What Pop’s favorite player must do to earn minutes next season for the Spurs

The San Antonio Spurs are banged up as the season winds down, giving certain players more playing time, including one who can prove himself to Gregg Popovich.

Gregg Popovich
Gregg Popovich / Ron Jenkins/GettyImages

The San Antonio Spurs are banged up heading into the final three weeks of the season, giving deep bench players such as Sandro Mamukelashvili more playing time. Mamukelashvili has played sporadically this season but has shown that he can be useful. At 6'9, he has enough touch to be a stretch four or even a small-ball five and has enough ball-handling and court vision to be an effective playmaker in the second unit.

He also plays hard, hustling for loose balls, as well as smart, including making timely cuts to put himself in a position to score. Those tools earned him an extended look last season after signing a 10-day contract around this time last year. However, a year into his time with the Spurs, he has yet to earn consistent playing time.

This is despite coach Gregg Popovich calling him his favorite player on the team. Having the skills needed and the approval of his coach are all good things but for some reason, he just now getting playing time with injuries.

How can Sandro Mamukelashvili earn more playing time going forward?

The two biggest things that will determine Mamu's role going forward are defense and 3-point shooting. Mamu can get blown by while playing away from the rim and doesn't provide much rim protection when defending at the basket. Playing alongside Victor Wembanyama at the end of the first and third quarters and the start of the second and fourth quarters would help mitigate those issues, however.

To his credit, he has shown a knack for boxing out and rebounding, even grabbing 11 boards in 17 minutes against the Golden State Warriors recently. That is encouraging, but to differentiate himself from other big men on the roster, he'll need to become a high-volume 3-point shooter.

During his 19-game stint last season, he shot around the league average at 3.5 attempts in 23.3 minutes per game. However, he is only shooting 26.2% from deep. If he is going to play power forward, then he'll need to do more than be a smart cutter; he'll need to space the floor.

Ultimately, Mamu has the skills needed to be a rotation player for the Spurs. However, he will need to play better defense and become more of a threat from the outside to carve out a role going forward.