LAS VEGAS — The San Antonio Spurs dropped a close one to the Golden State Warriors, 85-86, relinquishing a 17-point third-quarter lead and falling a literal last-second turnover away from picking up their first win in Las Vegas. Though the good guys are 0-2 at Summer League, they showed more cohesion as a unit, especially on the defensive end.
San Antonio entered a packed Thomas and Mack Center as underdogs to a team that featured a pair of recent top ten picks in James Wiseman and Jonathan Kuminga, and the audience offered ear-piercing support for the 2022 NBA champions. Despite the uphill battle, the shorthanded Summer Spurs competed from start to finish.
Head coach Mitch Johnson trotted out a strict nine-man rotation, leaving youngsters like Josh Primo, Blake Wesley, Malaki Branham, and Dominick Barlow to handle the ebbs and flows of the matchup. While his squad fell short of the upset, he touted them for their resilience trying to subdue fellow high-level prospects.
“I think the defense took a step ahead today, which is a good thing for the most part,” Johnson said. “You give them credit. They’re big, strong, and athletic. Wiseman and Kuminga are monsters, especially at this level.”
While this matchup felt like more of a group effort than their first Summer League outing, there were a couple of impressive individual performances that deserve a closer look. So without further ado, here are the standouts from game two in Las Vegas.
Blake Wesley (22 Points, 5 rebounds, 3 turnovers, on 7-of-20)
Blake Wesley led the Spurs in scoring for a second straight game, logging 22 points in a team-high 30 minutes. The 19-year-old guard had no issues cracking through the first layer of the defense, but he forced the issue too much as he consistently had his layups blocked or altered. The next stage is learning how and when to change gears effectively.
Poor shot selection and playing out of control was the overarching theme for Wesley. While getting to your spots on demand is a rare talent, it has less value when you force low-percentage attempts at the expense of better opportunities. Head coach Mitch Johnson talked about how slowing things down is a part of the developmental process.
“You work on it, you show them film, go through reads, walk and talk stuff,” Johnson said. “The game slows down for guys with experience. You see patterns, and when you see patterns over time, you recognize patterns earlier. And when you get really good, you can manipulate those things.”
Although Wesley took several head-scratchers early into the shot-clock, he also strung together some nifty sequences as a self-creator, including multiple pull-up threes off the bounce. The Notre Dame alumnus should have every Spurs fan excited for what might lie ahead for him as someone who can produce instant offense.
The rookie finished this matchup with no assists, though it would be lazy to suggest that was indicative of selfishness. Wesley whipped a couple of fantastic baseline wraparound and skip passes, but they ultimately went unrewarded as his teammates missed wide-open looks. He could stand to make better decisions, but there is legit playmaking potential.
Three-point shooting has been one of the more surprising developments from Wesley, as the six-five swingman is 7-of-11 (63.6%) from beyond the arc across two Summer League games. There is some wasted motion on his jumper, notably off the catch, but working with assistant coach Chip Engelland could refine some of his bad habits.
Darius Days (17 points, 12 rebounds, 2 steals, on 5-of-10)
Darius Days was steady for the second game in a row, and he might have recorded the best performance for the Spurs versus Golden State. There is something refreshing about a player who operates entirely within their role in a Summer League setting. The 22-year-old forward never tried to steal the show, yet he stood out among the crowd.
Days looked like a consummate professional. He ran the floor in transition, relocated to the corners, set sturdy screens, made timely cuts, got to the free-throw line, and took advantage of post mismatches. Good teams can always find a place for low-usage high-efficiency guys, and Darius understands what he can bring to any organization.
“My energy on the glass, talking on defense, just holding other guys accountable,” Days said. “Breaking out huddles, being a locker room guy, that’s what I really do, and I can shoot the ball a little bit.”
Defensively, there are warranted concerns about his foot speed and lateral mobility. Regardless, his frame and motor can cover some of his shortcomings. Days has active hands, fights for every rebound, rarely misses basic rotations, and he is already showing franchises why they should have drafted him last month.
Josh Primo (10 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, on 2-of-15)
Sunday was the worst shooting night we have witnessed from Josh Primo since he entered the NBA. The coaching staff again utilized the Canadian combo guard as a secondary ball-handler for most of the contest, but he did a lot of dribbling to nowhere in one-on-one situations. And generating separation was a problem throughout the game.
Primo forced a ton of pull-ups, side-steps, and step-backs when he failed to create space, and Mac McClung and Quinndary Weatherspoon had the 19-year-old flustered. The 2021 lottery pick didn’t let his cold spell shake his confidence, and head coach Mitch Johnson was pleased with his relentless aggression.
“Shots didn’t fall, he had some tough points, but he continued to stay in it,” Johnson said. “I would be much more mad if he was 2-for-5, as crazy as that sounds. I’m glad he took 15 shots.”
Unfortunately, while Primo has some excellent drive-and-kick deliveries to the perimeter, he also made silly mistakes. The second-year Spur only had three turnovers, but that number should have been much higher with how often he left his feet without a plan. Primo got bailed out a few times, but you want to see better processing from him.
There wasn’t much difference in his defensive output, which is excellent news for everyone keeping track of his Summer League headway. Primo slid his feet with backcourt players to cut off their drives, and he was one of the better team defenders on the floor for San Antonio. He should be a net positive on this end if he exerts consistent effort.
Malaki Branham (6 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, on 1-of-6)
The Ohio State product never quite found an opening to leave his mark on this tilt, and he only took six shots in nearly 27 minutes. Malaki Branham is first and foremost a scorer, but he seemed unsure of himself, passing up a few open looks and hesitating to attack advantageous windows.
Branham was an instant bucket out of the pick-and-roll a season ago, and force-feeding him reps might encourage him to be more aggressive and assertive. Head coach Mitch Johnson says the rookie is figuring out how to pick his spots on a talented team full of capable ball-handlers.
“I think part of it probably is Branham is an unselfish kid just trying to play the right way,” Johnson said. “There’s a couple of times where I’m yelling at him to shoot it. so it’ll come.”
His defense on and off the ball is poor, so his offense must outweigh his deficiencies if he wants to make a difference on the court. Of course, there will be plenty of time for the 19-year-old swingman to learn how to maximize his wingspan and frame as the Spurs start a full throttle rebuild.
Dominick Barlow (4 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, 4 turnovers, on 1-of-2)
The boxscore can only convey so much of the story, and Dominick Barlow was solid despite what his numbers might indicate. The 19-year-old two-way contract signee went toe-to-toe with James Wiseman at the basket for numerous possessions, and he relished the opportunity.
“He was the number two pick,” Barlow said. “It’s guys like that you want to compete against. You want to prove yourself. You want to show you can contain them and give them problems too.”
Barlow has probably been miscast as a more traditional rim-protector on this somewhat undersized roster, but he displayed unique mobility when matched up with smaller players on the perimeter. Although he jumps for every pump fake, the physical tools are enticing.
The undrafted big man has a long way to go before he reaches his high-end outcome. However, squint your eyes hard enough, and you can begin to make out the picture of a switchable frontcourt prospect with shooting potential and the athleticism to act as a lob target.
Check out my previous article for more courtside Spurs Summer League coverage live from Las Vegas.
I’ll be on the sidelines in Sin City for two more days, so stay tuned as I continue to track San Antonio’s top prospects.