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What we learned from the Summer Spurs’ win over the Wizards

The Spurs’ sophomore class is stealing the show at the Las Vegas Summer League.

2023 NBA Summer League - Washington Wizards v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

We’re going to shake things up a bit and merge the highlights with a What We Learned, because why not? Everyone came into Summer League hoping to learn more about Victor Wembanyama. We did to an extent: he understandably struggled in game one, found his NBA stride in game 2 while showing off his amazing potential, then was unsurprisingly shut down for the remainder of the summer to give his tired body a rest. It was fun while it lasted, but that may not end up being the most telling story of Summer League for the Spurs when all is said and done.

The biggest takeaway from SL just might end up being the strides their sophomore class has taken. Malaki Branham and Blake Wesley, both late first-round draft picks from last season, are showing improvement. While Branham needs to work on other aspects of his game — he tends to disappear when his shot isn’t falling, so he needs to find more ways to be affective — he is a pure shooter, and he’s beginning to show off a more well rounded offensive game with an ability to score from all three levels. He finished the night as the player of the game with 29 points on 12-20 shooting, 5-6 from three.

Wesley continues to be a wildcard and did not have his best game last night. He contributed 14 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists, but it was on an inefficient 5-16 shooting with 4 turnovers. That assist-to-turnover ratio will continue be the stat to watch for him (along with finishing at the rim), as it will be the one that shows if he’s improving the most. Still, his strength is as a defender at the point of attack, which is the best place to mess up a team’s offensive possession before they get set, and he has shown off his ability to do that all summer.

Next is the Spurs’ undrafted sophomores, beginning with Julian Champagnie. Minus an off night against Portland (where an argument could be made that he was deferring to Wemby, considering he only took six shots), he has made his case for the Spurs’ Summer League MVP (including Sacramento). Branham may have been the player of the game last night, and Champagnie didn’t post his best shooting night with 18 points on 4-13 shooting, but he did post a near-triple double with 8 rebounds and 7 assists and got to the line nine times, showing defenders are starting to respect him as an offensive threat. His new guaranteed contract is more than earned, and his two-way play could be invaluable to the Spurs bench next season. Once again, the Spurs are turning another team’s trash into their own treasure.

Finally, there’s Dominick Barlow. It can’t be emphasized enough how much he has seemingly improved from last season to now (I say “seemingly” because we really only saw him play consistent minutes for the final two games last season), and as Jacob Douglas mentioned in the final score, it’s becoming uncomfortable waiting to see what the Spurs do with him. They’re over the 15-player roster limit for the regular season, and at this point Barlow seems to be too good for the G-League, but if the Spurs let another team take him in free agency, he could become “the one that got away” for them. He’s a solid defender for his size, and his midrange game is as pure as Wemby’s arms are long. With 20 points and 7 rebounds last night, he continues making his case to the Spurs. How much longer can they hold out?

One final reminder to everyone: as much as the sophomores are shining in Summer League and making a case for next season, none of this includes Jeremy Sochan, who already made the All-Rookie team and projects to have the highest ceiling of them all. It’s hard to imagine the Spurs will be able to hold onto 5 players from one class forever, but right now, they are all shining in their own ways, and at this point they are the biggest thing we are learning from the Summer League.