He may be the most underappreciated rookie in the NBA this season, but the San Antonio Spurs are quickly learning what they have in Devin Vassell. “Devin is a natural basketball player,” said Gregg Popovich after San Antonio’s recent victory over Portland. He always seems to know what he should be doing on the court.”
It’s easy to see what Coach Pop sees when watching Vassell on the floor. Boasting a remarkable 19:3 ratio of assists to turnovers in the first 14 games of the season, that number is only the start of what makes Devin so impressive.
Despite getting just 18 minutes per night, Vassell is right behind Dejounte Murray in steals per game with 1.4. Murray, by the way, plays nearly 33 minutes a night. Spread out over 36 minutes, Vassell’s steals almost double to 2.7. He’s also second in deflections per game on the Spurs with 2.1 to Dejounte’s 3.3.
All of this is impressive enough for a rookie, but even all of that is just the tip of the iceberg. FiveThirtyEight, who have their own elaborate way of tracking the performance of NBA players daily, rates Vassell into the stratosphere.
The San Antonio Spurs have found yet another gem
For those not familiar, FiveThirtyEight developed a system called RAPTOR in 2013. To read the full breakdown of how it works, you can click here. The CliffNotes version? They use extremely advanced analytics, including real adjusted plus-minus minutes and team performance with a particular player to assign a RAPTOR rating.
To give you an idea of the caliber of players that score highest on this scale, here are the top five players in overall RAPTOR rating as of Sunday morning:
1. Mike Conley: +11.32. Kawhi Leonard: +10.63. Joel Embiid: +10.04. Nikola Jokic: +9.55. Anthony Davis: +9.1
Each score is broken down by totaling the net of offensive RAPTOR plus defensive RAPTOR. For example, Anthony Davis gets 9.1 by adding his offensive score of 5.1 to his defensive score of 4.0. Let’s have a look at the numbers when you rank them by rookies only.
1. Devin Vassell: +4.52. Payton Pritchard: +3.43. Immanuel Quickley: +1.44. Isaiah Stewart: +1.05. Precious Achiuwa: +0.4
Surprisingly, Vassell is head and shoulders over every other rookie in the league in overall effectiveness. Unsurprisingly, that’s due to a +3.5 defensive score. Per 36 minutes, Devin’s 2.7 steals and 0.4 turnovers mean he’s worth an extra two possessions per game for the Spurs all on his own.
In a league increasingly valuing the 3-and-D wing, Devin is showing fascinating potential at just 20 years old. Gregg Popovich will have a decision to make when Derrick White returns to the lineup, as Vassell had a DNP in White’s lone game played. That was only five games in, so let’s hope Coach Pop has seen enough not to let that happen again.