The San Antonio Spurs began their 2023 summer league play at the California Classic in Sacramento. Victor Wembanyama won’t be with the summer league team until Friday and Malaki Branham sat out the game. Despite being without their leading duo, the Spurs absolutely crushed the Charlotte Hornets by a final score of 98-77.
Truthfully, this game was over after six minutes. The Spurs came out of the gates on fire and stormed to a 15-2 advantage. Julian Champagnie and Dominick Barlow, specifically, put on a show and were clearly the best two players on the court at all times. By the end of the first quarter, the good guys held a 32-11 lead. Even without Victor, the victor was never in doubt.
25 minutes, 30 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals, 0 turnovers
9-for-20 from the field, 5-for-12 on threes, 7-for-9 at the line
Champagnie cooled off late in the game but he looked really, really good. The 22-year-old’s level of polish was magnificent. Even when under pressure, his jumper was fluid and unhurried. He utilized great hesitation moves to get to his silky smooth drives to the hoop. Champagnie also had a few really athletic plays and the amount of confidence he was playing with was palpable. Intriguingly, the Spurs were letting the 6-foot-7 wing run point guard from time to time — and he looked like a natural. Defensively, his anticipation was great and he battled on the boards. Summer league couldn’t have started much better for Champagnie — and the Spurs have to be thrilled with that four-year, $12 million contract they just gave him.
23 minutes, 24 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks, 0 turnovers
10-for-13 from the field, 4-for-6 at the line
Wow. As well as Champagnie played, Barlow might have been even better. Defensively, the Spurs were switching most pick-and-rolls and Barlow had absolutely no problems defending smaller players. The center’s ability to move his feet on the perimeter was shockingly good. His timing for rebounds and blocks was impeccable. Barlow was holding his ground much better than when he was a rookie; the Hornets had very little success going at him. On offense, he proved that he’s been working on his game. His mid-range jumpers and his floaters were automatic. He let them go (at least a half dozen of them) with confidence and they were pure. Barlow’s body control in tight quarters was very good and he flashed elite athleticism on the break. All in all, if the 20-year-old keeps playing like this, he’ll have a chance of being in the regular rotation on the big boy team.
26 minutes, 8 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, 3 steals, 7 turnovers
3-for-9 from the field, 0-for-1 on threes
The good: Wesley’s defense was active and he helped his teammates on the glass. Offensively, he was a willing passer whose speed and shiftiness was able to break down the defense. I didn’t have a problem with his shot-selection and there were instances where his finishing appeared to be much improved. The bad: Wesley still looked like a very raw prospect. His seven turnovers tell the story of how loose he was with the ball and how he authored a number of highly questionable passes. Wesley was mostly playing point guard but his ball-handling left a lot to be desired. The net-net: Eh, the second year guard was okay-ish at times. Wesley has a lot to clean up but the effort was there and his intentions were mostly in the right place.
24 minutes, 3 points, 4 rebounds, 4 fouls
0-for-1 from the field, 0-for-1 on threes, 3-for-4 at the line
Cissoko wasn’t involved much, as the numbers suggest. However, there were some interesting glimpses. He had a couple high-quality passes that you typically don’t see from teenage wings. The Frenchman has a large body and he was throwing his bulk around on defense and on the boards. In the open court, he moves like a runaway freight train. Cissoko needs to assert himself more going forward but this wasn’t a terrible start for someone getting his feet wet in summer league.
16 minutes, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 turnovers, 3 fouls
0-for-4 from the field, 0-for-1 on threes
Starting in place of Branham was McCoy, who has one of the better resumes on the summer league team outside of the players under contract. Unfortunately for him, he had an evening to forget. He had a couple slick moves with the ball in his hands but he wasn’t able to finish off the plays. Overall, I was impressed with his ball-handling and his defense was better than I anticipated — but, yeah, he has to do a lot more to stick around.
17 minutes, 13 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists
5-for-9 from the floor, 3-for-4 on threes
At first, I thought Stevenson was trying to do too much, but he settled in and ended up having a strong affair. He has a noteworthy combination of a picture-perfect shooting stroke and quite a bit of bounce in his legs. On defense, he came flying in from the weakside multiple times. His jumping ability also helped him near the basket. I’m not sure Stevenson has the upside to even be a two-way guy — but he’s someone to keep an eye on going forward, as he had more than his share of eye-catching moments in his summer league debut.
14 minutes, 4 assists, 2 rebounds
Kier is the type of kid you like having on a summer league team. He tries hard on defense, runs the show with precision and is humble enough to stay out of the way. While Kier looks unathletic and small, he kept things humming in his 14 minutes.
13 minutes, 4 points, 2 rebounds, 2 turnovers
2-for-3 from the field
Millner moves like an NBA player. We’ll see if he is able to show more skill as summer league unfolds but he has a good frame and he’s light on his feet.
12 minutes, 5 points, 3 rebounds, 3 turnovers, 5 fouls
1-for-3 from the field, 0-for-1 on threes, 3-for-4 at the line
Bediako is a big ol’ hombre who can disrupt airspace with his relatively quick feet and long arms. He certainly has the size to play center in the NBA. Now, he has to work on his fundamentals. The number of elementary mistakes Bediako authored makes me wonder about the level of coaching he had during his two seasons at Alabama. To compound issues, his hands are stone-like. That said, Bediako’s shooting mechanics look a lot better than the last time I saw him play. He didn’t hit a three-pointer in college and shot 35.5% at the line last season. Tonight, he hit three of his four freebies and shot a three-pointer with good form. If Bediako learns to shoot and learns fundamentals, he’s an NBA player due to his high ceiling on defense. That’s still a big If but we’ll see.
Chaundee Brown Jr.
12 minutes, 4 points, 5 rebounds
2-for-5 from the field, 0-for-1 on threes
Brown looked really good for possessions at a time. In fact, during one stretch, I caught myself wondering whether he’s a player who the Spurs should sign to a two-way contract. Brown is a strong, fluid athlete who moves with power. If he keeps playing hard in summer league, he just might be able to catch on somewhere — maybe even in San Antonio.
7 minutes, 3 rebounds, 3 fouls
0-for-1 from the field, 0-for-1 at threes
Gorham is known for rebounding and hustle. That’s what we witnessed tonight in his seven minutes.
5 minutes, 4 points
1-for-3 from the field, 2-for-2 at the line
The little brother of Spurs legend Tyler Johnson, Logan didn’t hold back during his five minutes in the sun. I liked the intensity he played with; hopefully we get to see more of him before the end of summer league.
4 minutes, 3 points
1-for-4 from the field, 1-for-3 on threes
Kabaca is interesting because he’s a center who can effortlessly shoot threes. He hit his first three-point attempt but then missed badly on his next two. Honestly, the native of Turkey looked smaller than I expected — but his stroke is aesthetically-pleasing enough to keep hope alive.
It’s safe to state that Nielsen had his players ready to go for the start of summer league. The Spurs actually ran some complicated sets — and did so to perfection most of the time. I really liked that he gave the ball to Champagnie more and more as the game progressed. He also made sure that Barlow was involved early and often. The rotation was fine even though it had to be difficult for Nielsen because the game was essentially over in the first half of the first quarter.