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 Sioux Falls Skyforce

Skyforce Season Rewind: '23-24 Edition

June 10, 2024 - NBA G League (G League)
Sioux Falls Skyforce News Release

The NBA G League season is one with turns at every corner; steep and ones you don't expect. Consistency as a team is as tough as it comes by, as a players focus is to go out every night to try and earn an NBA roster spot, or, keep the spot they currently have.

Sioux Falls has been a developmental hot bed for NBA talent for years. The 35th year of existence, the most of any North American minor league basketball organization, was unlike any other.

Back-to-back NBA G League Western Conference Semifinal berths. Three-straight years of being in the top-three in NBA Call-Ups (league leading for the last three seasons combined). Longstanding franchise records broken. League awards being crowned.

"This is the toughest professional league to win in," Skyforce head coach Kasib Powell said. "You never know who will be with you, on the other team, or what challenges will pop up in between. To be able to continue the momentum we started last season is great and something the whole organization can be proud of."

To say it was a successful season in Sioux Falls is an understatement. It was a testament of the process and culture built 1,824 miles southeast of the Sanford Pentagon.

Showcase Cup

It started with the first sharp turn, right before opening night against the Indiana Mad Ants. Jamaree Bouyea earned the team's first NBA Call-Up to the Portland Trail Blazers in early November.

Sioux Falls weathered the first big storm, starting the Showcase Cup 3-2, and within distance of the organization's first berth to the tournament portion of the Winter Showcase.

On Nov. 28, with just seven active players, the Skyforce defeated the then 5-1 Motor City Cruise 145-127 behind 42 points from Alondes Williams and 26 points from Drew Peterson. It would be the start of four wins in five games, an 8-5 record.

"That's a game where a lot started to click, and a foundation for the next couple months was laid," Powell said. "It's also when we realized ManMan and Drew's days could be numbered. We needed everyone at an elite level, and it was one of those games where we went to war for each other."

A little over two weeks later, Peterson earned the team's second NBA Call-Up of the season to the Boston Celtics.

In 13 games with Sioux Falls, Peterson averaged 15.2 points on 52.8 FG% (40.7 3P%), 5.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.0 steal per 33.8 minutes a game. Peterson secured 20-plus points, five-plus rebounds and four-plus assists in five of his last seven games with the Force.

"Drew really hit his stride in late November and in to December," Powell said. "He brought a lot to the table and helped make his teammates better, which is something you can't really teach."

Sioux Falls would be on the outside looking in at the Showcase Cup, as the team finished 8-8.

Three players averaged over 20-plus points per game: Cole Swider (23.6 points on 43.5 FG%, 42.3 3P%, 5.3 rebounds in seven appearances), Jamal Cain (23.2 points on 54.5 FG%, 41.7 3P%, 8.8 rebounds per game) and Justin Champagnie (21.4 points on 49.2 FG%, 9.3 rebounds).

HEAT assignees Nikola Jovic and Orlando Robinson made appearances, as well. Jovic went on to average 16.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists in seven appearances before becoming a mainstay in the HEAT's starting lineup, while Robinson posted splits of 17.0 points on 55.6 FG%, 15.0 rebounds in two appearances.

Regular Season

It was the best start to the regular season in the NBA G League era, as the Skyforce reeled off nine-straight wins to go 9-0. With Bouyea back in the mix, he and ManMan created the best backcourt duo in the NBA G League.

Williams' highlighted the 9-0 start with his franchise record 55 points (21-30 FGA) in a big 138-130 come from behind victory against Salt Lake City. Swider added 37 points on 11-16 FGA (7-11 3PA) in the effort, as well.

"It feels great to be in a family that has produced such great talents throughout the years, whether that was in the beginning days or recently," Williams said of shattering the franchise record held by Scotty Hopson (52 points against Reno on 2/24/15). "The support here is awesome. The Skyforce has given me a lot of opportunities so far to showcase my game, be great, and be myself. What else can you ask for as a player?"

ManMan would spiral that into Western Conference Player of the Week for consecutive weeks in January, Player of the Month, an NBA Call-Up to the Miami HEAT in early February, the organization's first player to perform in the NBA Rising Stars Game and joined Swider in the NBA G League All-Star Game. He was also named the NBA G League's Most Improved Player.

"His play is what this league is all about," Powell said of Williams. "He earned every accolade. There is always that player that takes a giant leap from year-one to year-two, and that was ManMan."

Champagnie wouldn't be far off Williams, as on Feb. 22, he earned an NBA Call-Up with the Washington Wizards. In 34 total games for Sioux Falls, he averaged splits of 22.3 points on 49.4 FG%, 8.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.3 blocks (15 double doubles) per 37.6 minutes a game.

