With media day now over with, NBA basketball is finally upon us with the start of the San Antonio Spurs training camp today. Going into training camp, there will be several positional battles that fans will need to keep a lookout for, particularly because there are still 18 players on the roster.
One of the fiercest battles that we'll likely get a taste of soon will be at the center position. While Jakob Poeltl will in all likelihood be the Spurs' starting center, that will leave all of Drew Eubanks, Zach Collins, and Jock Landale to duke it out for the backup spot.
That said, Eubanks will debatably come into the season with a bit of an advantage to start, given that he already has experience with the team and managed to play some good basketball toward the end of last season. Even then, though, Collins is a former lottery pick with high potential on both ends of the court (assuming he can stay healthy).
Out of all four players, Landale will be the one coming into the season with the most unknowns. While he undoubtedly played well enough to make the transition to the NBA from overseas, ultimately, this will be his rookie year in the league at 25 (and soon to be 26) years old. To secure a consistent spot in the Spurs' rotations, he will have to make his presence felt during training camp and perhaps even the preseason. Here's how he can accomplish that.
Jock Landale needs to focus on shooting and rebounding
Although Landale doesn't have any experience in the NBA up to this point, it would be a tremendous mistake to underestimate his ability. In the NBL, he was the 2021 Grand Final MVP--which is essentially the equivalent of the Finals MVP in the NBA--and led Melbourne United to a championship with their win over the Perth Wildcats.
While he was very obviously impressive in that campaign, what was most impressive was how well he performed over the course of the entire season. In the 41 games he played in his first and only season in the NBL, he averaged 16.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game.
While translating that level of play over to the NBA will be a challenge, there are a couple of key ways in which Landale can win the battle for the backup spot. This begins with his rebounding. The Spurs were 18th in the league in rebounds per game this past season even with Poeltl and Keldon Johnson grabbing several per game, and that will need to improve if the team wants a shot at the playoffs. Rebounding well will be particularly important in the bench unit, as the starting unit will already have several capable rebounders in Poeltl, Johnson, and Murray.
Above-average rebounding won't be quite enough to solidify that rotation spot for him, though. Where Landale will be able to really outshine his competition will be with his shooting ability. While Poeltl and Eubanks generally don't shoot threes at all and Collins is only a career 32% three-point shooter, Landale shot 39% from three last year on 3.6 attempts per game.
Stretch bigs, and three-point shooting in general, is becoming increasingly valuable in the NBA to the point that it could be a colossal mistake not to play Landale if he shows similar production in the NBA, regardless of any of his other shortcomings. While Eubanks is certainly more athletic and physical, and Collins and Poeltl are better defenders, Landale's shooting is unique to him for his size.
This additionally would give the Spurs the option to slide Landale to the power forward position while having one of Poeltl, Eubanks, Collins, or even Thaddeus Young on the floor playing at center.
If Landale can come into training camp and prove that his accurate three-point shooting wasn't a fluke and that he can fight for rebounds, he will be well-deserving of a spot on the floor regardless of whether it's at the power forward or center position.