Dan Craig helped lead the Sioux Falls Skyforce to a league-setting record of 40 wins on the campaign. That's no easy task, one for which he is surely to get much recognition for, now that the regular season has come to a close and the HEAT affiliate continues to chase a minor league title.
Despite having the league's best record, should the Skyforce make the D-League Finals, a championship shouldn't be considered a forgone conclusion if the Reno Bighorns come out of the West to ultimately stand in their way. They'll represent quite the worthy challenge.
Last season, first-year head coach David Arseneault Jr. garnered both praise and criticism alike for his ever unique high octane offense. He was doing things much differently than anyone had before him on the professional level. In attempting to experience and feel out what would work and what didn't, many questioned whether his strategy was appropriate. The team's defensive intensity seemed to waver. Some players felt uncomfortable as they attempted to find a rhythm despite sporadic substitution patterns. The team's run and gun style was resulting in a handful of call-ups after letting players really strut their stuff and pour in the points, but the wins just weren't following. When Arseneault Jr. was retained for this past season, some wondered if the Kings' affiliate was making the right move, and how much more patience they would have.
Perhaps it's a little much to be calling such a decision a risk, but nevertheless, there's no doubt keeping Arseneault Jr.has paid off in spades. Individual success was still rewarded, as top performers Erick Green received an NBA call-up (the guard has since returned) and Vince Hunter cashed in on a deal overseas. There's no doubt the team has a lot of talent, with the likes of David Stockton and Ricky Ledo also gracing the roster. Midseason acquisitions like Kadeem Jack and Gani Lawal have also played notable roles.
But Arseneault Jr. has been able to cultivate of all this talent and motivate his players to play at a high level. He's gotten the most out of them all year long, helping them buy in all while making the subtle changes necessary to improve this season's effort from last year's. As a coach, Arseneault Jr. has not only shown tremendous growth, but also an immense maturity level to take what he learned from the first go around and see to it that improvements were made. The team's 33 wins was the league's second best record behind Sioux Falls. What's more, Reno's 20-5 record at home was a mere half game behind the mark of their elite conference rival.
The Skyforce are a very strong defensive team, but there's no doubt the Bighorns would put the pressure on them in The Finals. Reno led all of the minor league in field goals made per game, three-point field goals made, three-point percentage, assists per game, points per game, and was still in the top five for rebounds per game as well. Coach Arseneault Jr.'s respective innovation has not only proven to know no bounds, but now also to be successful at this level, too. Their defense has also improved with a higher level of focus and awareness on that side of the floor.
The team has come a long way. Because of all of the moving pieces a D-League squad can boast with each passing season, it's difficult to praise any form of continuity. But Arseneault Jr.'s ability to learn, adapt, and apply this season should be recognized.
Coach Craig's success with the Skyforce is certainly impressive. But in also giving credit for the vast improvement from last season, Coach Arseneault Jr. has done enough to earn himself RidiculousUpside.com's Coach of the Year award for the 2015-16 campaign. Much like any recognition Craig will garner, this, too, is well deserved.
Runner-up for RU's C.O.Y award: Dan Craig, who led the Skyforce to a 40-10 record.
Second runner-up for RU's C.O.Y. award: Mike Miller, whose Westchester Knicks went 28-22, including 9-1 without Jimmer Fredette.