The San Antonio Spurs lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers, 90-99, falling short of a last-minute comeback after trailing by 22 points in the final moments of the third quarter. Although results are mostly irrelevant during Summer League, starting their Las Vegas campaign with a win would have been an encouraging sign for the Silver and Black.
Spurs Game One Starters:— Noah Magaro-George (@N_Magaro) July 8, 2022
PG: Josh Primo
SG: Blake Wesley
SF: Malaki Branham
PF: Robert Woodard II
C: Dominick Barlow
Unsurprisingly, this mishmash of youngsters with little or no professional experience put together a somewhat disorganized outing. However, for a group that had a matter of days to build chemistry, the good guys were a relatively cohesive unit, especially considering they lost Jeremy Sochan and Joe Wieskamp days before their debut.
PATFO took a tremendous swing on Josh Primo with the 12th overall pick a year ago, and they returned to the talent pool hoping to hit three more home runs in the 2022 NBA Draft. Fans will have to wait to get their first glimpse of Sochan, but Malaki Branham and Blake Wesley showed us that the future of Spurs basketball could be exhilarating.
Head coach Mitch Johnson returned to Las Vegas for his second stint as the lead play-caller of the Summer League Spurs, and he was honest with his evaluation of their 2022 premier in Sin City when asked about his first impressions of their performance.
“There were some really good moments where we saw the talent shine through,” Johnson told reporters. “Some of the stuff where they put the fundamentals and playing together with their potential. And I think there were some moments where the youth was young.”
Mistakes are always going to be part of the equation when you put this many unfamiliar faces together in an organized setting for the first time. The most important part of the equation is providing the proper context for these positive and negative sequences.
Josh Primo (20 Points, 5 assists, 1 block, on 7-of-12)
Josh Primo is only 19-years-old, but as one of the only guys on the roster with NBA experience, there were some expectations that he might get the green light as the go-to scoring option for the Spurs. Although he finished as the leading scorer for San Antonio after a fourth-quarter explosion, the young combo guard spent a lot of time away from the ball.
While he relented ball handling duties to Blake Wesley for long stretches, Primo made the pairing work by relocating beyond the arc for catch-and-shoot three-pointers from the corners and above the break. He also put on a show during the final few minutes of the contest, nailing a stepback triple, pulling up from deep, and sinking a feathery floater.
Primo getting in his pic.twitter.com/ExWg3oqKVX— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) July 8, 2022
Like any teenager mastering their trade, Primo had some familiar growing pains as a distributor. He telegraphed passes, tossed a few questionable one-handed deliveries, and left his feet without a plan. With that said, he also had a handful of superb assists, including a tough dime out of a high gather that hit Dominick Barlow right in the hands for an and-one finish.
The Canadian swingman probably would have finished with more assists had his teammates converted their open shots, and his willingness to make the extra pass was encouraging. Outside of a few mistakes and ill-advised mid-range jumpers, Primo was solid as the elder statement of the Summer League Spurs, and Mitch Johnson praised his leadership.
“Primo being a vet is the one who’s trying to (be a leader),” Johnson said. “That’s a positive, and we have to be careful not to push that. We want that to happen naturally, but I think he did a good job.”
Blake Wesley (20 Points, 2 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, on 7-of-16)
Although Blake Wesley scoring a team-high 20 points might have come as a surprise to fans, the 25th overall pick of the 2022 NBA Draft was almost everything we thought he would be in his Summer League debut. The 19-year-old guard is blindingly quick, and he used that skill to his advantage, getting two feet inside the paint at will throughout the game.
This finish was tooooo smooth @blakewesley0 | #SummerSpurs pic.twitter.com/VBnNZAaRWk— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) July 8, 2022
Wesley was eager to shoot on what felt like every possession to begin the contest but became more careful with his shot selection once head coach Mitch Johnson sat him on the bench in the middle of the first period. That break was apparently precisely what he needed as the spindly swingman started looking for his teammates more often.
The rookie ended the matchup with five assists, consistently bending the defense with his speed while showing his court vision as a drive-and-kick threat. Some passes missed their target, and there were some undeniably poor decisions from the six-five playmaker, but his ability to execute live-dribble passes with either hand stood out.
Despite splitting ball-handling responsibilities in his sole season with the Fighting Irish, Wesley received most of the touches to get the Spurs into their half-court offense. Few pundits labeled him a point guard, but that’s precisely how he sees himself.
“I’m a point guard,” Wesley said. “Point guards pass first then score second. Get others involved, and then I like to score or attack.”
Wesley might have been the best perimeter defender on the floor for San Antonio in the first game. He was routinely engaged, worked tirelessly to chase shooters around screens, communicated on switches, and applied relentless ball pressure on opposing guards. The Notre Dame alumnus is a work in progress as a defender, but there are positive indicators.
Malaki Branham (15 points, 3 rebounds, on 6-of-15)
The early parts of the game were shaky for Malaki Branham, with the 19-year-old swingman missing multiple wide-open looks. Balancing who gets the rock when you have numerous playmakers on the court can be tricky, and Branham was the odd man out for most of his minutes. With that said, he found a way to bounce back as the matchup progressed.
Tough-shot-making might have been the most enticing skill for the Spurs when they selected Branham, especially considering the team had plans to move on from Dejounte Murray. While the rookie had trouble creating separation on a few possessions, he relied on his sturdy frame to will his way to spots before nailing turnarounds and ten-foot jumpers.
First #SummerSpurs bucket for @MalakiBranham! pic.twitter.com/BRisHRTlw1— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) July 8, 2022
Branham was among the most efficient spot-up shooters as a freshman at Ohio State, but he seemingly did a role reversal with Blake Wesley as the latter nailed nearly every catch-and-shoot attempt that came his way. The former Buckeye eventually knocked down a couple of triples, and his shooting should improve with a more extensive sample.
As for his defense, Branham had quite a few frustrating sequences. As we noted in his scouting report, the six-five guard often plays too upright and close to his man despite lacking the foot speed and lateral mobility to get back into the play. Those issues showed on occasion against Cleveland, though he also had a few promising flashes walling off drives.
Dominick Barlow (9 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 fouls, 3-of-5)
The Silver and Black took an upside flier on Dominick Barlow by signing him to a two-way contract after he went undrafted a few weeks ago. The 19-year-old big man has undeniable talent, though his performance made it clear he has to round out his repertoire on both ends before he is ready to contribute at the NBA level.
Barlow looked lost on defense throughout the game, rotating too late to provide help, ball watching, getting handsy on the perimeter, and falling for pump fakes, all of which led to foul trouble in 20 minutes. Despite his flaws as a defender, the Overtime Elite product showed off his shooting touch and unique fluidity. Keep an eye on this kid.