Despite Devin Vassell receiving very inconsistent minutes with the San Antonio Spurs over the course of the season, he showed some flashes of serious long-term potential. As a rookie, Vassell was frequently one of and could soon be the most impactful defensive player on the floor for the Spurs.
He recorded a very respectable 2% steal rate with the Spurs which, including all Spurs players that played at least 1000 total minutes this past season, only trails Dejounte Murray (and only by about three-tenths of a percent). When comparing his steals per game average compared to the rest of the players in the league, only including those that played 20 minutes per game or less, Vassell was tied for sixth in the league this past season.
Furthermore, out of all the players above him on that list, only he and Kira Lewis Jr. are 20 years old or younger. Vassel's speed, instinctual help defense, and a solid understanding of rotations give him a very high ceiling as a wing defender in the league. While his shot wasn't quite falling for him, especially toward the end of the season, he only shot 150 threes on the year and his shooting opportunities were relatively inconsistent.
Devin Vassell could be the San Antonio Spurs' version of Mikal Bridges
A common comparison of Vassell that has been floating around even since before he was drafted is Mikal Bridges. While Bridges is a bit taller and longer compared to Vassell, their slender frames, similar play styles on both sides of the floor, similar shooting upside, and good defensive instincts make them about as good of a comparison that can possibly exist.
That being said, there are some clues that suggest that Vassell has the potential to be even better. On offense, the biggest differentiator between the two players is their pull-up shooting from inside the three-point line. He particularly likes to shoot from around the elbows or just inside the free-throw line off the dribble much like in the example below.
Comparing their rookie years in the league, in the regular season, Vassell took nearly triple the pull-up two-point shots that Bridges did and shot them about 7% better if my math serves me correctly. Both their catch-and-shoot numbers as well as their efficiency near the rim are relatively similar despite Bridges attempting double to triple the number of shots per game compared to Vassell both from three and within five feet of the bucket.
When looking at Bridges' stats from this past season, while he is more efficient than Vassell is now, the key is that Vassell is four years younger than Bridges and already shooting twos much more frequently and more efficiently than Bridges was when he entered the league at 22 years old.
If Vassell's outside shooting continues to improve in the way Bridges' shooting did, which is not necessarily a bad bet considering their very comparable free-throw shooting efficiency, he very well could become a three-level scoring threat that serves as much more than a 3-and-D role player.
On defense, when comparing the two players' per 36-minute stats from their rookie years, Vassell's production appears just as impressive. Vassell is only 0.4 steals per 36 minutes shy of Bridges' steals per 36 minutes, is already just as good of a shot-blocker, and is the superior rebounder, despite recording about 0.7 fewer assists in 36 minutes. Again, for being two years younger than Bridges was as a rookie, those numbers indicate that he could certainly be the better player for his age.
In fact, taking his age into account, one basketball-related channel on YouTube is going so far as to say that Vassell is already one of the best defenders in the entire league. While I do think that could be just a touch hyperbolic, there's no denying that he's currently one of the best at his age and position.
With some of the best developmental staff in the league, including one of the best shooting coaches in Chip Engelland, who's to say that Devin Vassell could not develop similarly to Mikal Bridges, if not surpass him? I, for one, will be waiting patiently to see how Vassell continues to progress as a player as, if his stats are any indicators, Spurs fans could be in for a fun ride with him.