Another 82-game regular season is almost in the books for the Spurs, and while they have slipped to the bottom of the NBA standings, there are still plenty of reasons to call the first year of their full-scale rebuild a success. Several youngsters have made meaningful developmental strides, and the rest of their roster has shown encouraging growth despite all the losses.
We always knew the coaching staff would afford Keldon Johnson, Jeremy Sochan, and Devin Vassell the leeway to push the limits of their talents as go-to scorers and lead ballhandlers. Those core players have given Spurs fans a reason to be optimistic about the future of this franchise, but there are three supporting cast members who have been a pleasant surprise.
1. Keita Bates-Diop
Keita Bates-Diop is sneakily putting together a fantastic finish to this third season in Silver and Black. He has averaged 11.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 2.5 assists on praiseworthy .483/.364/.750 shooting splits in his newfound role as a full-time starter over the last 21 games. Though San Antonio lost most of those matchups, his production has been more than empty stats.
The fifth-year combo forward might not be box-office material, but he has the attributes of a winning player. Bates-Diop is a selfless passer, capable shooter (48.4% on wide-open threes), and clever cutter. He battles on the boards for putbacks, defends multiple positions, rarely commits turnovers or personal fouls, and finishes at the basket off second-side actions.
2. Devonte' Graham
Despite initially looking like a salary filler in a deal that landed the Spurs a load of future second-round picks at the trade deadline, Devonte' Graham has been a tremendous addition. The 28-year-old guard fell out of favor with head coach Willie Green in New Orleans, but he has rediscovered the marksmanship that made him an invaluable sparkplug earlier in his career.
Graham has averaged 15.5 points and 4.6 assists while shooting 38.9% on more than 100 three-point attempts since arriving in San Antonio, offering this rebuilding franchise much-needed playmaking and floor spacing. This union could end this summer if a contender comes calling with an enticing package of picks and prospects, but Graham has exceeded expectations.
3. Sandro Mamukelashvili
Can we take a minute to appreciate how much fun Sandro Mamukelashvili has been since signing with the Silver and Black? The second-year center has facilitated fastbreaks, tossed lobs through unbelievable windows, and drained threes. His ball skills are off the charts, and it has been wonderful to watch him flourish as part of this exciting youth movement in the 2-1-0.
Mamukelashvili has averaged 7.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game while connecting on 40.9% of his shots from beyond the arc across his first two weeks with the Spurs. The 23-year-old big man has injected his new club with international flare and improved court spacing. He was not a good fit for the title-contending Bucks, but he may have a home with San Antonio.