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The risers and fallers of the Spurs preseason

Some players exceeded expectations while others fell short in preseason, which could determine their role this year.

NBA: Preseason-Houston Rockets at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Who has seen their stock rise the most in the preseason?

Marilyn Dubinski: I’ll go with Cedi Osman. He went from a relatively unknown prospect (fans were wondering if he would be part of the group that would inevitably have to be cut to trim down the roster) to more than likely securing a spot in the main rotation over younger players like Julian Champagnie and Sandro Mamukelashvili, who had both captured fans’ imagination at the end of last season. Osman has looked great regardless of who he has been on the floor with, and he and Doug McDermott have formed an intriguing shooting duo for the bench.

Mark Barrington: It’s tempting to say Wembanyama, because even though expectations were sky-high for him, he’s been showing that his game is already NBA-ready. I had expected Victor to take a season or two to acclimate to the competition level in the best professional sports league on the planet, but he only took half of one Summer League game to adapt.

My rising stock is Charles Bassey, who looks like he’s fully recovered from his injury, and has added a lot to his game over the summer. He’s going to be a very capable backup center.

Jesus Gomez: Probably Cedi Osman. He didn’t do anything he hasn’t done in his career or anything too impressive, but he was one of the guys that seemed to be on the bubble in terms of being in the rotation and he did enough to separate himself from others just by being solid. He basically can be the new Keita Bates-Diop, which is all the Spurs need from a backup combo forward.

J.R. Wilco: I’d love to give this to Wemby, due to the fact that it’s incredibly difficult to transition from insanely talented prospect to potential DPOY candidate before a single regular season game is played — so I’d say that his stock HAS risen. But for me it’s Osman, because the in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time game that he plays without seeming hurried is just the kind of asset that this Spurs team full of youngsters needs, and I didn’t expect him to fit so perfectly so soon.

Who has seen their stock drop the most in preseason?

Dubinski: Probably either Champagnie or Mamu. Champagnie in particular had a great summer league, so it has been a bit disconcerting seeing him look so timid and out of sorts. By the time Pop deployed his whole rotation in the second game against the Rockets, he was with the third string. I believe he will bounce back, but he hasn’t done himself any favors in the preseason. (The same could be said for Blake Wesley, who hasn’t looked timid but has shown little-to-no improvement so far.)

Barrington: All of the starters and main rotation players have been playing great in preseason, so I’m going to have to reach all the way to the back of the bench to find someone to complain about. For some reason, I talk to a lot of Spurs fans who think that Sandro Mamukelashvili is going to become a top-line player and maybe even a starter. I never believed that, but his play in preseason has shown who he is, an undersized big who plays really hard and is one of the most likable players in the league, but who is a fringe NBA player. I like him on the team, but at the end of the bench. If he’s on the floor during the regular season, it should be at a point in the game where the score isn’t close.

Julian Champagnie has been in a shooting slump in the preseason, but I don’t think that affects Pop’s belief in him as a player. His stock is unchanged.

Gomez: Julian Champagnie had a good summer league and seemed like someone who was ready to become a rotation piece and then his shot disappeared in preseason. He started the first game, but by the fourth game he barely broke double-digits in minutes. It’s still preseason and he’s a young guy who will likely continue to improve but he definitely didn’t help his case for minutes right away with his performance.

Wilco: It’s Champagnie, who was one of the Spurs I was most looking forward to seeing in the preseason. It’s hard to say if there’s more going on with him than just a small sample of games in which the ball won’t go down, but it’s obvious that he’s not playing like he was in Vegas, and his minutes have dropped accordingly. I’m still high on his future, but it was not a fun preseason for either of us: him playing, and me hoping for him to excel.

What have the Spurs shown, as a team, that has you excited for the regular season?

Dubinski: Team-wise, I’m thrilled to see what should be a much improved defense. Rotations have been more crisp, engagement and physicality has been higher, and the length of that starting lineup should give many teams all kinds of problems. And yes, it’s just the preseason, but the potential on that end can’t be denied. (Although the bench might be another story, with Charles Bassey playing the Jakob Poeltl role of desperate last line of defense.)

Barrington: Victor Wembanyama is going to be the most watchable player in the league this year. Every game he does something you can’t believe you just watched. It’s unfair for a player that long to be that skilled, and he plays for the Silver and Black!

I’m also excited to see how the mad scientist’s experiment of point guard Sochan works out. I don’t see how his handle is good enough to deal with the really good defensive guards in the Western Conference, and he’s still learning to be a distributor on offense. But it looks like Pop has decided to give Jeremy a baptism by fire, and it’s going to be fascinating to watch as Jeremy learns how to become a point guard in the shark tank of the basketball world. I suspect that Victor will end up sharing the duties of bringing the ball up the court, which will also be pretty fantastic to watch.

Gomez: The most exciting thing is that all the little experiments feel like they matter. Victor Wembanyama is cherrypicking? That’s not only interesting but potentially meaningful. Sochan at “point guard?” If it fails, it will have repercussions. In the past few years, it felt like even when the Spurs were trying things, the stakes were extremely low. Now that Wemby is in the fold, everything we see has a sense of urgency to it, which makes watching games more fun.

Wilco: I gotta go with the Tall Ball starting lineup including the Sochan-at-point laboratory experiment and the length at every position that will make switching everything while maintaining defensive pressure the kind of puzzle that could have other teams scratching their heads for the first half of the season if not longer. Pop regularly finds a way to make the 2nd unit viable, so I’m not worried about that. It’s the Sochan, Vassell, Johnson, Wemby, Collins unit that was the big question mark coming into the preseason, and the one thing (besides Victor himself) that I’m most excited to watch to begin this season.