Salt Lake City Summer League and free agency converged last week, overlapping in many roster changes while introducing new pieces to the Spurs 2021-2022 puzzle.
Everyone over 30 is gone — Rudy Gay (Utah), Patty Mills (Brooklyn), Gorgui Dieng (Atlanta), DeMar DeRozan (Chicago) — showing that there is concerted effort to finally embrace the youth movement and development the Spurs have been drafting behind since 2016. They have been replaced in part by John Primo (18) and Joe Wieskamp (21) as well as a slew of new names and yet-to-be-determined draft picks.
Meanwhile, in Salt Lake City, a young coach Mitch Johnson ushered Devin Vassell, Josh Primo, and Joe Wieskamp into their first summer play. Although Vassell has a full season under his belt, he seized the moment in Utah to take on a leadership role with the new players.
Game three alluded to some of what Spurs fans can expect over the next few seasons as these youngsters find their footing in the “big man’s” NBA.
Josh Primo served as point guard during the third and final game in Salt Lake City and came out with the same confidence taking midrange shots. He and Vassell came out shooting, knocking down the Spurs first 10 points. Devin Vassell had 10 of the Spurs first 18 before resting. Primo’s Dirk Nowitski inspired off-balance fall away midrange shot a second left on the shot clock showed his court awareness, clock awareness, accuracy, fearlessness, and poise in one exact moment.
At the start of the second period, Primo gathered the men on the floor and talked to them. He’s already taking on the idea of leadership on the court which will serve him well whether he takes time in Austin or steps right into the bench point guard position vacated by Patty Mills. Make no mistake, there are skill to develop, but Josh Primo has all the elements in the clay necessary to be molded into a solid floor general.
His already budding friendship with Devin Vassell offers insight into what could follow Dejounte and Derrick off the bench on a nightly basis.
As previously mention, Mitch Johnson referred to Primo’s passing as “supernatural.” He displayed some of that on consecutive pick and rolls plays with Labissiere. The first resulted in Skal getting fouled and going to the line. The second was the intended resulting dunk.
The Spurs dried up after the first quarter leaving behind some of the playmaking that established their first frame. The woes continued as the Silver & black were unable to connect in the third quarter, taking on an every man for himself approach. The Grizzlies figured out Vassell’s isolation game rendering him less effective.
That said, the fourth quarter brought on a renewed camaraderie making a run and keeping the game honest. I asked head coach Mitch Johnson about the spark that ignited the last ten minutes during the post game interview:
“Because we’ve had a couple of tough games to start, our confidence/aggressiveness maybe has dwindled or faded a little bit as the games have gone on. And I give the guys a lot of credit, they met in the huddle by themselves before I even walked over there at one point, and they challenged each other...they cranked up the intensity, they cranked up the aggressiveness, and good things happen when you do that. You get a couple of fouls called, you might get a turnover, now you get an easy basket, now you’re in rhythm, now you see a shot go in, we hit a couple of threes finally. So, I think it was good to finally go on that run. We hadn’t been on a run I don’t think in the first two games and it’s tough, a lot of these guys playing their first Summer League they put a lot of pressure on themselves. They are good guys they want to win and help the team, we hadn’t had a lot of success in the first two games. We kind of had to play through that adversity tonight was the first time we did that and it was good to see.” - Mitch Johnson
The Spurs did close the game and in that final minute is where their inexperience showed. In what shaped into an awkward ending, the Spurs opted not to foul when the Grizzlies needed only dribble it out. They let 12 seconds pass before stopping the clock with 9.8 seconds left. Had the Spurs foulded early, applied pressure, or managed the clock differently, the game could have ended in a win.
Win or lose is irrelevant in an exhibition game, but these are the skills that will eventually need to translate for the players as they face the regular season competition.
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