NBA Summer League: The best of the Spurs’ roster
The Spurs play their first game of the NBA Summer League this afternoon. (The game is available through NBA Broadband, 3:30Â 6:30 EST, for those who are inclined to watch.)
The Spurs’ roster is notable for who isn’t playing as much as it is for those who are. Â James Anderson, Ryan Richards, and Malik Hairston will not play for the Spurs. Anderson is nursing an injury; Richards is out-of-pocket for undisclosed reasons, and Hairston, according to Spurs assistant coach Mike Budenholzer, already has fans in San Antonio. In other words, Hairston is a known quantity. His time is better spent refining his game in private workouts between now and training camp.
So, who is playing?
For most fans, the development of DeJuan Blair is the central focus of summer league. Blair will get the ball early and often. But, in my opinion, the most intriguing player this summer is Alonzo Gee.
Gee played for the Toros last season and won D-League Rookie of the Year honors. And he was impressive in a couple of 10-day contracts with the Washington Wizards. He started two games for the Wizards and put up good numbers on didn’t-see-that-coming but accurate perimeter shooting.
Gee is uber-athletic and can score. The thing he has to prove to the Spurs this summer is the ability to play strong defense and knock-down perimeter shots. If he can do those two things, the Spurs will have minutes for him next season.
Oddly enough, Gee’s game reminds me a little of Richard Jefferson, back before the mention of Jefferson’s name turned my stomach. I don’t think Gee is nearly the talent that Jefferson was, but he has that game-changing athleticism which once made Jefferson a dangerous wing. If Gee can develop a reliable perimeter game, it’s not inconceivable that he pry a significant number of minutes off of Jefferson’s per game averages next season. The test of both players (assuming the Spurs resign Jefferson) is that they play defense and not destroy the Spurs’ offensive spacing.
DeJuan Blair’s summer league work is similar to Gee, just at a different position: spacing and defense. In order to help propel the Spurs through the postseason, Blair needs a pick-and-pop game and to convincingly escape the “defensive liability” tag. Blair’s height is forever problematic against taller players such as Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh. But if he can master the Spurs’ defensive schemes and learn to use his feet on defense, he could become one of the NBA’s better bench players.
Blair is a fine player, but his rookie campaign left me with the impression that his ceiling is somewhere between 6 and 8 within a good team’s rotation. Assuming the Spurs sign Tiago Splitter, the Spurs are still one legitimate 7 footer short of a good postseason frontcourt. Whatever Blair becomes, he can never be that.
Garrett Temple is 6’6”. He can play multiple positions, but appears most comfortable at point guard. His three point shooting is increasingly reliable, and he has the makings of an above-average defender. What’s not to like? Last season Temple split time between Houston, Sacramento and San Antonio, starting 4 games for the Spurs while Tony Parker was injured.
Temple’s seemingly immediate comfort level within the Spurs’ offense was unusual for a player of his age and pedigree. If he can continue to provide the Spurs with good minutes, he’ll earn a spot as their third point guard and give the team a reliable option as they seek to manage the minutes of their core players. Temple’s size and defensive ability are especially welcome against the league’s better point guards. Temple still has to prove he can stick, but if he does, the Spurs will have solid depth at the guard position.
Temple, Gee, and Hairston
Every year is a reminder that the most important thing to have in the playoffs is health, and this especially for a team whose core is older and injury-prone, such as the Spurs. The Spurs have three interesting players in Gee, Temple, and Hairston. If two or more of these players can break, the Spurs will have good depth at 1, 2, and 3. The inability of Roger Mason Jr. and Keith Bogans to provide the Spurs with consistently productive minutes last season was a major detriment to their 2009-10 campaign.
On paper, Gee, Hairston and Temple are not imposing bench cogs like Bogans and Mason Jr. But I’m cautiously optimistic that these three players will provide unexpectedly productive minutes for the Spurs this season. The Spurs’ system will occasionally shine a light on an unheralded gem. Gee, Hairston and Temple might possess a surprising amount of luster.