The All-Star break has relieved the San Antonio Spurs from their franchise-record 14-game losing streak. Head Coach Gregg Popovich says he will expect more of a defensive effort moving forward, so we’ll see how the team responds. Spurs rookie Jeremy Sochan participated in the 2023 Jordan Rising Stars game where he had a few great plays, giving spurs fans confidence that he will be an All-Star caliber player. Now we will go into the other rookies on the roster in our Spurs rookie report.
The Spurs’ 2022 rookie class has been a silver lining this season. All three of the Spurs’ 2022 first-round draft picks have improved dramatically throughout this season. We’ve also had a chance to see rookie Dominick Barlow in NBA action in a few games after the NBA trade deadline. With a few days left in the break let’s evaluate this year’s rookies and give them a grade based on their season’s performance so far.
This is part one of a two-part series. Don’t miss “part two” dropping later this week.
Spurs Rookie Report
Dominick Barlow: C-
Dominick Barlow sends Darius Garland’s layup OUT ❌— Spurs Nation (@SpursNationCP) February 14, 2023
Dominick Barlow became the first Overtime Elite League player who signed a two-way contract, after an impressive performance with the Spurs in the NBA Summer League. After a scandal that shocked the NBA the Spurs waived Josh Primo early in the season. Many Spurs fans wanted Barlow to fill Primo’s spot on the roster. However, the Spurs called Jordan Hall up to NBA action, which may have been a blessing in disguise for Barlow.
After some less-than-impressive performances with the Spurs, Hall was waived in favor of Alize Johnson. Barlow continued to develop in the G-League, averaging 15.5 points and 8.5 rebounds a game. The talent gap from the G-League to the NBA is vast, so he’s going against much better defenders at the NBA level. Given some time to adjust, we’ll see how effective he is for the rest of the season.
Based on what we’ve seen so far from him this season in the G-League and NBA I respectfully give Barlow a C-. There’s a long way to go for him and hopefully, he’ll continue to improve over the summer and earn a full-time NBA contract. He’s shown glimpses of greatness this year it is a question of whether it can translate to the NBA.
Malaki Branham: B
Malaki Branham was scoring from everywhere Wednesday night – 3PT range, midrange, floater range, rim – and by way of both on-ball creation and off-ball movement. The 19-year-old finished with 23 points on 10/14 in the loss. He’s averaging 19.5 PPG over his last four. #PorVida pic.twitter.com/tHExLHTCUv— Brett Usher (@UsherNBA) February 16, 2023
Brian Wright selected Malaki Branham with the 20th overall pick in the 2022 NBA draft. After an impressive personal performance in the NBA Summer League, I wrote a piece making the case for Branham as the next star of the Spurs. Early in the season, I thought perhaps I had made a mistake. Branham did a lot of standing in the corner, he was hesitant to shoot, and ultimately he found himself assigned to the Austin squad. The tables have turned since then, in a recent post-game interview Popovich said Branham was done with being assigned to Austin. In the last game, he was the leading scorer for the Spurs with 23 points. He’s consistently been improving each game, with little to no signs of regression. If there’s a flaw in his game at the moment it’s defense.
Branham has always been the type of player that responds well to tough coaching. His mentor and coach growing up said he would kick him out of the gym if he wasn’t doing something correctly. He’d always come back the next day showing improvement. If Popovich is riding the team to perform better on the defensive end it’ll be interesting to see how Branham responds. The ceiling for Branham is high, but today I can only give credit for what we’ve seen on the court so far. And for that, I give Branham a B.
Look out for part two of my Spurs rookie report coming out later this week. Make sure you’re following Project Spurs on Twitter and Facebook. Do you agree with my assessment? What grade would you give Barlow and Branham? Comment below.