Nearly two weeks after the 2022 NBA Draft, the San Antonio Spurs have a completely different roster outlook heading into the fall.
After trading Dejounte Murray, there are a handful of players on the team who could become big contributors next season, and they don’t have many options. Losing Murray via trade and Lonnie Walker IV in free agency opens up opportunities, particularly on the perimeter and on the wings.
The Spurs signed Atlanta Hawks big man and former Spur Gorgui Dieng to a one-year deal on Tuesday to help add depth up front. It is not known who else San Antonio will try to acquire before the start of next season.
As it is, here are three players who can make giant leaps for Spurs next season:
With or without Murray, Vassell was already poised to become one of the team’s leading scorers next season. He is now a clear choice to potentially be coach Gregg Popovich’s scoring option after finishing as San Antonio’s fifth leading scorer (12.3) last season.
Vassell has a polished touch as a shooter from seemingly anywhere on the floor. Unorthodox length combined with a guard-like feel as a ball handler, finisher and attacker with a quick first step makes him one of the most intriguing young scorers in a Southwest Division that is loaded with young talent.
This length comes into play for him in multiple ways at both ends of the floor. As a shooter, his shot is nearly unblockable from mid-range, 3-point territory, or when he occasionally turns his back on the basket to flip off the post, something that will make him a legitimate No. 1 scoring option for the Spurs one time. let it develop. .
Vassell’s 6-10 wingspan is also a scary sight for defenders once he attacks downhill. He shows great intent and drive on dribbling handoffs or direct hits to the rim and hits some ferocious dunks as a result.
And on defense, Vassell’s ability to play and anticipate open passing lanes helped him finish second on teams to Murray in total steals (76).
In the play-in loss to the Pelicans, Vassell finished with a season-high 23 points on an impressive 7-for-13 shooting from 3-point range, also a season best.
The only thing limiting his potential breakout season next year is sharing time on the sideline with Keldon Johnson, who is arguably the Spurs’ best overall player heading into 2022-23. Both have the proven ability to space the floor well, but they could nullify each other’s individual production next season.
All eyes will be on Primo next season, although the idea that he will be able to assume primary control of the ball must be postponed until he shows what he can do with more consistent playing time.
But averaging 5.8 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists, the 19-year-old quickly became a fan favorite in San Antonio after showing impressive potential in 50 appearances last season.
The Spurs released the Toronto native at the buzzer instead of going the traditional franchise route of retaining draft talent for a year to buy them time with San Antonio’s G League affiliate, the Austin Spurs. The team likely wanted to develop Primo in the G League to start the season, but his natural offensive skill set and 3-point shooting ability from the reception proved too valuable to keep.
Scoring began to come in bunches heading into January, as Primo had four double-digit scoring efforts during the month in 11 appearances.
He developed a consistent role off the bench late in the year, when San Antonio made a push toward play-in play. In the month of March, Primo appeared in 12 of 14 games and never played less than 15 minutes, averaging 6.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 25.2 minutes per game.
In his only season at Alabama, Primo served primarily as a catch-and-shoot 3-point specialist who excelled at hand and foot placement before the catch. He averaged 8.1 points on a solid 43 percent from the field and 38 percent from deep.
So when he started pulling off behind-the-back steps and artful finishing touches in the paint this season, Spurs fans took notice. And while he was in short supply, his flashes of elite one-on-one scoring ability could reach new heights next season with a larger role.
There’s no doubt about it: Primo will soon become one of the stars in San Antonio if last season was any indication. But it’s best to dampen expectations for the young guard, since he’ll likely serve as a staple off the bench to start the season. He will also need to develop consistently in pick-and-roll actions as a leading ball handler if he wants to contend for the starting minutes in the backcourt.
Jones averaged six points, 2.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 16.6 minutes last season. He may not be the guard fans want to see take minutes from Primo this upcoming season, but with 69 appearances and 11 starts last season, he’s a likely candidate to get the initial nod to start the year.
The strength of the Duke product lies in its overall efficiency, smart decision making, and quickness in open court and half court sets. He’s on the smaller side at 6-1, 185, but looks bigger because of his fearless shooting at the rim and his underrated athletic ability to avoid the shot-blocker.
Jones got most of his minutes throughout the year against players on the opposing bench, but he showed he can outplay defenders with limited dribbling to get to the rim. He loves putting the defender on his hip to remove him from the action, but it’s a smart but simple strategy. If he draws help defense because of this, he is quick to do a kick or deal it to the big man. Not intending to score chances for himself is one of the main reasons Jones has managed to curry favor with Popovich.
Despite having a heavier workload to finish the regular season, Jones’ rotation numbers didn’t skyrocket. This is a pretty promising sign for his ability to run the offense effectively for the foreseeable future. In the last seven games of the regular season, Jones never played less than 17 minutes and even had five straight games of 30 minutes or more. And yet, he only committed five total turnovers in that span and had no turnovers in five of those contests.
He also scored in double figures in the last six games of the regular season and showed he can do it at an efficient pace. He led all qualified Spurs shooting guards in field goal percentage (49 percent).
The downside to starting Jones is that he doesn’t have a consistent jump shot right now, something that has become almost necessary to be a starting point guard in the NBA. Sure, he’s capable of doing them when he’s open, but that’s not his game. He was just 10-for-51 from 3-point range last season, as he prefers to swing the open man or drive to the cup to get the points from him.
But as long as he continues to be a pest on defense and makes the right play on offense, it’s hard to say he won’t be the starting point guard next season, barring an unexpected free-agent signing.
You can follow Zach Dimmitt on Twitter at @ZachDimmitt7
Want the latest in Spurs news and insider information? Click here.
Follow Inside the Spurs on Twitter.