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Takeaways from the Spurs California Classic Summer League performance

San Antonio’s up and coming players dominated their two games in Sacramento

2023 NBA California Classic - San Antonio Spurs v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The San Antonio Spurs came into the California Classic Summer League with a familiar roster. At the end of last season, Gregg Popovich handed the keys over to unproven young players trying to make a name for themselves in the NBA, in an effort to see who would sink or float (and to put the team in the best position to grab the number-one overall pick.) Players like Malaki Branham, Julian Champagnie and Dominick Barlow showed flashes of what their future NBA role could be.

As Blake Wesley, Branham, Champagnie and Barlow took the floor in Sacramento, many were looking to see how the group has progressed since their “try-out” with the NBA squad. The returners looked like seasoned veterans who operated at a higher level than their rookie and G League counterparts. The summer Spurs routed the Charlotte Hornets 96-77, and handled the Los Angeles Lakers 109-99. Both opposing teams featured hyped-up rookies like Brandon Miller and Jalen Hood-Schifino, but it was San Antonio’s prospects who shined brightest.

Champagnie shot the lights out in his two games, putting up 58 points on 10-22 shooting from deep (45%.) He showcased an excellent nose for the ball, always finding himself in the right position to use his length to grab a board, tip a pass or block a shot.

Branham only played one game, but looked every bit of the scorer he showed signs of being at the end of last season. He posted 32 points on 50% shooting from the field, scoring at all three levels. He finished through contact, created mid-range looks and hit threes off of movement.

Branham and Champagnie looked head and shoulders better than their competition. It will be interesting to see how many games they play in Las Vegas before they are shut down for the summer. Clearly those two will compete for roles on the NBA team next season.

Wesley and Barlow also showcased what makes them interesting prospects. Barlow was a lockdown defender through two games. He protected the paint with 5 blocks in his two games. He also showed the ability to switch out onto guards and big wings, staying in front of them and forcing tough shots. Offensively he put the ball on the deck and finished at the rim, as well as hit the mid-range jumper.

Wesley needed to prove he can slow down, take care of the ball and play point guard at the NBA level. He made some impressive reads in both games, particularly in the pick and roll. He made pinpoint cross court passes on aggressive drives, smart dump offs and hit a few impressive mid-range pull-ups. He still coughed the ball up 9 times in both games, but there were enough positive plays to come away feeling good.

The most important takeaway from the Spurs performance in Sacramento is that these guys are clearly getting better. They are playing with a lot of confidence that was built from getting an opportunity late last season. It seems like PATFO is investing in this young group, largely running it back next year to see how they fit next to Victor Wembanyama. There is still plenty to prove with the Las Vegas summer league and training camp. Their performance in Sac-Town should have fans excited for the future.

Here are a few miscellaneous takeaways from San Antonio’s California Classic showing:

  • Sidy Cissoko is raw, but has tools. Chief among them being his NBA-ready body. Cissoko is listed at 6-7, 225 pounds, and he looks every bit of it. His build allows him to play a physical brand of on-ball defense that disrupted summer league ball-handlers. He’s still a bit undisciplined, fouling a lot (4 fouls in each game) and gets caught ball-watching when playing off of the ball. Offensively, his passing is unique. He made some jaw-dropping outlet passes in two games, and consistently made the right reads in the open floor. The jump shot has seemingly regressed. Cissoko didn’t convert a single field goal in either game. He will need time to hone his skills, but there is some stuff there to be excited about.
  • Charles Bediako is a monster on the glass. Against the Lakers, he had 5 offensive rebounds in just nine minutes of play! His length and timing were on full display in Sacramento. He moves well for his size too – projecting as a rim running big man who can be a defensive force in the paint. He too is raw at this juncture. After signing an exhibit-10, he will likely play for the Austin Spurs this upcoming season.
  • While he didn’t have as strong of a game against the Lakers, Erik Stevenson can shoot the rock. He hit a deep pull up three against LA, and made shots on the move, or in the mid-range against the Hornets. He’s gone 4-9 (44%) from deep in two games, and has seemingly got the green light from Matt Nielsen. As the Spurs begin to shut down some of the proven guys, I would expect Stevenson to have at least one late-summer league performance where he shoots the lights out. He hasn’t signed a deal yet, but it might be a good move for the Spurs to give him a longer look in Austin next season.