LAS VEGAS — The San Antonio Spurs succumbed to Houston Rockets, 84-97, crumbling in the second half versus their interstate adversary and forfeiting another double-digit lead for the second consecutive game. Despite racing ahead by 18 points in the second quarter, the good guys ran out of gas in the SEGABABA and slipped to 0-3 at Las Vegas Summer League.
What was a hostile Thomas and Mack Center on Sunday was a drastically more neutral site on Monday. Yet, the shift in the atmosphere was almost negligible as San Antonio began the matchup with second-year stud Josh Primo out of commission due to Health and Safety protocols. His absence was unfortunate, but it afforded other prospects a chance to shine.
Malaki Branham, Blake Wesley, Domnick Barlow, and Darius Days stepped up with Primo on the sidelines, each showing unique flashes of NBA skills on the first stage for young players to prove their worth. Scouts, coaches, and front-office executives crammed into a raucous arena, and yours truly was also there to evaluate the newest members of the Silver and Black.
Malaki Branham (20 Points, 6 Rebounds, 2 Assists, on 8-of-18)
Malaki Branham recorded a team-high 20 points while finally breaking out of his early Las Vegas Summer League slump. The 19-year-old swingman was noticeably more assertive, never hesitating to look for his shot while sharing the floor with Blake Wesley. This game was his best performance, and head coach Mitch Johnson had nothing but praise.
“I think he just kind of played his game,” Johnson said. “When shots were there, he shot, he drove it. In previous games, he got in between some, passed up some, forced some because he passed up previous ones. So it was good to see him get into a rythm. He’s got a dynamic game.”
Branham displayed his on-and-off-ball scoring prowess, patiently utilizing screens to get to his favorite spots before stepping into pull-up jumpers in and around the paint. He also walked his defender down the baseline with his back to the basket and drained a tough turnaround. Best of all, the 19-year-old started hitting catch-and-shoot three-pointers.
The Ohio State product saw more touches in college as the fulcrum of the offense. But he had a similarly sluggish start with the Buckeyes until a 35-point explosion against Nebraska following a COVID hiatus. Branham was a different player after that moment, and hopefully he maintains his poise and confidence as San Antonio resumes play on Thursday.
Although Branham was much better on the offensive end, he struggled to make an impact defensively. Notching two steals is a reliable indicator of effort, but traditional box score stats fall short. Those numbers won’t tell you how often a player blows their assignments, and his man consistently got past him on, even drawing a few and-one finishes.
Darius Days (13 Points, 11 Rebounds, 4 Fouls, on 5-of-10)
There isn’t anything new to report about Darius Days that we haven’t said in our first two recaps. The 22-year-old looks like a seasoned professional punching below his weight class at Summer League, and it feels like he is the betting favorite to earn San Antonio’s last two-way contract once they pack their bags to head back to the 2-1-0.
Darius Days strung together a third successive efficient contest with a 13 points and 11 rebound in 24 minutes. He communicates well on both ends, calling out screens and switches while offereing value as a spot-up three-point shooter and cleaning the glass. Head coach Mitch Johnson glowed when asked about the combo forward.
“He can shoot it,” Johnson said. “He rebounds it. He has a pathway to a role in this league. He has to stay with it and keeping rolling. He’s done a good job that past few games.”
There were some familiar defensive issues for Darius as the undersized brusier picked up a handful of fouls for grabbing onto guards when they beat him off the dribble on the perimeter. With that said, his team defense and strong stands in the post against tradionally sized frontcourt players should at least make him serviceable in the NBA.
Dominick Barlow (13 Points, 5 Rebounds, 4 Turnovers, on 4-of-8)
Dominick Barlow has improved every game, which is impressive, given he has faced James Wiseman and Jabari Smith Jr. in back-to-back contests.Monday was eye-opening, as he wrangled the third pick of the 2022 NBA on several possessions, demonstrating the defensive versatility to cover fellow perimeter-oriented bigs.
The recent two-way contract signee also displayed the ability to put the ball on the floor throughout the tilt, showing off his fluidity with a coast-to-coast attack that resulted in a pair of free throws. He also drove right at Jabari before spinning into a feathery finger-roll off the glass. These skills aren’t typical for near-seven-footers.
Fans and analysts alike are beginning to see why the Spurs are so high on the 19-year-old Overtime Elite product, and there is a chance he could be an entertaining staple of the Austin Spurs this season. If the three-point shooting, rim-protecting, vertical spacing, and switchability intersect in a meaningful way, Barlow will become a steal.
Blake Wesley (14 Points, 5 Rebounds, 4 Assists, 3 Steals on 3-of-20)
What comes up must come down, and Blake Wesley had his first dud of Summer League against the Rockets. The 19-year-old combo guard was gunning from the get-go, but his aggression never paid off as he went a dreadful 3-of-20 (15%) from the field, sinking his shooting splits with an array of ill-advised attempts.
As has been the case from the moment he stepped onto the hardwood in Las Vegas, no one could stay in front of Wesley. Despite bricking shots to the left, right, and front of the rim, he took nine free throws as defenders had no choice but to foul him or give up an easy layup. Getting to the line may not always be pretty, but it is invaluable.
Welsey also initiated nearly every offensive set for the Spurs while on the floor, inheriting the playmaking burden Josh Primo left behind. The young guard displayed an aptitude for driving and hitting long-distance shooters with incredible mid-air deliveries. But he wasn’t perfect, and head coach Mitch Johnson talked about the value of this experience.
“Not having Primo here to share the handling responsibilities, creating, decision-making, it’s a lot,” Johnson said. “Houston does a good job of being aggressive, switching, and making you sometimes make a play and move it. There’s stuff for him to look at and learn from for sure.”
Wesley’s outstanding defense might have been the Silver and Black lining to his otherwise inefficient evening. He used every last inch of his six-nine wingspan to deflect countless passes, and he took calculated gambles in the lanes to come up with three steals. His length is a constant threat to poor ball handlers and lackadaisical distributors.
Check out my previous articles for more San Antonio Spurs Summer League coverage live from Las Vegas, Nevada.
Today was my last day on the sidelines in Sin City, so thank you to all the Pounders who supported my Silver and Black content.