Many fans were looking forward to the Spurs’ first preseason game of the 2020-21 season for a variety of reasons. One was obvious: the sheer jubilation of having the Spurs back. Another was to see if the exciting small-ball style from the Bubble would return, but once everyone knew two key contributors from Orlando — Derrick White and Keldon Johnson — were out, we knew we weren’t going to see that style last night, right? (Right????)
While their preseason debut — a 121-108 loss to the Thunder — looked a lot more like last season’s slow Spurs due to injury, another reason fans tuned in last night shined bright: rookie wing Devin Vassell, with a standout 12 points (on 2-4 from three), 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals in 25 minutes of action. He was everything as advertised and more, showing off a variety of moves on offense to get his own shots and create for others. On defense, his basketball IQ truly shined as he read plays to cut off passing lanes with ease, and after some early fouls, he showed a knack for stripping the ball.
If Vassell continues to play like this, it might be hard to keep him off the court. The last Spurs rookie to impress enough so early that Gregg Popovich had no choice but to just play him was Kawhi Leonard. (As a side note: there was some skepticism about Vassell’s size and if he truly fit the definition of an NBA small forward, or if he was more of a swingman. After seeing him out there, I think the size issue can be put to rest. He looks the part with his length, he just needs to add on a few pounds.)
Of course, just like everything else to be taken from this game, it’s too early to overreact. The Thunder are not exactly a team to be feared anymore, and we’re going to need a bigger sample size before truly passing judgement. But even so, the fact that Vassell looked so at home and undaunted on the NBA stage is promising start.
While patience will be required as the Spurs wait to get back to full strength and have right the personnel to truly begin experimenting more with the Bubble format, the idea of seeing Vassell continue to grow and develop, possibly even busting Pop’s rookie mold along the way, is enough reason to keep tuning in. (That and FIBA Patty Mills.)