In many ways summer league means nothing. Chief among them is that the games literally do not count. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t pull away takeaways even a week after the action is over.
The San Antonio Spurs had a nice summer run. Sure, they didn’t play for the summer league championship, but they did go 5-2 and won a couple of games convincingly. What is really important is the development of the players. More specifically, the skills they flashed that can be translatable to the NBA game. Putting up big numbers in summer league doesn’t equate to NBA success (just ask Josh Selby,) but showing that you can do something on the basketball floor at an extremely high level usually translates to finding a role in the NBA.
Let’s break down the best skill every San Antonio Spur showed in summer league.
Dominick Barlow - defensive versatility
Barlow was arguably the Spurs best player this summer. He averaged 16.2 points and 8.2 rebounds in 6 games. Yet it was what he did defensively that truly made an impression. Of course there are the counting stats of 1.5 blocks per game that show his ability to lock down the paint, but it’s what he did against guards that is so impressive. Look at him stay in front of Hornet’s first round selections Brandon Miller and Nick Smith Jr.
Dominick Barlow, a 2022 UDFA, was the best player on the court last night in the Spurs v. Hornets game, and showed why I think he's going to be a real NBA player. First, the movement skills at 6'10" really pop on switches: pic.twitter.com/rfBvpu7Jcz— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) July 4, 2023
He’s got quick feet and strong instincts on the defensive end that allow him to switch onto ball handlers. He was far and away the most versatile defender for San Antonio this summer. That could buy him some playing time as a big next to Victor Wembanyama next season.
Charles Bediako - offensive rebounding
Bediako was one of my favorite players to watch during summer league. In short minutes (12.3 a game) he was a monster on the glass and defensive interior. He was particularly effective rebounding the ball on offense. He averaged 2.7 offensive rebounds on minimal usage. Against the Los Angeles Lakers, he secured 5 offensive boards in just 9 minutes of play. At 6-foot-11 he has great size and a constant motor that always kept him in the play under the rim.
Bediako is raw, but his profile as a player who isn’t afraid to do the dirty work will help him on his NBA journey.
Malaki Branham - three point shooting
While you could make the argument that Branham’s ability as a bucket getter is his best skill, I was most impressed with the development to his outside shot. Last season Branham shot 30.2% on threes. In the summer league, he shot 13 of 27 from three (48%.) He shot well off of the dribble, relocating for open looks, coming off of screens, and on spot up attempts. Branham will be a three-level scorer in the NBA if he can expand his range. That is the skill to track this upcoming season.
Chaundee Brown - rim pressure
Brown plays the game hard and fast. As a 6-foot-6, 215 pound guard, he uses his size and speed to get down hill and attack the rim. Brown wasn’t incredibly effective in his limited summer minutes. When his game was clicking, it was by attacking the rim.
Josh Carlton - interior presence
Carlton is a big dude. At 6-foot-10, 240 pounds, he’s the type of post player that makes you think twice about banging inside with him. He didn’t get a ton of opportunities to show his skill, but when he did play, you could tell that he was just stronger than most of the players out there. He had a few good finishes out of the pick and roll, and provided interior strength on defense.
Julian Champagnie - three point shooting
Champagnie may be the Spurs next sniper. He showed in his rookie season how lethal of a scorer he can be when he gets ho. He became one of the summer league’s premier shooters in July. Champagnie got off to a scorching start, shooting 14 for 32 (43%) in the first three games, using his 6-foot-9 frame to elevate over contests. His shooting cooled late in the summer as teams began to guard him heavily from deep. He shot 2-11 in his last two games. He shot 37% from deep overall in the summer.
Champagnie will be someone to watch on a team that already features three-point shooting wings like Doug McDermott, Cedi Osman and Reggie Bullock. He will really need to shoot it well to beat out the veterans for playing time.
