Every rebuilding team needs a prospect who comes out of nowhere and brings excitement. Your K.J. McDaniels, Toney Douglases, Drew Eubankses (Trail Blazers version) who just show up and bring joy during awful seasons. The losses are bad enough, but when there’s no one unburdened by expectations just doing fun things, that’s when things get dire.
The Spurs were lacking that type of guy recently but have found it in Charles Bassey. The big man is clearly not in San Antonio to be a savior or even necessarily a long-term piece, but that makes watching him bounce around the court all the more enjoyable, as weird as that sounds.
The reality is, San Antonio doesn’t have a lot of fun players right now. They simply lack the type of creative prospect or acrobatic athlete that makes the grind of watching 82 games of the regular season with no playoff aspirations bearable. There is talent, of course, as the Spurs have some good core guys, like Jakob Poeltl, Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson, and a bunch of solid complementary parts. But everything they do has to inevitably be framed in the context of the rebuild and what it means for the future. Even the veterans playing well has to be considered in the context of their trade value. Everyone knows that this year essentially only matters in terms of how it sets up the next, so it’s hard to stay in the moment.
Meanwhile, when Bassey sends the ball to the fifth row after a block that comes out of nowhere or angrily throws down a dunk it can be enjoyed on its own, because he exists largely outside of the context of the rebuild. He just showed up midway through the season and it doesn’t matter if he flames out. No one really expects him to be a key cog in the future so every good moment doesn’t need to be analyzed. For example, the other day he hit a midrange jumper and that was exciting because it was just unexpected from this random energy big. It would be great if it was something he could do consistently, but it doesn’t really matter if it isn’t. As unreasonable as it might seem, having someone to root for without lofty expectations or even a true sense of attachment feels like a respite from the worries inherent to rebuilds.
Or maybe it’s simpler than that and a big part of why Bassey seems like a welcomed distraction is that he’s not the type of big the Spurs have traditionally preferred. He’s a rim runner with legitimate hops that make him a lob threat and rim protector even if he’s not always in the right spot on the floor. There have not been a lot of guys who fit that profile in recent iterations of the Spurs. Drew Eubanks had some of that in him, but he was around for too long and on a team that was trying to win, so it became easier to focus on his flaws. Bassey feels novel because he has literally only played 16 games with the Spurs. The shine will likely fade from him as well in time, perhaps even later this season, but for now, it’s still easy to just focus on the fun aspects.
Unfortunately, the big problem with any “play Bassey more because he’s fun” proposition is that it will be extremely hard to do so because he’s a center. The Spurs have a great starter in Jakob Poeltl and have made an investment in Zach Collins, who is still trying to figure out if he can actually get his career back on track if he can avoid injuries. Playing two traditional big men together is almost impossible in the modern game, and it’s sometimes necessary to go small altogether, which is why Bassey has had a couple of DNPs even in Poeltl’s absence. But at least for now, while there’s still time to do it, the Spurs should just continue to give one of the few truly entertaining players they have as many minutes as possible.
Like most of the unexpectedly fun guys to watch on rebuilding squads before him, Charles Bassey might just be a flash-in-the-pan player, someone who makes highlight plays for a terrible team and doesn’t really have a future in the NBA. Hopefully that won’t be the case — and in an admittedly small sample size some advanced stats suggest it won’t be — but it’s a distinct possibility.
It doesn’t matter. The Spurs are in the first year of their rebuild and half the players currently on the roster likely won’t be around past this season. Bassey might be one of them, but for now, he’s still in San Antonio helping on the court and making things exciting for fans, so we might as well enjoy him while we can.