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The Spurs that impressed (and disappointed) in Summer League

Summer League provided the Spurs’ young players with an opportunity to shine. Some did well under the spotlight while others struggled.

NBA: Summer League-Portland Trail Blazers at Charlotte Hornets Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

Who impressed you the most in Summer League play?

Marilyn Dubinski: I’ll go with Dominick Barlow. He looked so lost on an NBA court for the majority of last season but seemed like a whole new player at Summer League. Yes, the competition level is different in Vegas, but I didn’t expect him to come out and tear up the court the way he did. He has made his case to be on a guaranteed NBA contract, and hopefully that comes with the Spurs. Runner-up would be Julian Champagnie, who already had a guaranteed contract coming in but more than justified the Spurs’ decision.

Mark Barrington: Obviously, the most impressive player on the Spurs is Victor. He looked out of sorts in his first game after all of the publicity and bizarre distractions, but looked like he could do anything he wanted to in the second game. And you could tell that he was just scratching the surface, once he’s gained enough familiarity with the system to know where his teammates are, he will be unstoppable on offense, and it’s going to be really hard for players to score on him.

Bruno Passos: Shoutout to Julian Champagnie who set the California Classic on fire before cooling off in Vegas. He looks like a real rotation player either way, but I’m curious where he settles in at as a three-point shooter, as that will likely determine much of his value. Dominick (Dom? What’s the Style Guide say here?) Barlow couldn’t miss from midrange and showed a new understanding of where to be on both ends of the floor and how to use his lengthy frame. Given how raw he still is and his physical tools, it was the kind of display you want out of a player on his developmental arc and it has me interested in seeing him get some meaningful reps against NBA talent next year. (The answer is still Victor, though, of course)

Jesus Gomez: Barlow really showed growth. He seems to have settled in nicely as an undersized but athletic center who can finish inside, has some range and uses his length and mobility well on defense. It was just Summer League play but if it translates to the actual NBA, he could give Charles Bassey some competition for minutes, which is not something I believe many would have said before watching his performance over the last couple of weeks.

Whose play worried you the most during Summer League play?

Dubinski: I’d have to go with Blake Wesley. While “worried” maybe isn’t the right word, he didn’t make much of a leap from the end of last season and is still just as mistake prone as he was before. One area he did improve some at was finishing at the rim, where he was in the bottom percentile for guards last season, but we still have yet to see if that will translate against NBA-level interior defenses. He entered the Summer League with perhaps the most to prove, and it would seem he will enter the regular season in the same boat.

Barrington: I don’t want to say I’m worried, but I have some concerns about Blake Wesley’s offense. He has shown some progress at times, even using the mid range shot a few times when the paint is too congested. But too often, he puts his head down and gets to the paint with no plan on how to get the ball into the basket. I have a lot of hope that he’ll eventually figure it out, but for now, he’s really inefficient on offense. He’s a solid defender, so even if he just improves a little bit on offense, he could be the Spurs’ point guard of the future, or at least an important part of the rotation.

There’s always the hope that Victor’s presence will open up the game for others, since Wembanyama won’t be exclusively a paint player, and that could give Blake more space to operate. It’s probably no coincidence that the game where Wesley looked most comfortable was Wembanyama’s 27-point breakout game.

Passos: I’ll say Wesley, and I’m ready to mean “worried’. At his size, and with a mounting stockpile of young talent on the roster, the margin for error is too thin if you’re not a reliable knockdown shooter, a reliable floor general, or at least someone who can create an advantage when you need it. It feels like the best version of him is a gunner with a long-ish leash and bright green light to do some stuff, so I’m hopeful the Spurs give him a crack at that if the other pieces of his game don’t quite come together.

Gomez: Wesley is going to be the unanimous answer here. He’s just 20 years old and he joined the Spurs as a project that was never expected to be in the rotation quickly, but the consistently bad decision-making when he attacks is concerning. It’s one thing for him to not be a great floor general or a reliable shooter yet, but the wild drives are harder to look past. It’s great that he’s gotten stronger but unless he gets into the paint with a plan more often, he’s not going to be the type of guy who can be an engine on offense. Quickness is what makes Wesley such an intriguing prospect, but he just hasn’t learned to use it yet. There’s still time, but he’ll need to start showing at least some progress soon.

If you could instruct one Spur to focus on improving one skill before training camp, who and what would it be?

Dubinski: I would “teach” Wemby how to set harder picks in the pick-and-roll (as if I’d be any better). That has always been a big part of Pop’s offense and will be what will free him and his guards up the most in drives to the basket, and in Summer League he was mostly rolling without setting much of a pick. I almost wanted to put Avery Johnson in front of him saying a modern version of his famous 1999 line, “PICK-and-roll, PICK-and-roll, Wemby, we got to PICK-and-roll.”

Barrington: I would tell Blake Wesley to watch more film of Tony Parker during his prime, and learn how he used body control, rhythm, and tricks like going off the wrong foot to put up shots in limited space that are hard to block. It’s a skill he’ll have to learn if he wants to be a scoring point guard who makes his living in the paint.

Passos: I’ll leave Wembanyama out of this because it’s year zero and part of the fun is seeing where he goes from this primordial state. But the answer should be what makes that development as successful as possible, so I’ll go with Devin Vassell’s pull-up three ball, which could really open things up for a two-man game with Wembo, as well as be that next logical step in Vassell’s own trajectory. Honorable mention to Jeremy Sochan (corner three) and Keldon Johnson (decision-making in the pick and roll).

Gomez: I’d tell Tre Jones to work on his in-between game. It’s too optimistic to expect Jones to suddenly develop a pull-up jumper that extends past the three-point line, but if he can get comfortable from the elbows he’ll be able to put a lot more pressure on the defense on pick-and-rolls, even when the defender goes under the pick. He can hit that shot but he barely takes it. Perhaps even more important than the pull-up is a consistent floater. Being able to score in the paint without always having to challenge shot-blockers is a must for any undersized guard, so Tre should watch some Tony Parker highlights and get to the gym to work on his touch.