In a rebuilding season that's all about player development for the San Antonio Spurs, fans are beginning to see development from forward Romeo Langford. Langford's emergence as a passable rotation player is surprising, all the more so because he appeared likely to be the Spurs' final cut before the start of the season.
This is after being a former Celtics lottery pick and nearly washing out of the NBA. Luckily, he had another season to prove himself and was even granted a change of scenery. That change in scenery came when he was included as a throw-in in the Derrick White trade.
That trade is looking increasingly one-sided, with the Spurs using it to get rid of White's contract while freeing up minutes for Devin Vassell. Vassell is already better than White, and the Spurs were also given a first-round pick and the rights to swap picks in 2028, in addition to Langford. Now Langford is starting to contribute to the team.
How has Romeo Langford carved out a role?
After struggling to find his niche in the NBA, Langford has begun to find his footing by simply playing defense. To be fair, he's been surprisingly good on that end and has even earned the praise of coach Gregg Popovich.
"He might be our best on-ball defender. He just might be. He’s got quick feet, he’s got long arms, he anticipated really well..." Popovich said.
Considering that Popovich is known as a defensive coach, those kind words about Langford are all the more impressive. Already, we've seen him matched up against the likes of Anthony Edwards and watched as he hassled him every chance he got.
He's big enough to hold his own against most wings and battle over screens, which makes it hard for them to gain separation, and his length and timing can affect shots. Langford's also a good help defender and has proven effective at helping on drives, even slapping the ball loose, while also being able to scurry back to his man to prevent kick-out passes. Additionally, he's shown the ability to provide weakside rim protection—just ask Rudy Gobert.
Langford has role-player potential but needs more improvement
On offense, Langford is still trying to figure things out, but the Spurs can afford to be patient with him. He isn't a particularly good shooter, so teams ignore him when he plays off-ball, but he is a good cutter and can sneak in for easy baskets by using backdoor cuts. He can also put the ball on the floor and attack closeouts but seems to favor floaters when in the lane.
There are remnants of a useful offensive player, albeit a low-usage one, ala Keita Bates-Diop, who Langford should try to model his game off of. Bates-Diop is a skilled and versatile defender who can have unexpectedly big offensive games by taking advantage of defenders who fall asleep guarding him. It's not always pretty, but he's been able to carve out a role for himself in the NBA after being a second-round pick, and Langford can too.
While he may not be a part of the team's long-term plans at this point, Langford has perhaps salvaged his NBA career with his recent play and should have more opportunities this season to prove himself. As a result, Langford is the real deal and can help the Spurs this season.