Out On The Road Today I Saw A Deadhead Sticker On A Cadillac
That’s the first thought you might have after switching from NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs–elevating a beautiful game to some of its prettiest heights in decades–to Las Vegas Summer League San Antonio Spurs. It’s amusing to hear the announcers refer to the teams as “The Spurs” or “The Wizards” when there is so little relationship between them. We are spoiled as Spurs fans to get to watch such a beautiful system executed precisely by great players. Summer league makes this abundantly clear.
So why did I watch? Because apparently the depths of my obsession could go a bit deeper. Because coming off the Finals I was still hungry for more. Because I really want Kyle Anderson to be another late draft steal for the good guys. And so you wouldn’t have to.
Yet, by the end, I was into it. After a week, the team was starting to gel in just the slightest, and the new tourney format of the Summer League worked its magic on me. I was wanted the Spurs to win the Summer League. I really did. (One might want to look up Stockholm Syndrome at this point.) When they lost in 3OT to the Wizards, I was a little pissed. (Particularly since the Wizards sent the game into the third OT by running a beautiful hammer set that is the bread and butter of the Spurs system.)
The “real” Spurs are in a unique position in that there are really no roster spots left open. So Summer League isn’t necessarily about trying to find new players or really even get new players up to snuff. The first 10 spots on the roster are already filled. Most of the players on the Spurs’ Summer League roster were more or less playing for other teams to see. Still, there were a few players worth watching closely.
To my mind, Anderson was the most important player on the Spurs’ Summer League roster. He was picked in the first round and is guaranteed a contract. He will be on the roster. How his skills translate to the NBA and how much he will play are variable.
Anderson is a lanky 6’9″. He found his niche in college (at UCLA) by being a PG. His nickname is ‘SloMo’, less for being slow of foot, but more for the deliberate pace at which he plays. He is often compared to Boris Diaw, and the comparison is fair to a point. Both are about the same height, seemingly lacking in athleticism, with great passing and court vision. Because of his size and strength, Diaw can play up. Anderson will have a hard time playing PF or C, but can play down, at any of the 1, 2, or 3 position.
Anderson’s court vision is apparent within minutes of watching him play. He is unselfish, has a great handle for his size, and is already an excellent passer (a skill that is hard to show off in summer league). It’s also apparent that the Spurs are grooming him to be more of a 2 and 3. They didn’t run him at the PG spot at all in Summer League, rather having him play mostly the 3, to simulate what his role will most likely be on the team. The problem with this–and with Summer League in general–is that most of these players are here playing for their professional lives, and they are looking to impress scouts and GMs. The best way to do this is to score and score impressively. Ball movement is at a minimum, and any semblance of team system is out the window because players need to pad their stats and because the team only has a week together.
So Anderson was often relegated to the wings, standing in the usual spots behind the 3-point line. When he did get his opportunities, he impressed. He had a couple of drives that were really clever, and he seems to already have an NBA-ready floater. Like I said, ‘SloMo’ is really about his pace, not his speed. He was able to get by and around multiple defenders, despite looking like he was out for a casual stroll in the park. He knows where he wants to go and he gets there. His long range shot looks good, and he can get it off pretty easily with his height and long arms. He has a tendency to want to shoot off the dribble (long 2s instead of 3s), and I’m sure the coaching staff will work on this. His passing and vision were great. On the rare occasions he had to do some real playmaking, he did it.
His defense was better than I imagined. While he often got caught ball watching and drifting out of position (very common for rookies), he showed a willingness and dedication to playing D (a must for the Spurs, as we all know). He used his length to bother most everybody he guarded, making shots and drives difficult. Even when players got by him or thought they had a clean look, he was able to disrupt the play. He has quick reflexes and can use his long arms to dig down and get steals (think a combination of Manu and Kawhi, though not nearly at that level yet, obviously). He’ll have trouble guarding bigger players until he strengthens up, and is probably too slow to guard lightning quick guards, but he was very impressive guarding 3s. In particular, I thought he played Andrew Wiggins very well.
