San Antonio’s offseason has gotten a lot of attention from Spurs fans and NBA followers alike. With the potential selection Victor Wembanyama with the number one pick, a tanking team has the chance to accelerate their rebuild and begin building toward contention.
The most common topics of that conversation are how the team can improve through trade, the draft and free agency. However, the NBA Finals have proven that sometimes it is internal development that actually leads to the most success. Players like Caleb Martin, Aaron Gordon, and heck, even two-time MVP Nikola Jokic have all improved and helped their teams win at the highest level.
The Spurs have a young roster with plenty of high upside talent. Free agency moves and trades should help them as they build around Wembanyama, but tapping the talent already hidden on their roster could pay even higher dividends. One such player who could step up and earn himself impactful minutes with some development is the 25th overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft: Blake Wesley.
The 20-year-old guard is 6-foot-5, with a 6-foot-9 wingspan and has blinding speed. His physical tools are incredibly exciting and make his development one of the most fun to watch for in the Summer League and going into next season. Wesley struggled with adapting to the pace and physicality of NBA play, shooting just 32% from the field and averaging 2.7 assists to his 1.8 turnovers per game. Without changing his pace of play often, Wesley was prone to reckless play and speeding up when he should have been slowing down.
That said, there is plenty of room for optimism in his game. That speed is a weapon if utilized correctly. He shot 38.5% on catch and shoot threes last year, showing he can be an off-ball threat. As a defender Wesley can cause turnovers, and plays with the type of energy that unleashes his athleticism and mobility onto opposing ball-handlers. He’s one of the most intriguing point of attack defense prospects on the roster.
The skill that really must improve is his shooting around the rim. He shot an abysmal 38% at the basket in his rookie season. As someone whose offense game pretty much relies on getting downhill and finishing at the cup, he needs to convert on those attempts to be effective.
This skill goes hand in hand with being able to slow down and process the game at a higher level. Wesley so often is using his speed to quickly get by the initial defender, then trying to bully his way through multiple people, or one strong rim protector. This causes him to get his shot blocked a lot. In a game against Phoenix late last season, Wesley attempted 4 shots at the rim, and was blocked all 4 times. Look at these clips of his at rim finishes against the Bucks this year, and see if you notice a pattern.
Wesley takes it right at Brook Lopez, who is one of the best shot blockers in the league. He gets a bump on the ground in the first clip and is able to finish. That’s when he’s at his best. Drawing contact with his speed and getting to the stripe. Then in the next three clips, he doesn’t attempt to creatively finish at the hoop, instead going for straight line drives into traffic.
One way Wesley can elevate his at the rim finishing is by adding a runner or floater to get shots over defenders. According to Synergy, he shot just 22 runners last season, and converted just 13.6% of those attempts. That, plus creating more advantageous angles underneath the basket with euro steps, pro hops or just elevating more on drives would help him get a better look at the rim.
Building his frame could be a major help in this department as well. He’s a slight 185 pounds, and doesn’t go through defenders in the way someone like Keldon Johnson does. That’s detrimental for a player who clearly wants to use his momentum to get to the rim quickly on drives. Some time in the weight room will help him finish with strength and speed more effectively.
Wesley finds himself in an interesting position next season. There are minutes to be earned at the guard spot alongside Tre Jones and Devonte’ Graham. Playing with someone who has the offensive gravity of Wembanyama should create driving lanes and offensive opportunity for the guards. The Spurs need ball handlers next to Wemby who can defend, put pressure on the rim and space the floor. Wesley has shown signs of doin two of those things. If he can improve around the basket, he may just become one of the Silver and Black’s key role players going forward.