children lined the entrance to Heritage Court on Friday night at the Sanford Pentagon, the home of the Sioux Falls Skyforce.
High-fiving the kids as they ran by, the Skyforce took the court. Fittingly, new point guard Briante Weber led the pack.
Weber had been playing off of point guard Bubu Palo ever since Tre Kelley signed overseas on Feb. 18. With DeAndre Liggins rounding into form after missing 15 games with a foot injury, it was obvious the Palo-Weber pairing would not last -- Liggins is just too good to come off the bench when healthy.
Those five games without Kelley may have been used as an audition for the point guard spot. Or maybe Weber just played so well that head coach Dan Craig couldn't help but start the rookie out of VCU.
In those five games, Weber averaged 15.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, six assists and 2.6 steals. He posted a triple double with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists on Feb. 23 against Fort Wayne, and two nights later came one assist shy of notching his second straight triple-double when he recorded 19 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists.
"Very few people I've been around, in the NBA in particular, have the type of leadership qualities and his charisma," said Craig. "He's a true extension of a coach. He's saying the right things, he does the right things...He's worked his ass off."
Craig said Weber helps project the coach's message to the rest of the team.
In the two games since he was officially given the starting point guard job, he's scored 20 and 22 points, respectively. He had 17 at the half on 7/9 shooting Friday, but with Sioux Falls up 62-35 at halftime, Weber turned his focused to facilitation. He also posted 10 rebounds and six assists.
Weber's impact goes well beyond buckets, boards and dimes. Weber plays such elite defense that he could probably hold his own against most NBA guys right now. As he's seen his minutes increase, he's been on a meteoric rise up the D-League's steals chart. He ranks fourth right now in that category.
His expertise in that area has translated from college -- after a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus in his right knee ended his senior season 10 games from the finish line, he was just 12 steals shy of the all-time collegiate record held by John Linehan of Providence.
He also has an unparalleled motor. Rarely will he give up on a ball. At one point against the Drive on Friday night, Skyforce forward Greg Whittington swatted a shot along the left baseline that was heading out of bounds. It was Weber's man who had gotten blocked, and he was chasing to recover. He saw the ball soaring out of bounds but he leaped, grabbed it, and threw it behind himself without looking, right to Whittington. Take the first two plays in the following video as further example.
Weber is an elite athlete of a rare breed. Not many basketball players can use their athleticism to positively impact so many areas of the game -- Weber is an exception. Take Andrew Wiggins for example. He can jump out of the gym, but he has no rebounding instincts, and thus averages just 3.6 boards per game. He also has an explosive first step, but he has a terrible handle which creates problems when he tries to create his own shot.
Weber combines an explosive first step and elite quickness with an impressive handle to create all kinds of opportunities for the Skyforce. Besides driving or pulling up, he uses his vision and excellent passing ability to set up teammates for clear looks. Examples of this are scattered all over the embedded videos.
No team wants to lose its starting point guard in the middle of the season, especially the best team in the league. Weber is making that transition a lot smoother for the Skyforce.