The losses keep piling up for the Spurs, so it can be a little hard to get excited about anything happening this season. Injuries and trades have prevented the team from really developing an identity and even Pop, who was patient in the past, is getting upset with the lack of consistency.
Not everything is bad, though. Not only will the Spurs have a good shot at the top pick after this season and with it the opportunity to draft a potential cornerstone, but the rookies they currently have on the roster are showing really interesting skills already. Let’s take a look at the most exciting aspects of each of the 19-year-olds’ games.
Blake Wesley has the quickness to be a problem for defenses
One of the main reasons why Blake Wesley got drafted as highly as he did despite not having a particularly efficient freshman season at Notre Dame was his physical tools, so it’s not surprising to see his athleticism be the most encouraging thing about him right now. His quickness in particular stands out.
Despite not having the best handles and facing defenders who don’t play close to him because he doesn’t have a reliable pull-up jumper, Wesley can often create separation thanks to his first step both using screens and on his own. His north-to-south speed should eventually allow him to be the type of ball handler that gets the defense in rotation and creates shots for himself and his teammates consistently.
For now, Wesley often struggles with figuring out what to do when he gets past his man. He sometimes drives wildly to the rim with no plan or jumps before knowing where to pass. It’s fine, though. He’s still extremely young, has barely played in the NBA because of an injury and should continue to improve his decision-making. When he does, he could be someone who can put a lot of pressure on opposing defenses.
Malaki Branham's pull-up jumper from the elbows is money
Branham’s offensive production in college was impressive to the point where some experts were surprised he dropped to the Spurs. The main questions surrounding his viability as an NBA scorer revolved around how mid-range heavy his game was. He didn’t have elite athleticism to make a living around the rim and his outside shot wasn’t the most consistent. Would he be able to find a way to get to his spots and hit those pull-ups against better defenses?
So far the answer seems to be a resounding yes. Branham is shooting 46 percent on mid-range shots, according to NBA.com/Stats and has been even more efficient on looks inside the paint but outside of the restricted area. He’s been especially deadly going to his right, normally using ball screens.
The only thing to worry about Branham at this point is that right now scoring from the in-between area at a prolific and efficient level is the only thing he does well and to have those opportunities he needs some touches as the pick and roll ball handler that might not be there when the team has everyone back. That said, if he can become a better spot-up shooter and defender, he could be a Josh Richardson-type player as soon as next season while still having plenty of room to grow.
Jeremy Sochan is showing that he can create for himself from the mid post
Sochan has had a wild rookie season in which he’s been asked to play point guard on both ends at times and guard big forwards at others. The Spurs have given him more freedom than any rookie in recent history and through some understandable ups and downs, the forward has delivered as expected by playing hard and using his versatility to plug holes.
What has been a little unexpected is his ability to get his own shot from time to time from the mid post area. Sochan is not the most fluid of ball handlers yet and his outside shot is a work in progress so he was expected to mostly get buckets in transition and off cuts. He’s been getting those but has also flashed a budding post game that he’s definitely not afraid to use. His height allows him to simply shoot over others and he rarely hesitates to do so.
Those post-ups and face-ups are not a go-to weapon yet for Sochan, but they are a great base skill to have. The problem with players who can’t shoot at all (think Tony Allen) or can only shoot (think Davis Bertans) is that opponents can either hide their big on the former or put a wing on the latter without paying the price. If Sochan’s ball handling and ability to attack mismatches in the post continue to improve, he’ll be hard to defend even if his three-point shot takes a while to come along.