Devin Vassell makes appearance on insider's 10 favorite things list
By Oscar Barkis
For any burgeoning fan who has yet to be introduced to Zach Lowe’s weekly Ten Things article, I cannot recommend any source of basketball content more (other than the work here at Air Alamo, of course). Lowe, a senior writer at ESPN, deserves a ton of credit for getting fans into the sport, myself included. He has a unique way of simultaneously making the game easier to understand while integrating high-level points of data.
When the Spurs made the infamous trade for DeMar DeRozan, and it was clear the team was no longer a bonafide contender, my interest in basketball began to slip. The 2019 playoff series against Denver helped me spark renewed love for the game, especially as we got to watch fan favorite Derrick White dominate. But knowing my team’s chances at true contention were likely over after a 20-year run of dominance, it was still hard to find passion.
Zach Lowe’s articles helped get me back into basketball. And because Lowe watches so much ball, he tends to give props to players in smaller markets. That a national writer decides to allocate words to teams like Orlando, Indiana, and San Antonio means a lot. I know it should be the expectation that people who cover the NBA give time to all 30 teams, but we all know that isn’t the case. Thankfully for Spurs fans, Zach Lowe does just that.
Note: This Ten Things list is behind the ESPN+ paywall. I know that is prohibitive to some, but fear not— I will discuss what he wrote about below! I pay attention anytime Lowe writes or speaks, especially when he mentions our San Antonio Spurs. And since he included Devin Vassell in his latest Ten Things article, I decided to write this piece.
Number three on Lowe’s list is “Devin Vassell’s sweet, sweet jumper — and what it opens up.” Zach notes in the first paragraph how it isn’t shocking DV’s growth has slipped under the radar of most basketball fans. While Devin began the season as an underground Most Improved Player candidate, several missed games and an abysmal team record have taken him out of that race.
Not to worry, says Lowe; though Vassell “hasn’t broken out to the degree that would draw national fawning… he’s not too far from that.” Then he breaks down what makes Devin special— his shooting touch. “Vassell has a smooth, liquid jumper. He rises high and has a buttery touch. He makes… shot[s] look easy. [They are] not.”
Zach also pulls clips from games to explain what he is talking about, but you’ll need to open his article to see that. He uses a few videos to explain various actions the Spurs run to get Devin shots, including pindowns early into the shot clock. The team understands the kind of shooter Vassell can become if they capitalize on his elite traits and feel. Why not allow #24 some room to stretch his game during a season in which wins matter less?
The two numbers that stick out from Lowe’s work are both shot-making related— Devin is shooting “a gargantuan” 44% on catch-and-shoot three-pointers (considering the dearth of talent surrounding him, this is incredibly impressive), as well as 48% on long twos. That kind of accuracy is something you can’t teach. Again from Zach: “he’s starting to understand the threat his pull-up poses” considering the effect it has on defenders. Relatedly, and nearly as important, Vassell is averaging over three assists per game.
It is fun to imagine how his shooting and playmaking numbers might look when the Spurs no longer ask him to be their number one option. With a high lottery talent on the team taking defensive pressure off him next season, Vassell could (and frankly, should) take another leap. Back to Lowe’s earlier point, maybe this next jump in performance is what gets him on the national radar.
Let me drag everyone back to earth with two places for improvement that Zach mentions (and which some Spurs fans have also been clamoring about). First is finishing around the rim; Vassell “doesn’t get to the basket or the line much,” says Lowe. Considering the vast improvement in that area by teammate Keldon Johnson this season, I have to think that the team will focus on that over the summer. More efficient driving will only help further develop Devin’s skills as a passer.
The second area Devin has lacked in this season is on D. Considering his prowess for defending at Florida State and in his first two seasons in the league, as well as his body type (Vassell has pterodactyl wings for arms), it is disappointing that his defense has dipped a bit this year. Realistically, the numbers say more about his situation (missing 35 games, lack of good defenders around him) than they do about future play. Little cherry on top for the Spurs defensively— there has been a noted improvement post-All-Star break (see below). That’s a great sign for next season.
I can’t tell you how ecstatic I was to see Devin listed as one of Zach’s favorite things this week. For him to be as optimistic about Vassell’s potential as I am (“he’s showing signs of becoming a 20-plus-point scorer with strong secondary ball handling chips”) feels like a dream come true. San Antonio has the makings of something here; the most desired skill in the NBA is shooting, and in Devin and Malaki Branham, the Spurs have two young guys with the potential to be elite shooters.
It feels as though I close with this sentence a lot, but all that matters now is trying to add the guy to this mix. The Spurs are closer to that than they’ve been since before I started reading Lowe.