4 Players who must rise to the occasion for the inconsistent Spurs

After a rough start to the season for the San Antonio Spurs, these 4 players have a chance to rise to the occasion and solidify their future with the team.

Devin Vassell - Los Angeles Lakers v San Antonio Spurs
Devin Vassell - Los Angeles Lakers v San Antonio Spurs / Ronald Cortes/GettyImages
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Devin Vassell

Starting with the obvious, Spurs starting shooting guard Devin Vassell likely has the best chance of putting together a statement season. He’s had a peculiar developmental trajectory since being selected by the Spurs in the 2020 NBA Draft, as his defensive prowess—both on and off the ball—was his main calling card when he entered the draft. Since then, though, his offense—specifically his scoring ability off the bounce and his vision as a creator—has grown by leaps and bounds. Meanwhile, the defensive aptitude he was known for has taken a back seat.

While Vassell’s defensive impact hasn’t entirely disappeared, his steal rate, block rate, and defensive win shares are all at career lows in his fourth season with the Silver and Black. Some have chalked it up to his sheer offensive load; some think the muscle he’s added to his frame came at the expense of agility; and others think the Spurs’ defensive infrastructure just isn’t quite where it needs to be at the moment for his impact to be felt. And in reality, all of these things are likely contributing factors on some level.

The Spurs will be assessing their players’ long-term outlooks, however, and while Vassell’s defense (or lack thereof) will undoubtedly be something to keep an eye on, the team’s higher priority will likely be to assess his offensive ceiling in a year where a lot is being asked of him. Despite being toward the very top of opponents’ scouting reports and playing in an adjusted role with Victor Wembanyama in the mix, he’s become a more efficient pull-up shooter compared to last season, showing improvement from the field overall (40% to 44.7%) on a similar volume of shots and even more improvement from beyond the arc (28.2% to 35.8%) on a slightly higher volume of shots.

If you’re Spurs brass, this is an encouraging development, particularly after signing him to a five-year, $146 million extension. Vassell’s defensive capabilities are already known, particularly when in a better team defensive context, so if he can remain consistent as a go-to option on offense, that will almost surely be enough to keep him around for quite a while. As the Spurs add more capable creators on offense to take the load off Vassell, Wembanyama and Jeremy Sochan continue growing as the team’s defensive anchors, and more capable defenders are added to the roster in the near future, the idea will be that Vassell’s two-way impact should begin to reappear in due time.