Keldon Johnson headlines Spurs rookies with nearly-perfect G League debut

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Photo via Austin Spurs

All three of the San Antonio Spurs 2019 draft picks were introduced to the stage of professional basketball Friday night in Central Texas. First-rounders Luka Samanic and Keldon Johnson and second-rounder Quinndary Weatherspoon suited up for the Austin Spurs in the 2019-20 G League season opener against the Rio Grande Vipers.

Austin dropped a 120-112 thriller to the defending G League champion Vipers, but the contributions of one Spurs rookie appeared to plant the seeds for a promising basketball career. Johnson, a rookie from Kentucky and one of the stars of the Utah Summer League showcase, scored a team-high 27 points on 12/14 shooting.

The small forward’s hustle was on full display, and his shot selection was impeccable. One of his two misses ricocheted off the back iron but he was able to tip it back in by himself. The other miss was a desperation half-court heave at the final buzzer. Everything else that left his hands sunk through the bottom of the net.

Johnson’s confident finishing ability was nothing short of impressive, and all 12 of his successful field goals originated from inside the paint. Even with Houston Rockets assignee Isaiah Hartenstein operating as the rim protector, Johnson was able to create several acrobatic finishes on layups in his 27-point outing.

Samanic, the Spurs’ 19th overall pick last June, recorded a 13-point, 10-rebound double-double in his G League debut. Despite just three assists, Samanic demonstrated his craftiness and completed several high-level passes. However, turnovers were frequent for the rookie from Croatia, and he finished the night with five giveaways.

Outside of the Spurs rookies, second-year big men Chimezie Metu and Drew Eubanks (on a two-way contract) combined for 23 points and 14 rebounds in limited action. The two faced a tough assignment in Hartenstein, who was a monster on the scoreboard and the glass with 28 points and 21 rebounds.

The Vipers trailed by as many as 17 points with five minutes left in the third quarter but an 18-6 run, spearheaded by Spurs turnovers and an offensive explosion by Rio Grande Valley small forward Gary Clark, quickly flipped the script of the game.

When the Vipers finally tied the game at 102 apiece, Samanic answered with an isolation 3-pointer from the wing. But it wouldn’t be long until Clark provided his team their first lead of the second half on a triple with 2:36 remaining.

Rio Grande Valley sunk each of its final three 3-pointers, with Jacobi Boykins and Angel Rodriguez nailing straightaway attempts to seal the road victory in Cedar Park. Operating from beyond the arc was Austin’s greatest offensive struggle, and the team finished a dreary 5/26 (19%) on long range looks.

Austin will have another go-around with the Vipers in the same venue and at the same time of 7:30 p.m. CT today in Cedar Park. San Antonio plays the Boston Celtics at home on Saturday, so there is potential for a new-look roster prior to tip-off due to call-ups. Samanic, Johnson, and Weatherspoon (two-way contract) have yet to play a single NBA minute this season, while Metu and Eubanks have logged a combined seven minutes this year in the Association.

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