Takeaways from the California Classic

The Spurs have come away from the California Classic 2-0, blowing out the Hornets and beating the Lakers by 10. So far, the Spurs’ young core has been impressive. The young core consists of players such as Julian Champagnie, Dominick Barlow, Blake Wesley, Malaki Brahnam, and Cidy Cissoko. Each of these guys has something they’ve showcased or shown improvement upon in their first games. Of course, since it is Summer League, you shouldn’t set your expectations of these guys so high, but it is good to analyze these guys' skills they’ve displayed so far and see where they stack at the NBA level.

Julian Champagnie has recently signed a four-year, $12M contract to remain with the Spurs. If he even translates a fraction of what he’s done in Summer League into the NBA, that would be a steal for the Spurs. In his two games in the California Classic, he’s averaged 29ppg, 6.5rpg, 1apg and 2spg. He shot 5/10 and 5/12 from three in both games. He has complete confidence in his shot, hitting contested threes, threes off the catch, off the dribble, and using screens to move off-ball for open shots and setting screens. When he’s not shooting threes, he crashes to the rim for offensive rebounds and second-chance points, can handle some PnR responsibilities(at least at the summer league level), can drive off the catch, and had some good drives to the rim. Also, he has been great defensively, showing good defensive instincts in passing lanes, contests, and even blocking shots. Continuing his great level of play since his last 7 games of the NBA, Champagnie looks to be a great pickup for the Spurs. At the very least, he can be a good 3nD guy in the NBA. At most, he could be a Danny Green like player with more offensive versatility.

Dominick Barlow has shown major improvement in a few areas. Finishing, mid-range, and defense. In his first Summer League game, he had 24 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 2 blocks. Around half his points came from the mid-range, and the other half came from the paint. He’s good at all that typical big man stuff like setting good screens, rim-running, crashing for boards, and having active hands on defense. He even had a couple of moments where he created good shots for himself at the rim using his athleticism and ball handling. I’m aware his second game offensively wasn’t so good but his defense was great. He had 1 steal, and 3 blocks while being active and contesting shots whenever possible. Also, he had six assists, which was the most in the game. Defense was always his best attribute, but his instincts weren’t always the best from what we’ve seen in his time in the NBA. In Summer League, I haven’t seen too many mistakes from him whatsoever. He’s constantly trying to disrupt plays, block, and contest shots. If he can use those long arms and athleticism the way he has recently in the NBA, he’ll be a solid rotation piece for the Spurs. Offensively, if he can continue to improve his mid-range jumper, have good shot selection, and crash boards, that opens up more versatility for himself and the offense. He’d make for a good depth piece to have whenever necessary.

Blake Wesley looks like he’s improved a lot as a point guard. His pace of play looks a lot better and seems to have better decision-making and better reads. His first game looked like he was a little rusty, having 6 turnovers, but he had 8 assists in that game and 3 steals as well. Also, he rebounds well for a guard. His second game looked much better than his first. He had 18 pts, 5 assists, and only 3 turnovers. He was much more aggressive and had a lot of good drives and midrange pull-ups, but he also made the easy plays and easy assists. His next game will probably be even better as he’ll continue to blow the rust off. He’ll likely be the backup point guard next season, and I hope to see him continue developing into one that can start on a good team sooner or later.

Malaki in his first game back scored 32 points and 5 rebounds in only 26 minutes. That’s pretty much all you need to know. He’s great at picking his spots, creating shots for himself, and knocking down open and easy shots. 3/6 from 3, 3/7 from the mid-range, and 6/11 in the paint. 12/24 overall. Undoubtedly he’ll be the 1st man off the bench for the Spurs. The only thing I hope to see from him in the NBA is that he improves his defense and efficiency, but he isn’t a slouch on defense at all, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

Cidy Cissoko is a rookie out of France and played with the G League ignite. His scouting report coming into the draft listed that his best attributes were defense and passing, and that’s exactly what we’ve got so far from him in Summer League. He and Julian Champagnie put Brandon Miller, the 2nd overall pick on lockdown. They had him shoot 1-5 at halftime. He already has great defensive instincts, and good lateral agility allowing him to switch between guards and forwards, and the size and strength to guard most power forwards. He’s always active with his hands and likes to play the passing lanes to get steals. Sometimes he does gamble a little bit and it allows for an open shot. He contests well and plays decent help defense but sometimes he does overhelp and allows open shots. Offensively, he is not a scorer whatsoever and he hasn’t had many playmaking opportunities since Wesley is the primary ball handler but he plays that connecter/swingman role and he does that well. He won’t fill up the stat sheet much on day 1, but he will make his presence and versatility be felt.

The Spurs play their first game in Vegas Friday, at 9 pm Eastern time. Of course, Victor Wembanyama will make his Summer League debut in front of a sold-out crowd. Adding Victor to this already talented young core is going to be exciting to watch and should remind fans that this is by far the best young core the Spurs have had in recent memory and possibly ever.

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