Grades: Spurs vs. Trail Blazers – Summer League Game #4

The San Antonio Spurs saw their undefeated summer league record go up in smoke on Sunday night against the Portland Trail Blazers. The Spurs, who dropped to 3-1 in summer league play, trailed for a majority of the game before rallying in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, San Antonio’s comeback attempt came up short and the Blazers escaped with an 85-80 victory.

The Spurs trailed by 13 points with 6:19 remaining in the fourth before a spirited rally led by Victor Wembanyama brought the good guys all the way back. With three minutes to go and the Spurs trailing by six points, Wembanyama hit a turnaround in the lane and then a three-pointer to get San Antonio within a point. 

After Wembanyama secured a defensive rebound on Portland’s next possession, Blake Wesley missed a three-pointer with 1:33 remaining. The Blazers answered with a three-pointer and the Spurs ended up running out of time.

Victor Wembanyama

27 minutes, 27 points, 12 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 turnovers
9-for-14 from the field, 2-for-4 on threes, 7-for-12 at the line

After a rocky debut, Wembanyama bounced back in a big way in his second outing. He looked great in all facets of the game. Offensively, he took his time, picked his spots and looked damn near unguardable. He got clean looks whenever he wanted on the perimeter and he was physical on the inside and used his overwhelming length to rise above the pedestrians below him. While he didn’t finish with an assist, his ball-handling in the open court was helpful and his court vision and unselfishness really stood out. Defensively, Wembanyama was stellar. He was much better on the glass than he was in his debut. The Blazers didn’t dare challenge him on the perimeter and he was changing shots in the lane. If either Champagnie or Branham could have hit a shot, Wembanyama’s greatness would have allowed the Spurs to cruise to victory. 

Grade: A+

Julian Champagnie

30 minutes, 4 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 turnovers
1-for-6 from the field, 0-for-3 on threes, 2-for-3 at the line

Champagnie missed some easy looks early on and then just basically disappeared. He was uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball and he wasn’t attacking nearly enough on offense. He had a few slick passes and a couple sturdy defensive possessions — but this performance by Champagnie was a far cry from what we’ve come to expect out of him. 

Grade: D

Malaki Branham

32 minutes, 6 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds, 5 fouls
1-for-17 from the field, 1-for-8 on threes, 3-for-6 at the line

Ugh. Branham shot 17 times and only made one shot. The one shot he made hit every inch of the rim before mercifully falling through the hoop. To make matters worse, he also missed half of his free throws. I didn’t love Branham’s shot-selection; he forced the issue too much instead of relying on his teammates. Most alarming, though, was the fact that he once again got a number of shots blocked. On defense, Branham wasn’t much better than he was on offense. He was usually out of position, committing bad fouls and not doing much of anything on the glass.

Grade: F

Blake Wesley

32 minutes, 14 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds, 4 fouls
4-for-8 from the field, 1-for-4 on threes, 5-for-7 at the line

The good: Wesley’s defense got better and better as the game progressed. He still made technical mistakes on that end here and there — but his effort definitely escalated throughout the affair. Offensively, what stands out most is the fact that he had zero turnovers in 32 minutes of play. His decision-making was far from flawless but he did a better job of valuing the basketball. Wesley’s supersonic 0-to-60 speed in the open court was the best thing the Spurs had going on offense this side of Wembanyama. The bad: Wesley was poor defensively to begin the game. His intensity was minimal and he was caught unawares too often — but, as stated, he picked it up later in the game. Offensively, his shoot-pass-dribble decisions can be really frustrating to watch when he gets it wrong. If he’s pressured, he seems to make the wrong choice more often than not.

Grade: B

Dominick Barlow

31 minutes, 17 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 3 turnovers, 4 fouls
8-for-12 from the field, 1-for-1 at the line

Barlow was weak on the defensive glass and forgot to box out a few times, which ended up being really costly. He also authored a few lazy passes on offense, which Portland took advantage of with glee. Other than those mistakes, though, Barlow was solid. His midrange jumper is nearly automatic. He’s coordinated enough and dribbles well enough to score on the move. Defensively, he’s a live, active body who can challenge shots. Overall, I thought Barlow was pretty good but he let a much better outing slip through his fingers by being inattentive in a few important areas of the game.

Grade: B

Sidy Cissoko

22 minutes, 8 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 6 fouls
3-for-3 from the field, 2-for-2 on threes

After not making a shot in his first three summer league games, Cissoko had a breakthrough performance of sorts in his fourth summer league contest. He started with a strong finish at the rim and then buried a pair of three-pointers. Beyond his buckets, he was also making smart decisions with the ball. It’s clear that Cissoko is a multi-talented dude on offense — he just has to regain confidence in his shot. Tonight, he took steps toward arriving at that destination. Defensively, man, it’s difficult to grade him. On one hand, he had a few outstanding possessions where he used his large body to impede progress or bravely blew up plays with unbridled hustle. On the other hand, Cissoko just keeps fouling so much that he’s negating a lot of his defensive value. To make it, he has got to learn better defensive fundamentals so he doesn’t get called for so many fouls.

Grade: B+

Erik Stevenson

19 minutes, 4 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 turnovers
2-for-5 from the field, 0-for-1 on threes

It was painful watching Stevenson play basketball. He’s athletic and he’s fearless but he just makes so many mistakes. Five turnovers in 19 minutes is impressively terrible, especially since he’s the fourth or fifth option on offense. Stevenson doesn’t dribble too well and he telegraphs his passes, which isn’t the best of combinations for a perimeter player. He gives effort on defense but he doesn’t hold up on that end, either.

Grade: D

Charles Bediako

7 minutes, 2 rebounds, 3 fouls
0-for-1 from the field

Bediako didn’t look like an NBA player out there. The 7-footer was helpless on the defensive glass and didn’t provide his advertised rim protection. Offensively, he can’t catch anything and is slow when gathering and attempting to score at the rim. Bediako looks top heavy right now, which hurts him when he’s trying to hold his ground.

Grade: D+

Matt Nielsen

It’s tough to win a game when your two main perimeter scorers go a combined 2-for-23. I thought Nielson could have done more to get them going, particularly Champagnie. I also thought he should have gone to other bench options other than Stevenson and Bediako when it was clear that that duo didn’t have it. That said, I appreciate that the coaching staff put Wembanyama in better spots. Plus, the coaches altering and mixing up the defensive tactics helped bring the Spurs back. 

Grade: B-