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What happens in Vegas Summer League…

By Jeff Koch on July 17, 2009.

…usually doesn’t mean a whole hell of a lot.

But still, it’s nice to watch the once and future (and never will be) Spurs fight for recognition and credibility. Summer League is a chance for rookies to make their introduction to the league, sophomores to hone their skills and try to earn some more playing time, and fringe players to fight for notoriety and roster spots.

There is some fantastic Spurs VSL coverage from our friends at 48minutesofhell and PoundingTheRock (AusTechSpur from PtR is even in Vegas doing some excellent reporting). So I won’t bore you with the details and the minutiae and the analysis, as that’s already being done superbly elsewhere.

There are a few key elements that I’m very interested in seeing from VSL. Is Mahinmi ever going to be ready for the big team? Is Blair going to be as good as advertised? Will Gist, McClinton, and Hairston make the leap to San Antonio? But the most important question I have is this: What will become of George Hill?

By all accounts, Hill had a tremendous rookie year. Due to injuries, he got some starts early in the year and did not disappoint, helping lead the team to some necessary and surprising wins. He seems to have a real knack for defense, and a presence and maturity about him that belies his years (and endears him to Spurs’ coaches and fans alike). After mysteriously being benched late in the year, he made a strong showing in the last few games of the playoffs, being one of the few Spurs to acquit himself well in the disastrous series against the Mavs.

All of this is wonderful, and he has a bright future in the organization…if he can learn to play point guard. We desperately need him to be Tony Parker’s backup. We haven’t really had a true back-up PG since Speedy Claxton, and that’s been a long time. For our last few postseason runs, Manu was the de facto back-up PG. Which isn’t a bad thing, but it would be nice to have more than 2 players that you can trust with the ball in their hands. Plus, as last season wore down, it became apparent that Tony Parker was being worn down from carrying too much of the offensive load. We need to be able to spell him in games and throughout the season, and we need to be able to do it without worry of our entire offense falling apart.

Late in the season last year, Roger Mason, Jr. became the back-up point guard. Now while I don’t believe this to be as big a disaster as many Spurs’ faithful do, it’s definitely not the right move. Not only is Mason, Jr. an average PG and ball handler at best, but being forced to play PG diminishes his true value to the team as a dead eye 3 point assassin. He should be waiting in the corners and at the top of the key for kick outs from penetration, unloading dagger baskets. He’s proven that he’s quite good at that. (Sidenote: I chose the longer clip because it makes the moment so much more delicious when you realize that the Suns, just moments before Mason, Jr.’s shot, thought they had the game won.)

It’s quite clear that we need a real back up PG this season. And yet, the FO has done nothing to get one (to our knowledge). To me, that shows a lot of faith and belief in Hill. Clearly they see something there and trust that he will get the job done. So as we follow VSL, we want to follow Hill very closely to see how he’s doing. Which, by all accounts, is spectacular. Over at truehoop, David Thorpe is tweet-raving about his games. It shows that he’s been working very hard on improving his floor game. With any luck, he will be a very good back up to Tony Parker, giving us one of the more potent back courts in the league.

It takes a million little pieces and a million little moments to win a championship. There are the obvious big ones, starting with the superstars in this league. But every great championship team has had superb role players, making amazing plays at opportune times. The Spurs have made some big moves this offseason, signing Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess. They are renewing thier commitment to championships. But at the end of the year, if the Spurs are hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy, the most important piece of that puzzle may end up being the development and emergence of George Hill as a critical rotation player.

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