The San Antonio Spurs are beginning their tune-up games on Saturday, and you should be paying special attention to the play of these three guys.
The Silver and Black have been anxious to get back on the court and will finally have the chance to do so on Saturday against the Oklahoma City Thunder. With an unfamiliar feeling of having missed the playoffs resting heavily on their shoulders, the San Antonio Spurs will be looking to solidify their rotations as they jump into three preseason games before the regular season begins.
“This ain’t Spurs basketball, sitting out of the playoffs,” said Dejounte Murray during media day. “It’s good to be back. I’m coming for it,” said Patty Mills on Twitter. After coming up just short of playing for the eighth seed in Orlando, the team is extra motivated to get back to the winning basketball San Antonio is used to seeing.
To get back to having a spot in the postseason, the Spurs will need more help from their young guns than ever before. From the sound of it, Gregg Popovich is ready to mix up his lineups this season, which should result in some new faces getting the chance to showcase what they can bring to the court.
While we should expect more playing time from up-and-coming guys like Derrick White and Lonnie Walker, other guys will need to earn their keep as the Spurs look to establish their rotation going into their December 23rd season-opener in Memphis.
Here are three guys to keep your eyes on when the Spurs return to the AT&T Center for the first time since March 10th.
Next: No. 1
1. Tre Jones – San Antonio Spurs Guard
Any time you can add a Duke alum to your squad, it’s usually a plus. A 6-3 guard from Apple Valley, MN, Tre Jones has the two-way capabilities the Spurs have been focusing on with their draft selections for the past few years.
Jones was the ACC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year last season with averages of 16.2 points and 1.8 steals per game as a sophomore. After declaring for the 2020 NBA Draft, Tre fell into the Spurs’ lap as the 41st overall pick.
Going from a legendary college coach like Mike Krzyzewski to a legendary NBA coach like Gregg Popovich will undoubtedly be a blessing for the 20-year-old, as both hold their players to a high standard on both ends of the floor.
In his short time at Duke, Tre’s numerous accolades proved to him that he was ready for the next level, and no team in the league can groom a young, raw talent like the San Antonio Spurs can. Although he shot just 26.2 percent from the 3-point line in his rookie season, he bumped that up 10 percent the following season, showing he can improve with a little work.
Another hidden, albeit very important legend in Spurs lore, Chip Engelland, can help in that regard. Engelland has helped countless past Spurs turn their mediocre jump shots into weapons — from Steve Kerr to Tony Parker to Kawhi Leonard.
Dating back to Dejounte Murray in 2016, the Spurs are on a hot streak of finding gems in the NBA draft and don’t be surprised if Tre Jones turns out to be another of those. “I’m going to go out and try to defend my butt off no matter who I’m guarding,” Jones told the media on Tuesday. That’s what we like to hear.
Next: No. 2
2. Luka Samanic – San Antonio Spurs Forward
Luka Samanic is the definition of a raw project. We’ve seen glimpses of what he can do, most of which came in the Spurs’ season finale against the Utah Jazz in Orlando. At 6-10 and seemingly still growing, Samanic is already one-of-a-kind when it comes to someone with his body type being able to stroke the three-ball.
The Croatian forward has exactly 48 minutes (or one full NBA game) of NBA experience under his belt but spent 33 games in Austin developing his game. As a member of the Austin Spurs, Samanic averaged 15.2 points and 7.8 rebounds in 33 games, showing impressive athleticism throughout his tenure.
As just one player in a long line of upstarts hungry for more minutes, Luka will need to learn on the fly quickly. In his first two games, he looked timid and unsure of himself at every turn and was often lost on the court as a result.
In addition to gaining more on-court confidence, Samanic will need to bulk up to be truly effective in the NBA. Unless he’s about to morph into Dirk Nowitzki on offense, Luka will need more muscle to be an effective player for the Spurs by helping out on the boards and threaten opposing defenses on drives.
Luka is probably the biggest wild card in the Silver and Black going into this season — he could be a permanent benchwarmer or the next big thing. Which one he turns out to be will be up to him and Coach Popovich.
Next: No. 3
3. Devin Vassell – San Antonio Spurs Guard
Since the NBA Draft lottery was introduced in 1985, the Spurs have had just four lottery selections. The first three were David Robinson in 1987, Sean Elliott in 1989, and Tim Duncan in 1997. No pressure, Devin Vassell.
Of course, no one expects Vassell to be another Spur that ends up with his jersey in the rafters, but expectations are still high for the Florida State standout. After playing just 10.7 minutes per game in his freshman year, Vassell shined as a full-time starter last season, putting up 12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game.
Since many NBA fans might not be that familiar with Vassell’s game, I’ll let his Florida State assistant coach, Charlton Young, do the talking for me. In a Valley Tales Newsletter post last October, Gina Mizell profiled Vassell as an upcoming NBA Draft prospect.
“He’s got high-speed WiFi, said Young. “Defensively and offensively, he anticipates everything. He uses his hands. Deflections. Steals. He’s a rim protector at 6-foot-7. You talk about a guy who shoots the 3, who can jump up and bang it at the rim, who’s got a great touch from mid-range, floaters and runners and shoots the 3. And he’s a rim protector and he’s a big-time defender?”
Young further elaborates on how Vassell’s character is just the cherry on top, as he showed the ultimate professionalism when not getting the minutes he deserved as a freshman.
With Keldon Johnson, Derrick White, and Lonnie Walker all dealing withing bumps and bruises, we could see Devin Vassell being thrown into the fire sooner than expected. Something tells me he’ll be ready.