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From Austin to San Antonio: The development of Ray McCallum

If you didn’t already know, Project Spurs has a sister site called Spurs on Sixth that covers the Development League’s Austin Spurs. As the man lucky enough to be the managing editor for Spurs on Sixth, I have plenty of alerts and notifications sent to my phone any time something Austin Spurs related happens.

The most common notification this season? Ray McCallum has been assigned/recalled to/from Austin.

It’s something that I’ve dubbed the Cory Joseph experiment. The trial by fire that the San Antonio Spurs front office seems to give their young point guards in order to make or break them. We’ve seen it happen with a host of players that have donned the silver and black. The Spurs have been assigning players to make the 90-mile drive from San Antonio to Cedar Park since 2006 with James White. But in 2012 when the D-League allowed NBA teams to assign players an unlimited number of times during the season, as long as the player was in the first three years of his career, San Antonio took full advantage.

Joseph found himself assigned to Austin an unheard of five times during the 2012-13 NBA season, where his development eventually led to him usurping Nando De Colo’s spot in the rotation. In 2014-15, the Cory Joseph experiment shifted toward rookie forward Kyle Anderson who shattered Joseph’s five assignments with seven last season. When we spoke with Anderson last February, he relished the experience he was gaining with the Austin Spurs.

“It’s working well. We’re winning games and that’s always the best when you win,” Anderson told Project Spurs. “Regardless of what level I’m at, I don’t like losing, so it’s been a great transition.”

The commonality shared between Anderson and Joseph? After their extensive drives up and down I-35, they never stepped foot in Austin again.

Which leads us to Ray McCallum.

When McCallum was acquired by the Spurs over the summer, everyone knew the potential was there, but he left so much to be desired after spending his first two seasons with Sacramento. After all, McCallum’s draft profiles had compared him to everyone from Jordan Farmer to Damian Lillard.

The knock on McCallum has been that despite being a dynamic playmaker for himself and having all the physical tools necessary to succeed at the NBA level, he was an inconsistent shooter and lacked the ability to facilitate on offense.

But McCallum’s not being asked to work on any of his faults in Austin. The Spurs want him to be a leader. A floor general who pushes the ball quickly over halfcourt and immediately gets the offense set. A guard that can move as well without the ball as he does with.

In his six assignments to the Development League, McCallum is averaging 17.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 4.8 assists over nine games with the Austin Spurs. The numbers are solid for the third year guard out of Detroit, but how quickly he’s immersed himself into the system has been incredible.

Take this simple play. DeMetri McCamey picks up his dribble early leaving him trapped on the wing. McCallum races to the top of the key to help, as he and McCamey recognize Deshaun Thomas has the post sealed off. McCamey makes the entry pass, letting McCallum slash into the paint for an easy layup off a Thomas assist.

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Now here’s the same play just two weeks later in San Antonio. This time, McCallum doesn’t have the task of trying to save the broken play, as he serves as the primary ball handler. McCallum takes one dribble out to the wing and dumps the ball off to David West. Before West even catches the bounce pass, McCallum has raced into the lane, forcing his defender off balance, and receives the dump off from David West for another easy layup.

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It’s become a given that the Spurs as an organization do everything so well, and McCallum wants to be another success story, not a cautionary tale. As a student of the game, he recognizes that his time in Austin is just another step down the road.

“When you get your name called, you just always got to be ready,” McCallum told CBS Sports. “I use these games for that opportunity.”

And the 24-year-old won’t have to make many more trips to Austin soon. Once players reach their fourth year in the NBA, they can no longer be sent to the D-League by an organization without consenting to it first, which is just more motivation for the third-year pro and the Spurs to force feed McCallum with as many opportunities and minutes as possible.

After all, look at Cory Joseph. His hometown of Toronto gave him 30 million reasons to thank the Spurs for their dedication to development.

About John Diaz

John is a University of Houston student studying journalism and a jack of all trades (but master of none) for the Project Spurs Network. His other titles include managing editor of Spurs on Sixth and associate editor of Texas Redzone Report. You may follow him on Twitter @byjohndiaz.

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