Most fans are used to seeing player rankings before the start of the NBA season, but The Ringer takes a different approach: they let over a quarter of the season pass before releasing their first player rankings based on impact players are having on the court so far, and continue updating from time to time from there. While perhaps unsurprisingly, no Spurs made ESPN’s preseason Top 100 players, two have appeared in The Ringer’s first version of this season’s rankings. (Note: I can only get this link to work on a mobile device.)
70. Keldon Johnson
Quick Description: “Talented young two-way player who’s adapting to a larger role in San Antonio’s rebuilding phase.”
Notable Qualities: Hustle
Johnson isn’t a household name yet, but Spurs fans have seen him develop from a raw talent who could torpedo his way to the basket into a well-rounded player with All-Star upside. After entering the NBA as a decisive, downhill scorer with average passing vision, he now routinely makes skip passes to corner 3-point shooters or hits floaters and midrange pull-ups. In recent years, he’s even hit 3s off the dribble. And he does it all with great efficiency, taking quality shots within the flow of the offense and delivering on-target passes and limiting turnovers. A Gregg Popovich offensive system requires ball-sharing, and Johnson also excels off the ball as one of the league’s most potent catch-and-shoot threats from deep.
On defense, he’s a tone-setter who will dive for loose balls, take a charge, or fly out of nowhere for defensive boards. But just like in college, Johnson still loses track of his man when defending off-ball. Still, that’s a nit-picky weakness when he has so many reliable defensive qualities. Trimming 21 pounds before the 2022-23 season has made him a more shifty defender and slithery driver. And he has the drive to get even better and continue honing his championship-caliber qualities. — Kevin O’Connor
67. Devin Vassell
Quick Description: “Prototypical 3-and-D prospect who’s been given an opportunity to spread his wings and do much more.”
Notable Qualities: Catch-and-shoot threat, on-ball defense, ridiculous upside
Before Vassell, the last player the Spurs drafted in the lottery was Tim Duncan. No pressure, Devin! As the 11th pick in 2020, Vassell was pegged as a pesky perimeter defender who could shoot 3s and maybe even someday progress into something a little more.
Then the Spurs finally pivoted to the future this offseason, and Vassell was thrust into the spotlight. But the player once thought of as a 3-and-D prospect, à la Mikal Bridges, is now on every opponent’s scouting report as a playmaking ball handler whose jumper keeps getting better.
Vassell’s ceiling is higher than it once seemed. But that evolution has brought greater expectations. He’s a lynchpin piece in a rebuild that could last until his prime. In the here and now, Vassell will get touches, shots, and an opportunity to bloom that otherwise might never have happened. What he does with it will have a huge impact on San Antonio’s future. — Michael Pina
Those are pretty nice rankings for two vastly improving players who have finally been given a primary role, and it seems The Ringer’s writers are good at just looking at the players and not taking too much stock on factors such as their teams’ record.
The one player I would argue is missing is Jakob Poeltl. When healthy, he is without a doubt a top three Spur and arguably one of the top 10 centers in the league. That being said, he has missed the Spurs last seven games (and counting) with injury, and the rankings description does say it is based on on players making the biggest impact on the league right now. Poeltl technically doesn’t fit that definition at the moment, and maybe there’s an unwritten rule about how recently a player has to have played to make the list, but regardless, I’d argue he’s still a top 100 player.
What do you think, Pounders? Are Johnson and Vassell ranked too low? Too high? Is there anyone you feel is missing, or anything you would change? Feel free to discuss in the comments below.