The San Antonio Spurs narrowly fell to the Golden State Warriors, 85-86, giving up a 17-point lead in the third quarter and losing a literal turnover in the last second before claiming their first win in Las Vegas. Despite being 0-2 in the Summer League, the good guys showed more cohesion as a unit, particularly on defence.
San Antonio entered a packed Thomas and Mack Center as the underdogs of a team that boasted two of the most recent top ten picks in James Wiseman and Jonathan Kuminga, and the crowd offered deafening support for the 2022 NBA champions. Despite the uphill battle, the undermanned Summer Spurs went on from start to finish.
Head coach Mitch Johnson implemented a strict nine-man rotation, leaving youngsters like Josh Primo, Blake Wesley, Malaki Branham and Dominick Barlow to handle the ebb and flow of the duel. While his side missed the surprise, he praised them for their resilience on both sides of the hardwood to high-level prospects.
“I think the defense took a step forward today, which is mostly a good thing,” Johnson told reporters. “You give them credit. They are tall, strong and athletic. Wiseman and Kuminga are monsters, especially at this level.”
While this clash felt more like a group effort than their first Summer League game, there were a few impressive individual performances that deserve a closer look. So, without further ado, here are the standouts from the second game in Las Vegas.
Blake Wesley (22 points, 5 rebounds, 3 turnovers, on 7 of 20)
Blake Wesley led the Spurs for the second straight game and amassed 22 points in 30 minutes, which was a team-high. The 19-year-old guard had no trouble breaking through the first layer of defense, but he pushed the problem too hard with his layups being constantly blocked or altered. The next level is learning how and when to shift effectively.
Poor shot selection and runaway play was the overarching theme for Wesley. While getting into your spots on call is a rare talent, there’s less value in forcing low-percentage tries at the expense of better opportunities. Head Coach Mitch Johnson talked about deceleration being part of the development process.
“You work on it, you show them movies, you go through readings, you walk and talk stuff,” Johnson said. “The game slows down for guys with experience. You see patterns, and if you see patterns over time, you recognize patterns earlier. And if you get really good, you can manipulate those things.”
Though Wesley put some head scratches on the shot clock early on, he also strings together some nifty self-created sequences, including multiple pull-up threes from the jump. The Notre Dame graduate should have all Spurs fans looking forward to what might lie ahead for him as someone who can cause instant offense.
The rookie finished this matchup with no assists, although it would be lazy to say that indicates selfishness. Wesley pulled off some fantastic baseline wraparounds and skip passes, but they ultimately went unrewarded as his teammates missed wide-open looks. He could make better decisions but there is legitimate playmaking potential.
The three-point shooting was one of Wesley’s more surprising developments, as the six-five swingman is 7-of-11 (63.6%) from beyond the arc in two Summer League games. His jumper has some wasted movement, particularly off the catch, but working with assistant coach Chip Engelland could refine some of his bad habits.
Darius Days (17 points, 12 rebounds, 2 steals, on 5-of-10)
Darius Days was stable for the second straight game, and he may have recorded the best performance for the Spurs against Golden State. There’s something refreshing about a player acting fully in character in a Summer League environment. The 22-year-old forward never tried to steal the show, but he still stood out from the crowd.
Days looked like a consummate pro. He ran the ground in transition, shifting to corners, setting up stable screens, making timely cuts, reaching the free-throw line and exploiting post imbalances. Good teams will always find a place for underutilized, highly efficient employees, and Darius knows what he can bring to any organization.
“My energy on the glass, talking about the defense, just holding other people accountable,” Days said. “Breaking out huddles, being a guy in the locker room, I really do that, and I can kick the ball a little bit.”
Defensively, there are legitimate concerns about his foot speed and lateral mobility. Regardless, its frame and engine can make up for some of its shortcomings. Days has active hands, fights for every rebound, rarely misses basic rotations, and is already showing franchises why they should have drafted him last month.
Josh Primo (10 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, on 2-of-15)
Sunday was the worst shooting night we’ve seen from Josh Primo since he joined the NBA. The coaching staff again used the Canadian combo guard as the secondary ball carrier for most of the competition, but he dribbled a lot into the void in one-on-one situations. And creating a split was a problem throughout the game.
Primo forced a lot of pull-ups, sidesteps and backsteps when he couldn’t make space, and Mac McClung and Quinndary Weatherspoon bothered the 19-year-old. The 2021 lottery selection didn’t let his cold spell shake his confidence, and head coach Mitch Johnson was content with his unrelenting aggression.
“There weren’t any shots, he had some difficult points but he kept going,” said Johnson. “I’d be a lot angrier if he was 2-for-5, crazy as that sounds. I’m glad he got 15 shots.”
Unfortunately, while Primo has some excellent drive-and-kick deliveries to the perimeter, he’s also made silly mistakes. The sophomore Spur only had three turnovers, but that number should have been much higher as he often went haphazard. Primo has been saved a couple of times, but you’d like to see better processing from him.
There wasn’t much of a difference in his defensive performance, which is excellent news for anyone following his Summer League progress. Primo slipped his feet with backfielders to break up their drives and he was one of the better team defenders on the floor for San Antonio. He should be positive in this regard if he puts in a consistent effort.
Malaki Branham (6 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, on 1-of-6)
The Ohio State product never found a way to stamp that streak, and he only fired six shots in nearly 27 minutes. Malaki Branham is first and foremost a goalscorer but he looked insecure, missing a few open looks and hesitant to attack advantageous windows.
Branham was an instant bucket from the pick-and-roll a season ago, and force-feeding his reps could encourage him to be more aggressive and assertive. Head coach Mitch Johnson says the rookie is figuring out how to carve out a place on a talented team full of capable ball operators.
“I think part of that is probably because Branham is a selfless kid just trying to play the right way,” Johnson said. “A couple of times I yell at him to shoot. so it will come.”
His defense on and off the ball is poor, so his attack needs to outweigh his shortcomings if he is to make a difference on the pitch. Of course, the 19-year-old swingman will have plenty of time to learn how to maximize his wingspan and frame while Spurs embark on a full-throttle rebuild.
Dominick Barlow (4 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, 4 turnovers, on 1-of-2)
The box score can only tell so much of the story and Dominick Barlow has been solid despite what his numbers suggest. The 19-year-old two-way contract signer competed for numerous possessions with James Wiseman at basket and he savored the opportunity.
“He was number two,” Barlow said. “You want to compete against guys like that. You want to prove yourself. You want to show that you can contain them and cause them problems too.”
Barlow was likely miscast as a more traditional rim guard in this slightly undersized roster, but he displayed unique mobility when paired with smaller players on the periphery. Although he’ll jump for every pump fake, the physical tools are tempting
The undrawn big man still has a long way to go before he reaches his high-end score. However, if you squint your eyes hard enough, you can begin to see the image of a switchable front-court prospect with shooting potential and the athleticism to act as a lob target.
look at mine previous article for more Spurs Summer League courtside coverage live from Las Vegas.
I’ll be on the sidelines in Sin City for two more days, so stay tuned as I follow San Antonio’s top prospects.