Welcome to Pounding The Rock’s 2022-23 player reviews! The series will look at all 16 players that finished the season with the Spurs (minus Khem Birch since he never suited up), so we won’t be reviewing players like Stanley Johnson or Isaiah Roby. In the next edition, we will be taking a look at Sandro Mamukelashvili’s performance and his outlook for the future.
2022-23 Stats: 19 games, 10.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 45.3% FG, 34% 3P
2022-23 Salary: One-year minimum contract
Contract Status: Unrestricted free agent
To join a team on a flier contract late in the season, then immediately earn a nickname with the new fan base is a sign of a productive season with your new franchise. Sandro Mamukelashvili, or “Mamu,” for short, managed to do just that with San Antonio. No, not quite “Manu,” but some of his flashy highlights have drawn Spurs fans on Twitter to make the comparison.
Mamukelashvili signed with the Spurs in early March after being let go by Milwaukee and was instantly given opportunities to contribute both starting and off the bench. The 6-foot-9 center brought solid passing, playmaking ability in the open court, and the ability to stretch his game out to the three-point line. In what seemed like a match made in heaven, Mamu fit right in with the Spurs style of play, playing at a fast pace and sharing the basketball. This quickly gained the coaching staff’s trust.
“He’s a player that knows how to play the game,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said in a March post-game press conference. “He’s so smart, so I was thrilled for him, and he did a good job for us.”
Mamu stepped up in a big way when the Spurs needed big men down the stretch. With Charles Bassey suffering a season ending injury and Zach Collins fighting nagging ailments, Mamukelashvili started seven of his nineteen games with San Antonio. His energy brought something different to the collection of bigs on the roster. Not only could he handle the ball and pass like a guard, but he did a lot of dirty work on the boards and in the paint.
The downside to his game came on the defensive end. Often times, he would get out muscled by bigger posts and was too slow of feet to guard faster players. In many ways, the NBA has embraced the “tweener” with a lot of teams downsizing to play a fast, perimeter oriented game. Mamu fits the bill of a small ball center on offense, but he has to find a way to hold his own on the defense if he wants to stick in the NBA.
One last note... if a player references “I Think You Should Leave” on social media... than I am a fan of that player.
This @Mamukelashvili5 content speaks to me. pic.twitter.com/yu9hCcSpxU— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) April 9, 2023
Mamukelashvili is one of the many young Spurs who will hit free agency this summer. He will compete with his teammates and potentially three new draft picks (one first rounder, and two seconds) for the remaining roster spots. After signing with the team on a standard contract, it’s hard to imagine the big man settling for a two-way contract, especially given his strong play to finish the season. If he can’t get a partially guaranteed spot on the roster, we may see Mamu suit up elsewhere next season.
What complicates his standing is the uncertainty of San Antonio’s group of big men. Collins’s contract is not guaranteed for next season, but with Gregg Popovich claiming he would be the team’s starting five, it’s safe to say he will return. Bassey signed a four-year deal in February, so he will be back next season. The elephant in the room is where they end up drafting, as adding someone like Victor Wembanyama would change the dynamic quite a bit. Dominick Barlow and Gorgui Dieng are both free agents as well. As it stands, the Spurs could probably afford to bring back one or two of the big men, but they may have other posts they want to target in free agency, like Naz Reid.
Mamu made a really strong case for himself as a Spur, and it feels like the team would want at least another full season to see what they have with him. If nothing else, he’s a really fun player who brings something unique to the squad that is still figuring out what kind of team they are. If the Spurs don’t make a splash in FA, or draft a lottery post player, they could do a lot worse than bringing back Mamukelashvili on a new deal.
April 9 vs. the Mavericks: 23 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 4-7 from three
Final grade: B
Up next: Charles Bassey