Back at it again: Spurs take on Las Vegas Summer League
LAS VEGAS–The basketball ended less than four weeks ago with the San Antonio Spurs hoisting their fifth Larry O’Brien trophy. I was promised a break.
Truth be told, the basketball never ends. The NBA is a year-round sport today because the eyeballs are there to be had. San Antonio’s 85-69 win against the Sacramento Kings on Friday’s opening day of the Las Vegas Summer League was simply the start of the next phase. The celebrations are effectively over, at least for the coaches and front office, and preparations for next season have begun.
“It’s a great problem, honestly,” Summer Spurs head coach Ime Udoka said of the short turnaround from the playoffs to summer league. “Unfortunately last year this was to take my mind off of it. This year, it’s to kind of revel in it and get congrats here and everything.”
The Spurs are in the city of sin with a mishmash of established veterans, rookies, dudes looking for their break and guys I’ve never heard of. It’s the former two categories that are always the most interesting to watch, though the occasional basketball rags-to-riches story (a la Gary Neal in 2010) can be quick to capture our hearts and attentions.
Austin Daye and Jeff Ayres lead the 2014 edition of the Summer Spurs. After being traded to San Antonio midseason for Nando De Colo, Daye didn’t get a whole lot of run as the Spurs marched their way to a fifth NBA title. The Spurs recently picked up the option on the final year of Daye’s contract and, with that, sent him to Las Vegas for some seasoning.
“I didn’t really know if I was gonna play summer league ’til they picked up my option, and that was like a week ago,” Daye said. “So I had to do some two-a-days and try to get myself back in shape and everything.”
The Pau Gasol saga is likely coming to an end with the Spanish big man (damn, the Foreign Legion could really use a Spaniard) set to join the Chicago Bulls, but Matt Bonner is still a free agent and an opportunity could arise next season for Daye to step in and steal some minutes in the big man rotation.
“We’re trying to make it as realistic as it’s going to be in the game next year,” Udoka said. “We don’t want to put him in unrealistic situations and we’re gonna get him the shots he’s gonna take in the game, want him to be a playmaker but be simple and be solid.
“Really want to see him guard 4-men, that’s something that he’s going to have to be able to do and show that he can do that.”
From his point of view, Daye said that it doesn’t matter whether he’s playing the 3 or the 4 and it really shouldn’t. We get caught up on what position a player plays, but that type of thing doesn’t matter all that much. What’s more important is what position a player is able to defend and improvement from Daye in defending and rebounding against 4s will only help San Antonio’s already versatile rotation.
Like Daye, Jeff Ayres is an experienced pro leading the line in Vegas in an effort to get the minutes and reps that didn’t present themselves last season. Even on the Spurs, a team with a share-the-wealth attitude towards minutes allocation, it can be hard to get consistent run.
Also like Daye, Udoka and his staff of young assistant coaches are trying to put Ayres in the type of situations he’s likely to face in the regular season. That’s easy to say, but how realistic is that when guys like Marcus Denmon, DeShaun Thomas and JaMychal Green are fill holes typically occupied by Tony Parker, Danny Green and Tiago Splitter. Can you really keep the best players on the floor in the same roles in July that they’re likely to find themselves filling in February?
If Daye’s 18 shots on Friday evening against the Kings are any indication, not really. But there are still opportunities to work on the things that need to be fine tuned.
“[Ayres is] one of our better guys, but the guys watching him in the stands (the coaching staff and front office) want to see him do specific things,” Udoka said. “We’re not gonna dump it into the post, that’s not what’s gonna happen next season, so we want him to spread the court, run step-ups, run pick-and-rolls and hard dives and rebound the ball, defend as well. With all those guys we’re trying to make it realistic. Like I told Austin, don’t try to be Magic Johnson out here, keep the game simple because that’s what’s going to get you in next year.”
On the other end of the summer league spectrum comes Kyle Anderson. The San Antonio Spurs’ first round draft pick and, as of publication, most recent signing, Anderson comes to Vegas with expectations higher than those typically reserved for the 30th pick in the draft. Such is the burden when the smartest team in the league drafts a player whose skills seem like a perfect fit for their system.
“The way they move the ball, the way they share the ball, I’m excited to play that way,” Anderson said after Spurs practice on Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center.
One game into his San Antonio career and Anderson’s six points, six assists and four rebounds in 25 minutes is very Boris Diaw-ish, a player comparison that has come to define his short time associated with the silver and black.
With Diaw, Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and a host of others, depending on what position you attribute to Anderson, all higher up in the pecking order. It’s likely that Anderson sees more minutes in Austin than San Antonio next season. At this point, though, the former UCLA man hasn’t gotten any indication one way or the other.
“They’re just trying to prepare me for what the season’s going to be like,” he said.
The major knock on Anderson coming into the league was his lack of foot speed. A deficiency so obvious that he was given the name Slo-Mo, one which he’s embraced to some extent. With the jump in speed from the college game to the NBA, that weakness is one sure to be tested. With his swiss army knife skill set, though, the Spurs aren’t worried.
“His IQ’s going to get him over the hump all the time,” Udoka said. “He can guard multiple positions, he showed that tonight. He takes a lot of pressure off the point guards, he’s almost like a point forward out there. And he uses his size to his advantage, gets in the lane, he can see over guys—made some good passes tonight—and he can still score when he has the chance.”
All of which makes for an intriguing prospect in Vegas, one of the more unique players to come into focus. There’s always something to like during the summer league and more will come up as the week rolls along. The San Antonio Spurs aren’t a month removed from an NBA title, but they’re back at it again, hoping to improve what was already the league’s best team.