The fact that Gary Neal has played two seasons in the NBA, much less succeeding in his tenure, is miraculous.
It was a mere two years ago that Neal was without a job, without a direction, without any reason to believe he’d have an opportunity in the NBA. He was 25; a stage where players don’t typically develop basketball ability out of thin air.
You couldn’t blame him for feeling predisposed, doomed to an unsuccessful career, for giving up. When his opportunity came; in a five-game stint in Vegas, he led the Spurs in scoring (16.0) while converting on 64.8% of his attempts (including free throws.) He was efficient, he was aggressive and he handled the pick-and-roll reasonably well for a 25-year-old journeyman point guard.
Neal received a training camp invite, whether it was long overdue was irrelevant at that point, and parlayed the invite into an impressive rookie season, a season where he played 80 games, en route to a first team All-Rookie selection along with more prominent up-and-coming stars in DeMarcus Cousins, Blake Griffin and John Wall.
His second season was every bit the rousing success of his inaugural season, if not more so, as he saw his workload at the point guard position rise incrementally. Tasked with carrying the ball up the floor, a seemingly austere task that does inherently require a more cerebral approach, Neal excelled; he averaged 25.9 points and 6.6 assists per 48 minutes at point according to 82games.com.
The acquisitions of Nando De Colo and Patty Mills coupled with the nature of his contract, this season will be the last before he enters restricted free agency next season, provide him more than enough impetus to perform well this year. If he separates himself from De Colo and Mills, he may be in line for Danny Green type money (~$4 million a year).
San Antonio may not deem his defensive ineptitude worth that kind of money, especially with other guards on board, even though he grades as a top 100 player, per MySynergySports, on pick-and-rolls, isolations, spot-ups and off screens.
But Neal will need to sustain his production and that will entail separating himself from his peers and playing well under the pressure of performing well in a dynamic market.