Sidy Cissoko - on-ball defense
Nobody could get around Cissoko this summer. 19-year-olds just don’t look like this on the defensive end very often. At 6-foot-7, 225 lbs., Cissoko could not only stay in front of opposing ball-handlers with ease, but often times pushed them off of their driving lanes with his barrel chest. He’s fast, strong and plays his tail off on that end. He’s got a ways to go in the other aspects of his game, but it looks like Cissoko is an NBA-ready defender as a rookie.
Justin Gorham - rebounding
Gorham didn’t get much run, appearing in just 4 of the Spurs games, playing under 10 minutes in each game. When he did play, he mixed it up on the boards, averaging nearly 4 a game.
Logan Johnson - charge taking
In one of the two games Johnson played with the Spurs this summer, he and a teammate both slid in to take a charge at the same time. It was a magical play and will go down as one of the few time I laughed at a summer league game. Kudos to you, Logan.
Sadik Kabaca - pick and pop shooting
Kabaca was someone I wished had gotten a bit more time to play this summer. At 6-foot-10, Kabaca has a smooth stroke from deep. He hit a couple of threes on pick and pop plays that looked silky.
Justin Kier - passing
Kier didn’t get a lot of run this summer, but was pretty good at running the offense in his limited minutes. He averaged 3.7 assists in his three games.
Javante McCoy - shot creation
McCoy was one of the few former G-Leaguers that got a real shot with the Spurs summer squad. He played in all games but one, and got a decent chunk of minutes. He showed the ability to get to his spots off of the dribble, and some creative flair in the mid range. It all came together in his last game of the summer league, where he put up 18 points on 7-12 shooting from the field.
Seth Millner - spot up three point shooting
Millner had one of the silkiest shots on the Spurs roster. With a high arcing ball, he has near perfect form from deep. When he was forced to take higher difficulty shots off of movement, he wasn’t incredibly effective. When he was set and ready to shoot, he had success shooting the ball, even if he only shot 28% from three overall in his five games of play.
Erik Stevenson - pull up shooting
Stevenson had the green light in the summer league and boy did he ever use it. He was streaky in the summer league, looking like a sharpshooter at times and a non-threat from range at others. He went 9 of 30 from three point range (30%) over the course of the summer. What was impressive was the fluidity of his pull up attempts. A lot of shooters struggle to find their rhythm on this look, but Stevenson made it look easy.
Sir’Jabari Rice - patience
In a summer where everyone wanted to see Blake Wesley calm down and take control of the offense, it was Rice who really showed the ability to slow the game down. Although he appeared in just two games, Rice looked completely in control while handling the ball. He averaged 12.5 points, scoring out of the pick and roll on floater, creating his own shot off of pump fakes, and hitting spot up threes.
Rice was also solid defensively. He will be a fun player to watch on a two-way contract.
Victor Wembanyama - rim protection
Two games. Eight blocks. Two of those being on three pointers. The NBA world was watching Victor, and he did not disappoint defensively. The offensive game is going to be a work in progress, and that’s okay. He is going to disrupt opposing teams defensively from day one.
Look at this play where Victor meets the ball at its apex.
BLOCK THE SHOT.— NBA (@NBA) July 10, 2023
RUN THE FLOOR.
SLAM DUNK FINISH.
Get to ESPN2 to see Victor Wembanyama in action! pic.twitter.com/4NANLqCyMG
He has no business blocking this shot. Just his size alone is going to alter looks, but he showed strong instincts on that end as well. I would not be surprised if Wemby averages over two blocks a game in his rookie season. The Spurs were dead last in defensive rating last season, Wembanyama’s rim protection could change that next year.
Blake Wesley - speed
Wesley flashed a lot of new skills in the summer league. He showed the ability to finish with his left hand, pull up in the mid range to hit jump shots, and control the offense better than he could last season. Still his most effective skill is his athleticism. Out in transition and off of straight line drives he is a blur. He looked especially good as a cutter. With his improved finishing skill at the rim, he could become an off-ball threat this season.