When I heard the news that the Spurs had sent De Colo down to their D-League affiliate, the Austin Toros, I was confused. Nando has made it clear that he didn't want to spend time in Austin and it seemed like in the last handful of games he was starting to get a better understanding of how to adapt his game to fit the Spurs' needs.
I get the Spurs' thinking behind the move. They send De Colo, who hasn't been playing a lot, to the Toros to give him some reps in a familiar environment. The Toros run the Spurs offense for the most part and Cory Joseph is there. R.C. Buford, Chad Forcier and Chip Engelland were all in attendance so you know they were interested in seeing both Nando and Cory play. It still feels kind of wrong to watch De Colo out there.
We are not talking about a rookie here; not really. De Colo has been a pro for years and has played both in the ACB league and the Euroleague, not to mention the Olympics with Team France. Unlike college players, he's gone against grown men that had years of professional play on their resumes and he left his native France for Spain as a very young man. That doesn't sound like a guy that you bring over from Europe to send down to your farm team. He's not Ian Mahinmi, who was drafted on physical tools and potential; we are talking about a player with a track record of production at a high level.
I'm not trying to trash the D-League. I think it's a great and often overlooked place to develop young talent, give veterans another shot at making an NBA roster and even recover young guys that have been injured or struggling mightily. Top five picks like Jonny Flynn and Hasheem Thabeet have spent time in the D-League and that's nothing to be embarrassed about. But I can see how after being a trusted member of professional teams in the past, Nando De Colo could not like it, even if he is "over himself" as Pop would put it, which is why I really hope this is a one time thing the Spurs devised to give him some court time.
As for the game itself, it was entertaining even though it was only close in the second quarter when the Toros sleepwalked on defense and took bad shots on offense. The Idaho Stampede are not the most talented team out there, as their 0-4 record indicates, but they had some interesting performances by Sean Evans, Justin Holiday and Durrell Summers and that allowed them to close the gap to four going into the break. The Toros quickly went on a run to start the 3rd quarter and never looked back.
Cory Joseph had a great game, almost getting a triple double with 15 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. More than that, he looked great doing point guard things. By that I mean running the break, making entry passes, getting the team into its sets and even running the high P&R perfectly. He went 0-3 form behind the arc but at least one of those was a forced shot to beat the clock. It's great to see Cory simply play within himself and the team instead of trying to take over and show how much better than the other guys on the court he is. I know the Joseph bandwagon is not the most popular one right now, but I still think the kid can be a good rotation player in the NBA and spending time honing his craft with the Toros for a little while longer is only helping him.
De Colo also had a great game. He started at small forward in a three guard lineup that included two ball-dominant guards in Joseph and Dentmon so he spent most of his time off the ball. At first his energy level was low, which led me to believe he wasn't happy to be there, but as the minutes went by he started to feel more comfortable. Like Joseph, he didn't try to take over, leaving the ISOs to Dentmon, who absolutely loves going one on five. His defense was just OK but he helped on the boards (8 rebounds) and his court vision was in full display. He only finished with 2 assists because some of the Toros bigs couldn't finish and the team as a whole shot terribly from outside but believe me, he looked great as a passer. He scored 14 points on 5-14 (2-8 on threes) but that number looks better when you consider he was likely fouled on two of those three point attempts and some others just rattled out. He had one awful attempt to finish the half in which he was wide open and barely hit rim but overall his shooting was OK.
After basically saying De Colo is too good for the D-League this might sound weird but you should watch a Toros game sometime. The D-League made a deal with Youtube, who now streams the games for free and keeps them in archive in case you can't watch them when they air. Here's a link to the Toros-Stampede game. I doubt any Toros will get call ups, though 6-9 but strong and long center Rick Jackson looked intriguing, but they play a similar style than the Spurs and Dentmon, while a little too hero-ball driven is really fun to watch. I'll probably check out on them when they play their next game, a rematch against the Stampede on Friday at 9:00 PM Eastern Time. I just hope De Colo is not there.