While the Miami Heat try to roll through the NBA playoffs, their NBA Development League affiliate nearly 2,000 miles across the country has been rolling since November.
In fact, the Sioux Falls Skyforce streak into the NBA D-League Finals having won like no other team in the league’s 15-year history.
Here’s what you need to know about the Skyforce, by the numbers:
Record through 54 games, the best in NBA D-League history
|Best NBA D-League Regular Season Records|
|2015-16||Sioux Falls Skyforce||40-10||.800|
|2011-12||Los Angeles D-Fenders||38-12||.760|
A roster loaded with NBA prospects, a top-notch coaching staff and a commitment to playing team ball lifted Sioux Falls to the single-season wins record. Their 40 victories surpassed the previous 50-game-season high of 38 set by their 2016 Finals opponents, the Los Angeles D-Fenders, in 2011-12.
That dominance has continued into the playoffs. The ‘Force swept through each of their first two postseason series, winning the four games by an average of 15.3 points. To put their run in perspective, Sioux Falls outscored opponents by 9.8 points per 100 possessions (Net Rating) during the regular season. The Warriors posted an 11.6 Net Rating during their historic 73-9 season.
Current members of the Heat played for the Skyforce
With each dominant performance, it becomes harder and harder to believe that just a year and a half ago, Hassan Whiteside was an NBA D-League prospect available for any of the 30 NBA teams to call up.
Whiteside’s winding path to Miami took him through four NBADL teams and 65 total games. He played seven games for the Skyforce in 2012 before being traded. His Nov. 22, 2014 game against the Skyforce — when he put up 24 points (11/12 FG), 16 rebounds and four blocks in 29 minutes for the Iowa Energy — helped convince the Heat to pull the trigger and sign him last season.
Even then, the organization gave Whiteside a trial run with Sioux Falls as an assignment player. He posted 21 points (10/11 FG), 12 boards and four blocks in 26 minutes. A month later, Hassanity took effect.
Miami hasn’t stopped tapping into its South Dakota talent pool. The Heat called up guard Tyler Johnson two months after Whiteside, and he emerged as a dynamic backup guard this season before undergoing shoulder surgery. Up stepped Josh Richardson, a rookie second-round pick who led the Skyforce to the NBA D-League Showcase title in January and by late February was playing crunch-time minutes.
Defensive stud Briante Weber became the latest Skyforce product when the Heat called him up on April 10 following Sioux Falls’ first-round victory.
The year the Sioux Falls Skyforce were born
The Skyforce predate the NBA D-League by 12 years. This is the 27th season of Skyforce basketball and the third time they have a shot at a championship.
Before the Development League, the team competed in the now-defunct Continental Basketball Association from 1989-2000 and 2001-06, with the 2000-01 International Basketball League season in between.
Before the Heat, they were affiliated with the Pistons (2006-07), Timberwolves (2006-13), Bobcats (2007-09), Magic (2011-13) and Sixers (2012-13). Miami and Sioux Falls entered a single-affiliation partnership before the 2013-14 season.
Players on the Skyforce roster with NBA experience
The 11-man roster headed to the Finals brings 131 games worth of NBA experience — and major hopes of adding to that total.
Big man Jarnell Stokes (No. 2 on NBADLeague.com’s Prospect Watch) earned league MVP honors after averaging 20.6 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 67% from the field. Guard DeAndre Liggins took home his second Defensive Player of the Year Award. Both were second-round NBA Draft picks and have spent time with the Heat.
Among the group yet to reach the next level, second-year shooting guard Rodney McGruder and rookie forward Greg Whittington likely have the highest stocks.
Number of years Skyforce head coach Dan Craig has worked in the Heat organization
Like close friend Erik Spoelstra, Craig got his start in the Heat’s video department, joining the franchise as an intern in 2003. He worked his way up in similar fashion to Spoelstra, eventually becoming an assistant coach and heading the Heat’s Summer League team.
Craig has a chance to add a title to his first season as Skyforce head coach after already winning the Coach of the Year Award.
“What we’ve set up now in Sioux Falls,” Spoelstra told media in Miami, “and it’s been three years in the making, but now it is an absolute mirror of what we’re trying to do. And it’s gotten a little better, as we’ve gotten to know, each year. And [Craig] is bringing a lot of what he wants to bring to the table, as well. It’s awesome.”