When I was a kid I loved to build Lego sets. Something about seeing all of the pieces out in front of me, and the anticipation of getting to play with the final product brought me an immense sense of joy. They taught me to be patient, not skipping steps and taking the time to double check the instructions and make sure I was putting everything together properly.
That’s how I felt watching the Spurs’ performance in Austin. How exciting is it to see all of these pieces that one day could become cogs in a contending machine?
It’s enthralling to see Sandro Mamukelashvili go deep into his bag of tricks, flashing signs of a legitimate playmaking big with a big motor. Even more inspiring to see Julian Champagnie turn into a human flamethrower for a handful of possessions. Malaki Branham hitting pull ups over the broomstick arms of Rudy Gobert made me pump my fist! And it’s impossible to watch Tre Jones attack play after play, getting to the cup and setting up his teammates on his way to his second career triple-double without smiling.
Oh yeah, and that’s without four of the franchises most exciting young players (Jeremy Sochan, Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson and Zach Collins) playing! And they get a top-7 pick in the draft to add to that. This is really freaking exciting! The pieces are accumulating... we just haven’t seen them be a team yet.
That to me is the most frustrating part. We’ve seen these guys come a long way over the course of 81 games, but we haven’t gotten a lot of chances to see it all at once. It’s been an injury here, a rest game there, and no clear look of what the real 2022-23 Spurs could have looked like. I want to see the picture on the front of that Lego box in real life. I see what it looks like on paper, but show me something tangible in front of my eyes.
I know, I know. Be patient. Follow the steps. Make sure you are looking at every possible detail, then assemble the final product.
There is one cautionary tale I’ll always remember from my block building days. Once I was building Boba Fett’s spaceship from Star Wars movies. It took me weeks to assemble. I mean this thing was about 2,000 pieces. Finally I had built the ship, and it was beautiful. I flew that thing around my room, pretending I was zooming through the galaxy at light speed. But I was going too fast. The ship slipped out of my hands and crashed to the carpet. It was busted beyond repair.
Now I’m sure the Spurs front office will take more care of their multiple million dollar franchise than a 10-year-old did with a toy. But we’ve seen rebuilding teams nearly blow the whole thing they were building towards (the “Process-era” 76ers comes to mind.) The game against Minnesota showed that there are real building blocks to be excited about, but they will only come together effectively with steady, delicate hands.
- Sandro Mamukelashivili may not be a starting NBA big man, but he sure as hell is a fun one. Mamu finished with 16 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. That assist total could have been much higher had his teammates finished some of his highlight passes. He made no look dimes in transition and a fake behind the back look to a lob pass to Dominick Barlow that made my jaw drop. That Rondo fake underneath the rim that fooled Gobert and Karl Anthony-Towns was sensational. Of all of the guys not under contract for next season, he may be the one I’d like to see return the most. That feel for the game and passing ability are not skills that grow on trees, especially with his frame. If he shoots the ball over 35% from three, he’s a lethal weapon off of the bench.
- Tre Jones did it again. His second triple double of the season, putting up 21 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists. Greg Popovich called him a stud. I think that’s the best description. He plays every possession with fire, and is one of the smartest playmakers on the team. Sure he’s undersized, and yes he’s not the strongest 3-point shooter, but he just find a way to attack you and get to his spots. He’s relentless getting into the paint, and a plus defender to boot. I really hope the Spurs keep him around in restricted free agency. They could potentially have a lot of offensive weapons next year, and it would do them good to have a true playmaker to get them in spots to succeed.
- Speaking of guys I would like to see back on the team next year, Keita Bates-Diop is the perfect veteran for this team. He’s gone through the same ringer a lot of these young players currently are. Second round guy who has continued to build over the course of his career before finally putting together a really solid season. He’s malleable in the ways he can play for you, coming off the bench, starting, playing the 3 or the 4. Some nights he’s guarding the opposing best wing scorer, some nights he’s banging with the big men down low. He’s always a base-level of consistency, and you need that on a young team. The fact that he’s shot 39% from three this year has gone under the radar Against Minnesota he had 22 points and 5 rebounds, knocking in 2 three-pointers. Not sure what the market will be for a wing like him in free agency, but if the Spurs can keep him on an under $10 million a year deal, it would be nice to see him back with the Silver and Black.