In his final two weeks in Sioux Falls, Champagnie posted 25.9 points on 49.6 FG%, 9.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.4 blocks (four double doubles) in seven appearances. He was named to the All-NBA G League Second Team, as well, and earned a two-way contract after his 10-day contract expired.

"Justin waited a little longer than he probably wanted and should have (to get an NBA Call-Up)," Powell said. "But he embraced Sioux Falls and the Skyforce. He found that extra gear and didn't look back."

At the end of all-star break, the Skyforce sat 15-5, atop the Western Conference, with newly acquired Josh Christopher (19.4 points on 44.1 FG%, 4.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists in nine March games, along with a career-high 40 points at Memphis on Mar. 19) fully in the fold.

The team opened post-break with a four-game Los Angeles road trip, which would be Bouyea's time to shine.

In three games out West, Bouyea poured in stat lines of 26 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, 36 points, eight rebounds and 15 assists, and 26 points, eight rebounds and 15 assists against the Ontario Clippers and South Bay Lakers.

It would be the lasrt games played for Bouyea with Sioux Falls, as he earned a two-way contract with the Austin Spurs on Mar 2.

"The dominos started to fall, and we really needed every point, rebound and assist in those games," Powell said. "That's what Jamaree was concerned with - helping us win those games. He's one of the most talented and high IQ players I've ever coached."

As it turned portion of the regular season, it was time for new players to step up. Enter Christopher, Caleb Daniels, Malik Williams, Theo Maledon and others. With two weeks left in the regular season, Sioux Falls sat at 18-9, battling with Stockton atop the conference.

The Force reeled off five wins in six games, highlighted by Olin Carter III's game winning three-pointer against his former team, the Cleveland Charge (113-111) on Mar. 24.

It also marked Powell's 77th victory at the helm of the Skyforce, which put him second all-time in franchise history for wins.

"The focus going in was always about making the playoffs," Powell said. "To be able to be up there with the likes of Coach Mo (McHone) is special and truly an honor. That doesn't happen without elite players and a staff that has a main goal of serving the players."

Sioux Falls finished the regular season 22-12, good for second in the Western Conference and a bye in the opening round of the 2024 NBA G League Playoffs.

As the team was prepping for their playoff matchup, Malik Williams earned the team's sixth and final NBA Call-Up to the Toronto Raptors on a 10-day contract (which turned into two 10-day contracts).

Williams would go on a stretch from Feb. 9 - Mar. 12 (10 games) where he averaged 13.3 points on 40.2 FG%, 14.7 rebounds. 2.7 assists and 0.9 blocks. In those 10 games, he compiled seven double doubles, in which six were 14+ rebound performances. He finished the regular season fifth in the entire league in total rebounds (306), sixth in total defensive rebounds (205) and fifth in offensive rebounds (101).

"His story represents the grind of getting to where you want to go," Skyforce head coach Kasib Powell said. "You might be overlooked or an after-thought, but once given an opportunity, you have to run with it. He showed steady growth each month of the season and became a focal point for opposing teams. Players around the league, but also internationally, can look at a success story and feel fired up that it's possible to work your way from the bottom to the top."

Swider led the team in scoring in the regular season, again, with 24.9 points on 51.9 FG% (50.1 3P%), 8.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists per 39.4 minutes in 14 appearances. He also secured the best statistical shooting regular season in Skyforce history, becoming the first player to shoot 50+ 3P% with over 50+ 3PM (66-123 3PA).

"They tell me to shoot the ball every time I touch it," Swider said. "So, I'm trying to get open looks, trying to take the right shots, but at the same time when the rim feels big like that you want to do whatever it takes to win the game. Winning is what translates to the NBA and if you can win and also get the numbers, it means the world."

Robinson, in nine regular season appearances, averaged 24.3 points on 57.5 FG%, 11.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists per 33.6 minutes a game. Cain produced 23.7 points on 50.3 FG% and 11.6 rebounds per 40.2 minutes in nine appearances.

The Force ultimately fell to the 2023-24 NBA G League champions, the OKC Blue, at home in the semifinals. But, through roster changes and an every changing league, managed the winding roads as the only team in the past two seasons to be in the top three in NBA Call-Ups to make the playoffs in either seasons.

Additionally, HEAT Vice President of Player Personnel and Skyforce General Manager Eric Amsler was named the 2023-24 NBA G League Executive of the Year.

"A championship was goal number one and is always the goal going into the season," Powell said. "We came up short this season. There is a lot to be proud of, though. To accomplish what we did with all the call ups is a testament to how we do things - the HEAT and Skyforce way.

Our front office is always looking ahead, our staff is trying to prepare guys to be next up, and our players really buy in to the development program. Without all of those things coming together, none of it happens. It shows how all need to work just as hard to meet in the middle and did just that."

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