I’m anxious to see him with the Spurs. His style should fit beautifully with the big club, where his unselfishness and passing and team sacrifice will blend in perfectly. He could probably pick-up with our bench unit today and fit in without missing a beat. He should play beautifully with the Manu/Boris/Marco/Patty crowd where they can all pass, handle, play make, and shoot, and the ‘positions’ aren’t all that important. With Patty hurt, he could even see some “PG” time in the second units, but still guarding 3s and big 2s (as long as Danny or Cory are around to guard quick guards). He might even be able to get away with guarding some second unit PGs in the league. I think the Spurs see him as a 3, though, and is probably being groomed in the short run to be Kawhi’s back-up for the 10-15 minutes that might be available there.
Surprisingly, both Daye and Ayres were at Summer League, despite both being in the league for several years and both being in rotations on professional NBA teams in their careers. From what I heard, both volunteered to go.
Daye did not impress me. It was clear his mandate was to shoot as much as he wanted and work on his offense. If the Spurs are grooming him to be a Stretch-4, I’d still take Bonner over him. He shot like shit all week from 3. Just horrendous. If he’s missing these shots against Summer League competition, what will happen in the NBA? He did show a nice handle for a player his size, and some cleverness with the ball, but he’s still not quick enough to get from the 3-point line to the rim. So he’ll need to develop that midrange game like Bonner has (Matt is fun to poke fun at, but you don’t stick around the NBA for 10+ years without being good, and he has added a ton to his game over the last 7 years in SA), where he can get into that 10-12 foot range and put up floaters and short jumpers. He also showed some nice vision and passing…when he wasn’t mercilessly chucking.
His D did not impress, though he drew some charges on clear flops. But at least he was willing to step in.
Mostly, I didn’t like his attitude. He seemed irritated, frustrated, and negative most of the time. He wasn’t a strong example for young players looking to earn their way into the league.
Frankly, I’m surprised the Spurs guaranteed his contract for next season. Floor spacing bigs are valuable, but I think Bonner and Diaw are much more valuable than Daye. And if signing Daye costs us Baynes, that feels like a mistake to me. We’ll see. The contract is only about a million dollars, so there’s not much risk if the team does just cut him.
I admit, I have a soft spot for Ayres. We share a name. He plays hard. He has limited skill, but still contributes. I feel like Ayres plays the exact same in playoff games as he does in regular season games as he does in Summer League games as he does in pick-up games at the Y with my buddies. He’ll always have horrible hands (he really can’t catch any sort of tricky pass); he’ll miss a bunch of dunks and layups. But he’ll bust his ass, set vicious screens, fight for boards, play hard D, and do whatever it takes for his team to win. He’ll never be a star, even at the Y. But he can play in the league. If he’s your first big off the bench, you’re probably in trouble. If he’s your 5th big in a 6 big rotation, you’re in good hands. (Not literally, though; his hands are awful.)
The Spurs signed Cotton to a contract, but it’s basically a ‘make good’ contract, meaning he has a spot at training camp, but no guarantees beyond that. Given the roster situation, it’d be hard to make the roster, but there might be some finagling to be done to keep his rights and stash him in Austin. Cotton is a very short pG (listed at 6’1″, I have a hard time believing he cracks 5’11”) who can score, score, score. Which he did. He got blocked a lot (something that happens frequently in Summer League with so many ill-advised shots), but did show quite an aptitude for finding the space to get a clean look off more often than not.
He was billed as a scorer, but what impressed me more was his handle. He’s very quick and can change direction or stop on a dime, often leaving his defender befuddled and stumbling. He was a willing passer and playmaker and had a nice competitiveness to his game. Still, at his height, there were deficiencies on both ends of the court. He showed me enough to be intrigued going into training camp, though.
A few other players stood out to me.
JaMychal Green is a 6’8″ forward with a ton of athleticism and energy. Without getting much called for him, he ran and jumped his way into plenty of offensive rebounds and layups. He played some fine D, as well, getting the block and then running the floor for the fast break layup more than once. He’d be a really good ‘change of pace’ player off the bench, which is what he did in several of these Summer League games.
Deshaun Thomas was drafted by the Spurs, and I believe we still have his rights. He won’t be on the team this year, but he is a forward who knows how to score. If he works on his D and just keeps putting in the time, he could one day be role player on the roster.
Darius Morris and Vander Blue both had flashes at the guard position, showing the ability to score and run a team. Blue, in particular, really stood out in the last game, showing nifty passing to go along with his ability to attack and score. I think the Spurs have the rights to Morris.
And now we wait for the real games to begin again.
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