Get to Know Your Austin Toros
I have a confession. I love the D-League. I love the potential of wondering “what could be” for most of the guys on the floor. I love the idea of NBA teams using lower-level teams to develop their own players. I especially love how accessible the game is to the average fan and how there is less emphasis on the entertainment factor around games, and as a result, more attention on the game itself.
I also appreciate that for a lot of the players, this is their last chance to make it. Their last grasp on childhood dreams that border on reality. And for the most part, they play like it. For fans like me, the Spurs purchase of the Austin Toros in 2007 has been a godsend.
You may be thinking, “why are you talking to me about the Toros mid-way through the season?” Well, as one of the new writers here at 48 Minutes of Hell, one of my duties will be leading the coverage of the Toros, Austin being my home base and all.
In their third year under the direct control of the Spurs, the Toros fit the mold of inconsistency. Austin finished its stint at this week’s NBA D-League Showcase in Boise, Idaho with a 8-7 record on the season, good for a tie in fifth place in the Western Conference standings. The up-and-down season includes a two game losing streak in early December, followed by a four game winning streak in the middle of the month, and a recently-ended three game losing skid.
Stating the obvious, the team has definite strides to make in order to replicate the success it has had in the playoffs the last two years, when the Toros lost in the D-League Semi-Finals last season (Note: The D-League had three divisions in previous seasons, not the two conference system it uses now.) and in the D-League Finals in the 2007-08 season.
But while the team’s won-loss record and chances for post season success are important here in Austin, Spurs fans outside of the state capitol are probably wondering one thing: do they have any future Spurs? The answer, in a word, is doubtful. But there are three players that Spurs fans should know about when getting a primer on this year’s Toros. Trust me, you’ll hear about everyone else soon enough.
Readers of 48 Minutes of Hell are familiar with the Austin exploits of Marcus Williams, and current Spurs Ian Mahimni and Malik Hairston, and the discussions of their possible impact on the big club. This year, the Toros boast only one player with a viable shot of landing with the Spurs, point guard Curtis Jerrells. Jerrells you may remember, went to training camp with the Spurs and was one of the team’s final cuts.
Jerrells possesses a strong ability to run a team and pick and choose when to involve his teammates in the flow of the offense, or force the action himself. The hometown kid (he went to Del Valle High School in Austin) has a decent lefty jump shot out to 3-point range and is a solid rebounder for a point guard. His averages of 20.7 points per game, 5.7 assists and 4.2 rebounds should send him to Dallas for the D-League All-Star game next month.
In terms of his NBA potential, Jerrells could be brought along slowly, but with Tony Parker and George Hill currently occupying the top two point guard slots on the Spurs depth chart, I assume Jerrells will be seeking employment elsewhere. With another season of D-League ball, I could see Jerrells as a backup point guard on an NBA roster somewhere.
Alonzo Gee is a pure scorer starting at shooting guard for the Toros. And for Gee, the term “shooting” guard may be a tad restricting, as he is able to score his team-leading 21.8 points per game in a variety of ways. He’s a solid shooter from the floor and excellent at finishing at the basket. Gee may be a D-League All-Star this year based on his offensive numbers, but his defense leaves something to be desired. Too often Gee looks to get out on the break early for easy baskets, or gamble for steals and take himself out of position. Despite his obvious talent, he’s not the type of player the Spurs covet for their NBA roster.
The last of the Toros trio for Spurs fans to take note of is center Dwayne Jones. The name may sound familiar because Jones spent some time in training camp with the Spurs last summer. Jones was an early cut and his chances of ever seeing time in San Antonio is a near-impossibility with the more talented Mahimni and Marcus Haislip spending more time on the Inactive List than on the floor and Tiago Splitter presumably venturing to our side of the pond this offseason.
Jones is a standout for the Toros, though. He averages 16.9 points per game and his 15 rebounds per game and 13 double-doubles lead the D-League. Jones is as close to being a lock for the D-League All-Star Game as you can get. He has long arms for his size and can jump well, but at 6’11”, Jones has a two-inch, or greater, height advantage over a lot of post players in the D-League. I’d venture a guess to say he’s not as effective a rebounder in the NBA, where the centers are his height and taller.
Some fans might point to the lack of Spurs-caliber players (I say Spurs-caliber as opposed to NBA-caliber because, frankly, there’s a difference.) as a weakness to the Toros. But with the Spurs lacking a first round pick in last year’s draft, landing a steal in DeJuan Blair in the second, leaving Nando De Colo to develop in France, and allowing Jack McClinton to pursue a roster spot somewhere else, the Spurs came into this season with fewer D-League prospects than in the last couple of seasons. But there is an abundance of talent on display in Austin and the potential for a successful season at the D-League level that any basketball fan can enjoy.