Gary Neal: Offensive Spark

With what might turn out to be their final offseason move, the San Antonio Spurs signed former Towson star, and Italian league player, Gary Neal, to a three-year deal last week.  Neal proved to be a pleasant surprise on the Spurs’ undefeated summer league team, averaging 16 points per game and shooting 50% from the three-point line. 

During Neal’s current stint in Italy, he lead the league in scoring on 65% shooting from the field.  While his offensive game appears to be fairly complete, defensively he often struggles.  Here is how Draft Express evaluates this portion of his game:

The main thing he must work on is his defense, though, as he lacks great size or length and doesn’t always appear to be putting in the best effort on this end of the floor, particularly fighting through screens and such, although he is capable of making plays from time to time thanks to his quick feet and solid anticipation skills.
While this is troubling for a team that is known for defensive intensity, Neal is a player that has succeeded on every level. 

At Towson, he set the school’s all-time single season scoring record, has impressed in Europe as the Italian league’s scoring leader, and turned plenty of heads in the NBA summer league with his shooting performance. The Spurs’ coaching staff has proven itself time and again to be proficient in developing defensive skills in a wide array of players; I doubt that anything will be different with Neal.

For the Spurs, I believe Neal will provide a much needed spark for the team’s second unit.  With the likes of Manu Ginobili and George Hill possibly playing the role of sixth man, the Spurs’ second team lacks an effective scorer – a role that Roger Mason and Keith Bogans were unable to fill despite high expectations. Particularly for Mason.
 

The Spurs now seem to be full of candidates to fill such a role.  James Anderson, Tiago Splitter, DeJuan Blair, and even Garrett Temple have potential to really amp up the Spurs’ second team attack.  Each of these players (probably with the exception of Temple) have the potential of putting in substantial minutes with the starting five, possibly even breaking into the role of starter in the next few seasons. 
Neal has all the marks of a solid bench player, a scorer, and more importantly a spark of energy to keep the second team competitive. Many games down the stretch, the Spurs seemed to run out of gas late. Indeed, in the 2010 NBA playoff series against the Phoenix Suns, the Spurs took leads in the third quarter only to relinquish them later in the fourth.  Perhaps some young, aggressive blood on the second team will help to mitigate such collapses.
Think in terms of a young Robert Horry. Not in style of play, but in competitive edge; statistically small, but an intangible contribution that can be felt by his court presence.  Not to say Neal is as good of a player as Horry was in his prime, but that the contribution will be similar. It is about a level of energy that the entire unit can feed off and thrive in. 
The hope, I believe, is for Neal to be what Mason was supposed to be. I don’t expect to see a big stat line from Neal, but his aggressive offense could be a key asset in creating the bench balance the Spurs need to make another championship run.
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