Although becoming more commonplace around the NBA, the San Antonio Spurs are largely credited with popularizing scouting, drafting, and signing foreign talent. In the most recent off-season, the Spurs signed Nicolas Laprovittola to a one year, minimum contract. Going into the off-season, the point guard position was one of several areas of weakness many identified for the Spurs. Tony Parker had been looking older in recent seasons, Patty Mills was in a shooting slump for a large portion of the past two seasons after having shoulder surgery in the summer of 2014, and Dejounte Murray, despite having the tools that could make him a valuable player down the road, had not yet played a minute of NBA basketball. While Laprovittola was technically an NBA rookie as well, he had played in international leagues since 2007.
The Spurs knew coming into the season that Murray may spend a good amount of time honing his skills in Austin and they would potentially need a third point guard in San Antonio in the event that Parker was injured or needed rest. Such opportunities came early and often at the start of the season. Parker missed 8 of the first 22 games and Laprovittola started in 3 of those games. Interestingly, in the games that Laprovittola has started, the Spurs have gone 3-0, while in the games that Mills has started, the Spurs have gone 2-2. While some of this is attributable to the opponents played in those loses (the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets), there is something to be said about Mills’ fit with the bench unit and the positives it brings to the Spurs as a whole when he is able to space the floor for that group. Laprovittola, while still adjusting to the NBA, allows the Spurs to keep the second unit in tact when Parker is unable to play.
While Laprovittola already has strengths that are benefiting the team, a closer inspection to his numbers show that as he becomes more comfortable, he can potentially become another offensive weapon for the Spurs off the bench. Laprovittola currently boasts a good-but-not-great three-point shooting percentage of 38.5%. However, he is shooting them at a healthy volume of 5.4 attempts per 36 minutes. Because of this, if he is able to develop an even more consistent shot, defenses will be less likely to help off of him off the ball, especially on the strong side, which would provide valuable spacing to the lineups he is a part of. In his thus far limited minutes, Laprovittola has also shown his court vision, ranking third on the Spurs in assists per 36 minutes at 5.9. While he is also committing the second-most turnovers per 36 minutes, 3.8, if he is able to cut back his turnovers while maintaining his assists as he adjusts to the NBA, his passing at the guard spot could become a valuable tool for bench units, especially as the season wears on and more of the veterans sit out for rest.
While some of Laprovittola’s stats may not immediately impress, it’s important to remember that for rookies who get semi-inconsistent playing time, it can be hard for performance to translate to numbers. His current win shares of 0.2 or PER of 9.0 are not necessarily red flags, as he has been placed in several different lineups that haven’t been able to play much as a unit against varying levels of skill from the opposition. For instance, while playing a different position, Aron Baynes found himself in a similar position during his rookie season with the Spurs. The Spurs signed him late into the season, but he only had a PER of 8.8 and had 0.1 win shares through those 16 games. In his final season with the Spurs, only two years later, he had 3.2 win shares and a PER of 15.9. As league average is a PER of 15, it is an impressive jump for a player to make in less than two full seasons.
Laprovittola may just become a contributing third point guard for the Spurs. With Mills playing so well this season, it may be difficult for Laprovittola to find consistent playing time, but the Spurs may find great benefit in getting Laprovittola consistent playing time soon to allow him to become more comfortable with NBA basketball and the lineups he may regularly be a part of. The more players the Spurs can depend on while veterans are resting the better, and as the season progresses, Laprovittola and the other rookies will be called on more and more.
All stats obtained from basketball-reference.com