A summer of experimentation for Spurs in Vegas
LAS VEGAS — It’s not all a science experiment without a hypothesis for the Spurs at the Las Vegas Summer League. There are pieces in San Antonio this team has gone out of its way to attain and develop, but time on the court has been scarce with the team mainstays already in place. Aron Baynes (signed to a guaranteed contract from Australia), Nando De Colo (a 2009 draft pick signed last offseason using the bi-annual exception after years in France) and Cory Joseph (a 2011 first-round pick) are all playing on an NBA contract, but chances to mesh together have been limited.
So the Spurs sent them all to Vegas along with second-round pick Deshaun Thomas, filled the test tube and are currently swirling it around to see what comes of this lab test. And progress has been made. San Antonio had its best game of the summer league thus far in Monday’s 96-87 win over the Atlanta Hawks, as Baynes and De Colo led the way.
Baynes went for 19 points, 15 rebounds and a couple of blocks, De Colo 19 points and eight assists. Nando spent a lot of time at point guard when Joseph sat down with an aggravated back injury, and he looked comfortable as the main ball-handling option once again. But by design, most of his time on the court this week has been spent off the ball, and that’s how both he and the team want it.
“He’s playing the second side right now. Cory is initiating, and when Nando gets it over there we like him on that back side as another option driving,” summer league head coach Ime Udoka said. “We want to see him off the ball; when he’s in there with Cory’s we let Cory handle, and we like him either way, back side, off the ball or initiating. He has a good IQ and a good feel for the game.”
De Colo has point guard skills, but his size allows him to play shooting guard. And in a Spurs system that utilizes endless ball-movement, there’s a high value placed on secondary playmakers, a role De Colo embraces.
“I like to play like a two and sometimes take the ball. I’m not the kind of player who takes the ball 24/7 in his hand,” De Colo said. “And I just try to play my game, be aggressive on offense, try to shoot when I’m open and find the other player when I can.”
Unlike most players in Vegas, De Colo already knows his game. He’s 26 years old and has played as a professional internationally since 2006, but he was generally used in spot duty last season. He spoke at times last season about the lack of playing time he received after being a major contributor for Valencia, a Spanish ACB League club, for several years. But he understood his role, and any mentions of this nature were made more with the perspective of being unaccustomed to the situation in mind. At the LVSL, he’s had a chance to mesh with his teammates and actually play basketball after riding the bench for much of the playoffs.
“Basketball is never easy. If you’re in Europe or the NBA, you must work hard every day. This is pretty good to have a summer league to show what you can do and try to continue to be in a rhythm,” he said. “For example, for me, during the playoffs, I was with a team and not playing so much, so it’s not the same. To practice and be in a game, it’s totally different. So it’s very good to be here and have some time on the court and just try to gain rhythm.”
For the “older” guys, maybe being in Vegas isn’t exactly what they want. Being in the mix with players much younger than them trying to find a place in the league has the potential to bring out insecurities in anyone in a similar situation. But the Spurs organization does a good job of putting reason behind the summer league assignments for players on the north side of 25 years old. It’s all part of the way things work in San Antonio. Players check as much of their egos at the door as is humanly possible for a professional athlete, and they take the chances given and run with them when they can.
After all, these summer league games aren’t necessarily about the now. Their purpose for players like De Colo, Baynes and Joseph is to set a precedent and provide experience for what may lie ahead in the future.
“That’s why we come out here. It’s a great opportunity for us to learn and get better and build your confidence,” the 26-year-old Baynes said. “That’s what we want to do. We want to go out there and do things that will help us in the season.”