The Miami Heat called up Briante Weber for last three games of the season and the playoffs, but other intriguing prospects await on the their NBA D-League affiliate team the Sioux Falls Skyforce, DeAndre Liggins, was named NBADL Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) and Jarnell Stokes the league's MVP by SB Nation blog Ridiculous Upside. The third runner-up for DPOY was Greg Whittington of the Skyforce.
Ridiculous Upside said of Liggins:
"One of the most imposing and pestering one-on-one defenders, he isn't one to back down from any challenge. Liggins can handle guarding some of the league's more potent offensive options from three, or arguably even four, different positions. His mental toughness, on-the-court attitude, and respective physicality all add to how/why he easily stands in the way of a talented scorer getting his way."
...and of Stokes:
"Skillful big men are rare to come by in the D-League, mostly in part because they are almost as rare to come by at the next level as well. As such, Stokes had a clear advantage over less talented and/or smaller players attempting to play his position. There's no doubt that, at 6'9" and 260 pounds, he certainly has an NBA body. Lucky for him, Stokes knows how to use such physicality to his advantage. He has a very special post-up game and can score with ease. He has an uncanny ability to create and score with his back to the basket, while also cashing in on high percentage looks."
Liggins earned the NBADL's coaches DPOY previously in 2014, where he was cited as a lock-down defender. He played part of a season with the OKC Thunder and had two 10-day contracts with the Miami Heat.
With few draft picks this decade, the NBA D-League has been one of the few sources of young talent for the Miami Heat. This season the Skyforce had promising players in Stokes, Weber, Liggins, Greg Whittington, Rodney McGruder, and Keith Benson on the team.
Some critics dismiss D-Leaguers as inferior prospects, but Hassan Whiteside and Josh Richardson both proved that, receiving elite training and determination, players with D-League experience can succeed in the big stage of the NBA. The return of Tyler Johnson will set up a contentious battle among the young ones for a spot on the Miami Heat squad next season.
Weber signed a non-guaranteed 3-year deal to assure the Heat his Bird Rights when his contract expires in 2019. Since this season counts as the first year, the contract avoids the issue Miami has with Whiteside.
Richardson shows what intense practice can do to elevate a player's game. Selected as an overlooked second-round draft pick, he blossomed enough to be named the NBA's Rookie of the Month for March 2016. This month's fight for seeding and the first-round playoff experience will make youngsters, such as him, battle-tested for years to come. The blend of veterans and newbies make a perfect blend to transition the Miami Heat to the new NBA style of play..
The Heat's ability to take talented, but troubled, players such as Chris Andersen and Whiteside and make them important parts of winning teams, shows what makes the organization special. Liggins had his own issues that buried his basketball abilities earlier, but there is no questioning his basketball skills. On a team that had Brandon Knight, Liggins more held his own in Kentucky, "[Liggins] carried us the whole game....We would have been blown out without him."
Dan Craig may be called up to advise Miami during the playoffs, because his experience as a head coach with the record-setting Skyforce gives him an entirely different perspective on the game than assistant coaches have. The Heat will need all the help they can get to go past the first round, which the immediate concern.
Next season will present vast opportunities if Chris Bosh is cleared to play. Adding him to the current mix gives the Heat enough talent to be an elite team without needing to add outside free agents. Just keeping the current squad intact will be a challenge for the team over the summer, including the resigning of Whiteside.
At one time Dwight Howard was considered a franchise player. SB Nation noted, "Many of Dwight Howard's offensive skills never developed. Now that his physical tools are not enough, he's struggling to make an impact on that end." Will Hassan become a Howard or a Tim Duncan?