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 Devin Vassell’s performance and his outlook for the future.
2022-23 Stats: 38 games, 18.5 points, 3.6 assists, 1.1 steals, 38.7% 3P
2022-23 Salary: $4.44 million
Contract Status: 1 year, $5.89 million remaining (eligible to sign rookie contract extension)
Devin Vassell came to the Spurs in 2020 as their first lottery pick since Tim Duncan in 1997, and while being the 11th overall pick doesn’t necessarily mean a player is supposed to become a star, it did add a certain level of expectations that no other Spurs draft pick had experienced in 13 years. Overall, he lived up to them heading into the 2022-23 season, becoming the first rookie under Gregg Popovich to get regular minutes since Kawhi Leonard before growing into a part-time starter his second season.
Entering his third season, he and Keldon Johnson assumed the role of team leaders, and while it was a tough role to fill with the Spurs in full rebuild mode, both did an admirable job. For the first time, Vassell in particular was the focal point of the offense and free to run his own plays, and for the most part he did not disappoint. Sporting an improved jump shot and showing off an ability to create for himself, he proved himself to be a rising three-tier scorer, averaging the second-most points on the team while shooting nearly 49% from 16 feet out to the arc and a career high 39% from three on seven attempts per game. He also proved to be a capable secondary creator for his teammates, nearly doubling his assist averages to 3.6 per game. When Vassell was healthy and on roll, he looked like the Spurs’ best player.
The problem was, that wasn’t very often. He missed over half the season with a not-serious but aggravating enough knee issue that he underwent microscopic surgery in January, missed two months, and only played in nine games in March before being put back on injury management for the Spurs’ final seven games of the season. He likely could have played more if the team was working towards something other than draft position, but like several of the other main players who weren’t 100% healthy down the stretch, he was shut down.
Still, when looking back at his pre-surgery play, where he appeared in 29 of the Spurs first 37 games, the glimpse into the future was there. He averaged 19.4 points on over 40% shooting from three and was relatively consistent throughout, only posting one game of single-digit scoring. He looked like a surefire candidate for Most Improved Player and very well may have been in the running by the end of the season if he had stayed healthy and played in enough games. Ultimately, a promising start was cut short by injury, but fortunately it’s not the type of issue that will have any long-term affect, and of all the players on this season’s roster, he looks like the Spur with highest ceiling going forward.
Vassell is eligible to sign his rookie contract extension this summer, which would kick in for the 2024-25 season, and it’s hard to imagine the Spurs won’t work on coming to some kind of agreement with him, especially considering his value could significantly rise after next season if he remains healthy. Bobby Marks of ESPN predicts Vassell will be worth about $17 million per year based, which averages out average out to a 4-year/$68 million or 5-year/$85 million contract.
For reference, Johnson signed a 4-year/$70 million extension last season, so that would certainly be bargain price for Vassell and, again, it could easily rise if the Spurs don’t tie him down this summer. Something as high as $20-22 million per year would make plenty sense, but even if the Spurs can’t reach an agreement with him this offseason, they could offer him a qualifying offer worth a little over $8 million next offseason, make him a restricted free agent, and let the market determine his value.
As far where Vassell can improve going forward, his offensive game is coming along nicely but could still use some honing, especially in the closer midrange tier of 3-16 feet, where he made just a third of his attempts: by far his lowest of the four levels. If that area remains a weakness, defenders will be able to sag off him when he gets close enough and keep him away from the rim, as well as stall out the rest of the offense. On the other end, Vassell has the tools and instincts to be a good defender with his 6’10” wingspan, and the issues might be more systematic and who he’s playing next to than his own fault, but like everyone else on the team, he still has room for improvement.
I got pretty excited during Vassell’s rookie season and even suggested he could be the Spurs’ next Kawhi Leonard. While it’s definitely hyperbole and places some unfair expectations on him (not to mention, he will need a better supporting cast around him), the point still stands that he has the skills and physical tools to be a similar type of player. If he and the Spurs keep improving both individually and as a team, it’s easy to see Vassell approaching All-Star status sometime in the relatively near future.
March 19 vs. Atlanta Hawks: 29 points, 3 assists, 3 steals, 12-17 shooting (5-9 from three)
Final Grade: A-
Up Next: Doug McDermott