NBA All-Star Weekend culminates in Salt Lake City with Team LeBron and Team Giannis going head to head tonight in the midseason spectacle that is the All-Star Game. Spurs fans have become accustomed to cheering on icons like George Gervin, David Robinson, and Tim Duncan as they soak in the spotlight alongside fellow household names. But for only the fifth time in team history, San Antonio will have no participants in the annual event.
When you have 45 losses and the second-worst record in the association, it isn't shocking when none of your players receive an invitation to the All-Star celebration. Nevertheless, the Silver and Black faithful shouldn't sulk. San Antonio has an excess of talent on their roster, and one of their young standouts is on course to transform into an All-Star hopeful in the not-so-distant future. Who might that be? Look no further than Devin Vassell.
The third-year swingman was experiencing a breakthrough season before arthroscopic knee surgery left him on the sidelines in early January. Devin raised his per-game numbers and shooting percentages across the board, averaging a career-high 19.4 points on 44.5% shooting. Although an uptick in touches and shots naturally led to a surge in his production, Vassell has made developmental strides that set him apart from the rest of the roster.
Before we dive into the areas Devin has shown the most improvement, it's vital to comprehend the baseline skills that equip him with a foundation to build upon as the rest of his repertoire expands.
Vassell is a reliable source of ancillary offense for San Antonio. He makes timely cuts to the hoop, sprints in transition for uncontested buckets, and uses his enormous six-ten wingspan in the passing lanes to flip steals into fastbreak opportunities. Vassell has attacked closeouts effectively, taking advantage of his shooting prowess to create unimpeded driving lanes.
That off-ball movement also translates beyond the arc, where Vassell hits 40.5% of his threes and can drain them in a handful of different scenarios. He can hit trifectas flying off screens or handoffs going in either direction, relocate in the corners or wings within the flow of the motion offense, and stroll into long-range attempts in transition. But a newfound willingness to fire away off the dribble is perhaps his most promising evolution.
Everything about his burgeoning three-point arsenal is also true about his well-rounded in-between game. However, Vassell has already established himself as an elite midrange gunner, going an astounding 48.3% from that zone. Out of the 12 players attempting over four midrange shots per game this season, only All-NBA honorees Kevin Durant (57.1%) and Bradley Beal (50.7%) have been more efficient than Devin.
The 22-year-old guard took most of his midrange attempts curling around screens a season ago, occasionally exploring simple one-two dribble pull-ups when defenders overplayed his three-point stroke. However, with the Dejounte Murray trade this summer, Vassell has detonated as a pick-and-roll scoring specialist. He can snake screens to get to his favorite spots at the elbows at will, and his high release makes it practically impossible for defenders to bother him with high-hand contests.
Despite the league continuing to move away from the midrange jumper as the three-ball inches closer to sitting atop the everchanging food pyramid of its shot diet, most stars still lean on the middle ground of the half-court once the playoffs arrive. The Spurs are nowhere close to getting back into title contention. With that said, Devin could offer San Antonio the specific type of scoring that defenses are willing to forfeit amid the slower pace of a postseason series.
Vassell has made definite progress towards shedding the 3&D ceiling that NBA scouts gave him at Florida State, but there remains one area he must make headway if he wants to cement his status as a legitimate three-level scorer. While he can finish inside the restricted area on assisted attempts, his low volume and efficiency on self-created looks at the rim are striking. There have been twinkles of brilliance, but those must become consistent parts of his expanding repository.
Playmaking was never an emphasis for Vassell across the first 133 games and 2993 minutes of his career in the NBA, though his passing has been a much-welcomed surprise this season. A spike in ballhandling duties for an inexperienced guard typically means more turnovers, but Vassell has held his giveaways in check and displayed encouraging court vision.
Devin is averaging a career-high 3.6 assists per game, exhibiting genuine confidence as a pick-and-roll initiator. The six-five guard leads bigs to the basket with pinpoint pocket passes and beautifully floated deliveries over the defense. He drives and kicks the ball to open shooters, connects with teammates on the break, and has even completed a couple of live-dribble skips to the corners. These high-end flashes aren't daily occurrences, yet their periodic appearances are promising for his potential outcome.
If everything goes according to plan for the Spurs and they secure Victor Wembanyama with the first overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, the "who's their next All-Star" conversation changes in a heartbeat.
Watching the ping-pong balls bounce in their favor is far from guaranteed. Gregg Popovich and the front office should focus on the talent they have in front of them. Devin Vassell is their best shot at finding another home-grown All-Star. And should they get lucky in the lottery and draft Wemby, there's a world where San Antonio's prolonged rebuild transitions into title contention quicker than anyone anticipated.