16th to 15th: Spurs Sign Williams
Saturday night I got all laudatory about Marcus Williams.Â On Monday, the D-League crashed into the praise pile up –Williams was named to the D-League’s First Team, edging teammates Dwayne Jones and Malik Hairston, both honorable mentions.Â Apparently Dell Demps and Dennis Lindsey were impressed too.Â They made the recommendation, and Pop and Buford made the call. The always-in-front-of-the-action Ridiculous Upside is reporting that Marcus Williams is now a Spur.
Scott Schroeder breaks it down this way:
…Marcus Williams to the Spurs call-up. Â Love it. Â He was number one on our call-up list, and for good reason. Â This season, he developed like crazy, adding a good amount of ball handing to his repertoire, while leading Austin in scoring and assists, along with sporting a long ball quite as ugly as it used to be. Â This one seems to be what many are calling a ‘protection pick’. Â I’m assuming that another team was going to call him up, but Williams have the Spurs the opportunity to keep him in their system before taking the call-up. Â Spurs get a longer look in the Summer League, and Williams gets the money he’s been working toward all season. Â Perfect.
To make room for Marcus Williams, the Spurs are waiving Malik Hairston. We’re collecting our thoughts on that story, and will provide comment it in a subsequent post. For now, we want to comment on the Williams signing with a eye toward the the bigger picture.
Metonymy, Alamo City
Beneath my recent Toros Watch: Ian Mahinmi, 48 Minutes of Hell reader NickyDubs said, “Iâ€™m still waiting for one Toro to make a significant, worthwhile contribution for the Spurs. Given the trend of the Toros thus far, hopefully that day comes soon.”Â I want to use the Marcus Williams signing to provide a modest window into one way in which the Toros benefit to the Spurs.
Marcus Williams, as many of our readers know, was a 2007 2nd round draft pick of the Spurs. He didn’t make the team, but did accept allocation to the Toros.Â In the course of his rookie season, the Spurs treated him to a couple 10-Day contracts, before he eventually accepted a contract with the Clippers. Things didn’t pan out in Los Angeles, and Williams found his way back to base, rejoining the Toros this season. He’s more or less had two full seasons with the Toros prior to today’s call up from San Antonio–two full seasons in the Spurs system, two full seasons with their chosen staff of coaches and trainers.
The Fruit of Genius
What the San Antonio Spurs have in Marcus Williams is the fruit of genius. They’ve made good on what heretofor would have been a throwaway 2nd round draft pick. They’ve found a way to develop players without burning roster space at the end of their bench. They found a way for guys to log heavy minutes in their system without playing on their court. The Spurs, in essence, have found ways to add value to all their draft picks. With the Austin Toros in place, the Spurs have rendered the expression “throwaway 2nd round pick” obsolete. Their program cares about those picks, it has a vested interest in developing precisely those kind of players.
In doing so, the Spurs’ program is making a promise to every subsequent draft pick. They’re saying, “We care. Trust us. We’re acting in your best interest. We’ll help you make the Association.”Â This is not only the case with Marcus Williams, but also with Malik Hairston, last year’s second round selection that became a Spur via Austin. (Hairston has since been waived, but we’re not sure if that’s long term.) If the Spurs cut a player but request he accept allocation to Austin, who could doubt that they are extending a genuine opportunity his way? If context is acreage, the D-League bought the land. But it’s the Spurs who are building the house.
The places of genius here are the shared benefits between player, franchise, and league. Let’s take one such benefit: continuity. Assume a natural progression between the 4 steps of draft, summer league, training camp, and D-League.Â Under normal circumstances, there is a significant shock to the system between steps 3 and 4, training camp and D-League. This is when a player is cut, relocated, and after some scrambling with his agent, thrown into a completely new situation. This where the basketball vagabond is born. It’s also a place where talent can be stumped by the external forces of circumstance. It’s the place where a player reverts to what he knows–i.e. being a top talent scorer–rather than growing into what he needs to become, such as a better defender or ball handler. For the D-League, this means it’s getting the best possible talent and, theoretically, the interest of fans in two markets.Â If you haven’t noticed, it’s the position of this blog that every Toros story is, to some degree, a Spurs story. The Toros are an integral part of all that goes in the offices of R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich.
Under the Spurs model, the ascension between these 4 steps is seamless. The same system, culture, and expectations follow the player along his pilgrimage.Â Austin works in concert with the concerns of San Antonio–if the Spurs want, say, Ian Mahinmi to set better screens, then the staff in Austin will give attention to this detail.Â By the time a player arrives in Austin, after summer league and camp activities, he is grappling with skills development and execution, not with understanding. He has time to figure how his amateur game can make the transition into the professional ranks, which brings us back to Marcus Williams. Many aspects of Williams’ game have improved during his D-League stint. He owes a debt of gratitude to his coaches and trainers. Until recently, Williams suffered from the fatal stigma of “tweener”.Â His production was abundant, but his position was uncertain. Now, after two years of develpment, Marcus Williams is emerging as a point forward, which is just another way of saying tall point guard. His detailed understanding of the Spurs/Toros system is undoubtedly a great help during this process.Â He’s past the point of thinking; he just has to play.
When Manu Ginobili went down for the year, the Spurs did not reach out to–choosing a player at random–Sam Cassell (or some other free agent), they reached down to Austin. Sam Cassell would not know the system, and he’s a very temporary band aid. Marcus Williams is well-versed in the Spurs system, and he might have a future with the team. Earlier this season, the Spurs used Malik Hairston in precisely the same Manu Ginobili injury stop gap fashion. Hairston’s play was intrigiung enough that Coach Popovich called his name as first off the bench in a short series of contests.
Malik Hairston is on the same path. He is an NBA wing, but he played out of position during college at power forward. He could make an NBA roster by developing his already sturdy defense into game changing defense, but that won’t matter unless he becomes less of an offensive liability. He needs time in Austin to develop his catch and shoot game, to extend his range, and further refine his defensive potential. If he wants to stick in the NBA, he’ll work around the clock at those things. The Spurs are providing Hairston with this opportunity without the impediment of a new system or city.