October is a time typically reserved for the training camp hopefuls, not necessarily for those already with guaranteed contracts. And while veterans like Eddy Curry and Josh Powell are making cases for what potentially looks like a fifteenth and final roster position, it's the Spurs' third and newest Frenchman whose impact is having the greatest effect on the court.
Rookie Nando de Colo - or "little Manu" as Stephen Jackson recently referred to him and Curry called him post-game - began laying the foundation of his "legend" on Wednesday night. The Spurs' 2009 second-round draft pick (53 overall) knocked down a 20-foot jumper from the top of the key over former Austin Toro Carldell 'Squeaky' Johnson, leaving just 0.6 seconds on the clock and eventually giving the Spurs a 101-99 victory over the Atlanta Hawks to avoid
what would have been an unbearable preseason overtime. The shot came just after a Mike Scott three pointer from the top of the arc tied the game at 99 with four seconds remaining, after which Spurs "coach" Tony Parker called timeout and drew up the play* for de Colo.
*(Play: dribble around until the buzzer nearly goes off and take the shot.)
The play-call wasn't a thing of beauty, but the shot was - at least for the second game of the preseason - and it capped off an 11-point, nine-assist night for the newly signed Spur. The game-winning shot aside, de Colo's passing exhibition was at times brilliant, illustrating why the "little Manu" moniker isn't a parody. It's a lot to live up to around here, but he's off to a good start.
"I think now they know I can pass the ball like this," de Colo said in front of the cameras at his locker. "At the beginning I tried to respect what the team wants, what the coaches want, and after step-by-step it would be easier for me to put my game on the court."
Though he's certainly garnering an early amount of respect from his teammates - and rightfully so - he needs to do quite a bit more to impress the guy who counts the most.
"(Nando's) not another Manu Ginobili," Gregg Popovich said. "He's a heck of a creative passer like Manu. He really reads situations offensively and defensively.
"He's got a fine understanding of the game."
The Spurs dealt out nearly 30 assists on a night when Ginobili, Parker and Tim Duncan all sat on the bench. Thanks in part to de Colo's nine helpers, San Antonio was able to shoot nearly 52 percent from the floor. The home team had six players in double figures including four off the bench. Curry, one of the hopefuls for what looks to be the last open roster spot, started at center and dropped 11 points and eight rebounds on 4-for-7 shooting in almost 26 minutes. Though he had a few negatives in his game - especially from the line - the much-maligned big man seems to be comfortable with the situation at hand.
"It's been tough, but (I've) got a strong family, strong wife, my backbone, and my kids are awesome," he said. "They keep me sane. (I've) just got to keep working."
With the Spurs lack of real size, especially with the expected annual monitoring of Duncan's minutes, there are opportunities to be had for a center like him. Curry spent time with a championship team last year in Miami, and he's hoping to be around another group with NBA Finals aspirations.
"It's different. I came from a Miami camp last year that was pretty brutal. This camp is tough ... It's not only challenging physically but mentally as well," he said. "Pop is a real mental guy and so is Timmy and TP.
"Those guys think the game. I'm just trying to take whatever I can, let it rub off on me, just soak it all in and give it my best shot."
Curry's main competition is currently in the form of Powell and Derrick Brown, assuming there's only one spot to be had. Powell had 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting and a couple of rebounds in nearly 17 minutes. Once again, his activity stood out on the court, though it looked like Curry got the longer look on this night which is something that will most likely alternate throughout camp. Brown contributed 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting and was very active around the rim. His length and skill set gives the Spurs an option at both forward positions.
Although the focus will consistently remain on the final roster spot up until the season begins, this night belonged to de Colo. It doesn't look like this will be the last night we see it.
"They said I did a good job and I need to continue to play like this," de Colo said. "I must work hard."
That's music to Pop's ears.
- DeJuan Blair added eight points and five rebounds in only 10 minutes and continues to look very active after reporting to camp in great shape. Given the presence of other big men in camp and taking into account Blair's decreasing minutes in recent years, his progress will be interesting to monitor.
- Kawhi Leonard struggled in his 12 minutes of action as he begins his adjustment to a more featured role. The 21-year-old small forward was thrown in the fire as a rookie and responded well, so his early preseason struggles shouldn't be much to worry about, especially given the absence of his starting counterparts Ginobili, Parker and Duncan.
- The bench players combined to shoot nearly 63 percent from the floor while dishing out 20 of the team's 30 assists.
Follow along on Twitter: @mtynan_PtR