San Antonio Spurs: Ranking the Top 5 guys likely to take the big leap

Keldon Johnson, Dejounte Murray
Keldon Johnson, Dejounte Murray / Ronald Cortes/Getty Images
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San Antonio Spurs
Devin Vassell / Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

4. Will Devin Vassell transcend the Spurs’ traditional path to relevance?

Rookie dues come in different forms on every team, and while there’s sure to be some light hazing along the way, Spurs rookies often pay their dues with a stint in Austin. San Antonio revolutionized the way that NBA teams utilize the G League to develop talent internally; constructing a blueprint that inspired how organizations like the Toronto Raptors and Memphis Grizzlies operate today.

Last season, rookie Devin Vassell quickly proved that he belongs in the NBA. He was the first Spurs rookie to log 1,000+ minutes since Kawhi Leonard and finished with a stronger on/off differential per 100 possessions than DeMar DeRozan, Keldon Johnson, and Lonnie Walker IV.

San Antonio knows it struck gold with Vassell, who projects to become a high-level defender and 3-point specialist—though anyone who watched Vassell in college or Summer League knows he can be much more than that. Vassell can reach All-Star status if he tightens his ball-handling ability and grows more comfortable shooting off the dribble.

The question is, how will he insert himself into that conversation? Presumably coming off the bench with players who are senior to him, Vassell needs the rest of the team to instill their trust in him. Of all the players listed for ‘the leap,’ it’s Vassell who possesses the highest threshold for growth. His length, strength, size, and skill aren’t taken lightly in the NBA, but unless he breaks the mold, Vassell could find himself shoehorned as a 3-and-D wing forever.

Vassell is the young Spur who has the greatest likelihood to embark on a similar trajectory to Kawhi. He possesses a wide range of skills so early, but there’s enough room for improvement offensively that it’s attainable for him to work his way into All-Star games or All-NBA teams one day. Even without substantial offensive growth, Vassell’s defensive gifts will impact the game no matter what.

The baseline skills are in place for Vassell to thrive, and he’s much further along with his jumper than Kawhi was at his age. This season might not be his best chance to show it, but I wouldn’t be a single bit surprised if Vassell is the player front and center on Spurs billboards for the next decade and beyond.

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