San Antonio’s up-and-comers dominated their two games in Sacramento
The San Antonio Spurs entered the California Classic Summer League with a familiar roster. At the end of last season, Gregg Popovich handed the keys 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 to grab the number one overall pick.) Players like Malaki Branham, Julian Champagnie and Dominick Barlow showed glimpses of what their future NBA role could be.
When 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. Those returning looked like seasoned veterans operating at a higher level than their rookie and G League counterparts. The summer Spurs routed the Charlotte Hornets 96-77, and handled Los Angeles Lakers 109-99. Both opposing teams had hyped rookies like Brandon Miller and Jalen Hood-Schifino, but it was San Antonio’s prospects that shone brightest.
Champagnie shot the lights out in his two games, putting up 58 points on 10-22 shooting from deep (45%). , tipping a pass or blocking a shot.
Branham played just one game, but looked every bit the scorer he showed signs of being at the end of last season. He posted 32 points on 50% shooting from the field and scored at all three levels. He finished through contact, created mid-range looks and hit threes out of motion.
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 shut down this summer. It is clear that the two will compete for roles on the NBA team next season.
Wesley and Barlow also showed 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 on guards and big wings, stay in front of them and force tough shots. Offensively, he put the ball on the deck and finished at the rim, as well as hitting the 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, especially in the pick and roll. He made accurate cross court passes on aggressive drives, smart dump offs and hit a couple of impressive mid-range pull-ups. He still coughed up the ball 9 times in both games, but there were enough positive plays to come away with a good feeling.
The main 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 looks like PATFO is investing in this young group and pretty much riding it back next year to see how they fit together with Victor Wembanyama. There is still plenty to prove Las Vegas Summer League and training camp. Their appearance in Sac-Town should have fans excited for the future.
Here are a few different takeaways from San Antonio’s California Classic show:
- Sidy Cissoko is raw but has tools. Chief among them is his NBA-ready body. Listed at 6-7, 225 pounds, Cissoko looks the part. His build allows him to play a physical brand of on-ball defense that disrupted summer league ball handlers. He is still a bit undisciplined, commits a lot (4 fouls per game) and gets caught looking at the ball when playing off the ball. Offensively, his passing is exceptional. He made some jaw-dropping outlet passes in two games and consistently made the right reads in the open floor. The jump shot has apparently fallen back. Cissoko did not convert a single field goal in either game. He will need time to hone his skills, but there are some things 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 also moves well for his size – comes across as a rim-running big man who can be a defensive force in the paint. He is also raw at this point. After signing an exhibit 10, he is likely to play for the Austin Spurs in the upcoming season.
- Although he didn’t have such a strong game against the Lakers, Erik Stevenson can shoot the rock. He hit a deep pull up three against LA and made shots on the fly or in the mid-range against the Hornets. He has gone 4-9 (44%) from deep in two games, and has apparently been given the green light by Matt Nielsen. With the Spurs starting to lock 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 giving him a longer look in Austin next season could be a good move for the Spurs.