The end of the season is starting to seem more like a tryout for next year’s squad than an attempt to finish the year with some wins. But if the Spurs are going to play like this over the last four games, they might just finish their audition on a high note anyways.
San Antonio has opted to do a rotating rest schedule to end the year. Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell and Zach Collins all take turns being “the guy” while the other members of the young core sit. This gives the rest of the roster a chance to show they belong in the NBA. The “prove-it” guys, like Dominick Barlow, Julian Champagnie, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Blake Wesley and Romeo Langford have gotten increased minutes and roles. Most of them have been running away with it.
Tonight was a career night for both of San Antonio’s two-way rookies. Champagnie set the scoring record for a two-way rookie with 26 points on 9-14 shooting from the field, and went 4-7 from deep. He was in attack mode in his 28 minutes of play, cutting to the basket, mixing it up in the paint with the bigs, grabbing 6 rebounds, and of course, hitting some big three-point shots. He had 22 points in the first half, going crazy from deep, even converting a 4-point play at one point. Champagnie has not been mentioned much in discussions of next year’s roster, but he came out against Sacramento with something to prove.
Another guy with a chip on his shoulder is Barlow. With no Bassey, he’s become the de facto back up center. He’s shown flashes of his defensive potential and athleticism but hasn’t put together a complete performance. Against one of the best big men in the league, Barlow looked every bit an NBA player. He put up a complete line, scoring 12 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal and 2 blocks. Barlow’s skills are tantalizing. He’s a strong rim protector, can move his feet in space, and is a fine passer for his age and frame. He even flashed some touch from the mid-range on two corner jumpers. When Collins fouled out, he was the big man who finished the game and was great. He’s winning the staff’s trust little by little.
They couldn’t have done it without their veterans, though. Doug McDermott must have confused the fiesta teal for Creighton blue, as he turned the clock back for a 30-point performance where he scored at all three levels. McBuckets hit big shot after big shot when the Spurs needed it, looking like the type of role player some contenders could use right about now. Tre Jones continues to be phenomenal while playing for a contract this offseason. He had a triple double, with 17 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, and was one of the main reasons they won in overtime. Those are the type of performances that get you paid.
Sure, the results of the games don’t technically matter, as the Spurs have locked in the best odds for the number-1 pick (yes, they could jockey for a higher floor on lottery day by losing more than the Rockets win,) but you could tell it mattered to these guys. That’s been apparent all season. The circumstances and talent have not always been in the Spurs’ favor, but the effort and drive to improve has never faltered. It was on display tonight, with a bunch of guys fighting for their NBA lives and a chance to sign a second contract with this, or another team. The way they played, the Spurs may be forced to make sure they retain them.
- I’m a bit of a Spurs Twitter lurker. I don’t typically engage in the discourse, but I love to listen in. But there is one conversation I cannot stay quiet on any longer. Pay Tre Jones his money, okay? Anyone saying he isn’t worth a new deal isn’t watching the games. He doesn’t shoot threes... so what? The offense operates much better when he’s on the floor. He’s one of the few ball handlers who can get into the paint, he’s the best passer/floor general on the team, and he’s really freaking good defensively! He had a triple double tonight, but I will still hear someone say “we have Blake Wesley to play backup point guard, we don’t need Tre,” in a Spaces this week. I’m sorry, there is no world in which you let go of Tre to play a mistake-prone guard who hasn’t shown the ability to play at the NBA level, and it ends up being a good move. Not to disparage Wesley, I like him, he just needs more time to hone his skills in the G-League. Tre Jones is an above average point guard whom you want in the locker room to lead this next edition of the Spurs.
- I hate to be that guy after an awesome win in which he played the best game of his season... but what is Doug McDermott’s trade value going to be this offseason? There are a lot of teams in the league that could use his shooting ability off of the bench or in the starting lineup. Could you imagine him spacing the floor with a team like Phoenix, Philadelphia, Boston or Miami? He’s shooting 41% this season, doing it off of screens, dribble handoffs, spot ups. He’s improved his movement shooting a ton, and is comfortable when he gets run off of the line. Is he worth a first? A handful of seconds? If the Spurs are stockpiling assets, they should consider what his market might be this summer. Especially if you are going to keep good shooters like Champagnie and Devonte’ Graham around.
- Sean Elliott was laying into the Kings on the broadcast tonight, and he may have had a point. If the shorthanded Spurs can dice you up for 140+, what is Golden State going to do? They are an elite offensive team, and their pick and roll/high post DHO action with De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis is awesome, but they are going to need to defend at some point. I haven’t seen a team get so comically back doored in the NBA before. They are bad at the point of attack, and even worse in help. They are an awesome story, and I’m personally rooting for a fellow small-market team, but jeez, they need to defend someone if they want to win a playoff series.