What You Need To Know: Austin Spurs in the G League Bubble

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Immediately after the NFL season concludes, and before the madness begins in March, the NBA is taking advantage of the lull in sports as the G League 2021 season will start at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.

Running a regular season from February 10 – March 6, each team will play 15 games, and there will be playoffs and a championship game, which the new Ignite program will be eligible to compete for in their inaugural season. A title reserved for NBA affiliates, the Ignite won’t usually compete moving forward, but an exception is being made for this unique season.

The timing of the G League season is interesting, because as the calendar flips to March, the NBA doesn’t have a schedule in place, as the league wanted to play through the first half and address the effectiveness of the player safety protocols in place. What that means for an organization like the Spurs, one of the 17 organizations sending a team, is a decision will need to be made on the youth on the roster, whether to send them into the bubble, or keep them with the team.

Of course Keita Bates-Diop and Quinndary Weatherspoon, San Antonio’s two two-way contract players, are almost guaranteed to play in the G League season due to their contract status and limited opportunity for minutes with the NBA Spurs. To be assigned to the G League, and therefore the bubble tournament, players with less than three years with their NBA team can be sent to the G League. There are six such players eligible to play in Orlando for the Spurs: Lonnie Walker IV, Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, Drew Eubanks, Luka Samanic and Tre Jones.

Unless the Spurs are trying to make a run for a G League title that is meaningless in the grand scheme of things, it could be safe to assume that Lonnie and Keldon won’t be playing in Orlando. Both players have been nightly starters in San Antonio, and are performing extremely well. That leaves four more players that are both eligible and could possibly benefit from the G League experience in Vassell, Eubanks, Samanic, and Tre Jones. As of Wednesday, Luka is the only player to be officially assigned.

Let’s take a look at the case for and against sending each individual.

Devin Vassell

The highest pick for the Spurs in the last two decades, fans would be widely disappointed to see Vassell separate from the team to compete in the G League’s bubble. Through 17 games this season, Devin has played in 16 of them, averaging 18.6 minutes per appearance with a stat line of 5.7 pt / 3.6 reb / 1.4 ast. The three-and-D archetype coming out of Florida State, Vassell is shooting 41% from the perimeter, 37% from the floor, and has made 93% at the charity stripe.

The case to keep him with San Antonio instead of sending him to the G League starts with his stats. The team is a game above .500 at 9-8 and has relied heavily on the youth, of which Devin is a part of. His 18.6 minutes per game this season is more than Jakob Poeltl, Lonnie Walker IV and Marco Belinelli averaged all of last season, and just six minutes behind Derrick White’s time on the floor a year ago. Top picks don’t usually go to the G League, because they should be more NBA ready. Vassell has shown he’s ready to contribute now, and that means staying with the team.

Believe it or not, there is a case for sending Vassell to participate in the G League bubble, and that’s to give him the chance to be featured on offense, to have a larger role. At Florida State, Devin was the top scorer at 12.7 points per game, and was definitely the best player on the floor, leading his team in a number of categories. The Spurs have an abundance of young, athletic, defensive guards, but can Vassell match the offensive abilities of Lonnie, Derrick White and Dejounte Murray? The bubble could be the right place to experiment with him sitting first chair instead of second or third where he currently is.

Drew Eubanks

Drew played himself into a fresh three-year deal in the second half of last season, starting in late February, and continuing into the NBA’s bubble in August. He’s a team player who works hard, fills a need for some size on the roster. It almost looked like Drew’s role with the team might increase with the new contract, but the return of LaMarcus Aldridge combined with being caught up in a COVID-19 situation for a large portion of this new season have limited his opportunities to be on the floor. Having played about 19 minutes per night through three games, Eubanks has an average line of 3 pt / 4 reb / 2 blk.

Whether Drew missed the time because he had the virus or not, he still wasn’t able to be around the team, and that means playing basketball. Sending him to participate in the G League bubble may disappoint fans, but he may benefit from the conditioning, and his previous two seasons in Austin could really help him help the young guys on that roster, including Luka Samanic. Of course, a case can be made for him to stay with San Antonio, as his usage through three games was above what Jakob Poeltl averaged last season, though LaMarcus being out at the time was likely a factor. Drew’s been with the team long enough, he’s earned a chance to stay with the main club.

Tre Jones

The Spurs have had an abundance of guards for the last couple of seasons, but slowly the collection has grown to include more complete guards at both ends of the floor, and Tre Jones is part of that. A second-round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, Tre Jones is a lengthy point-guard at 6’4”, who could benefit from a larger opportunity to run the Spurs’ offense in the bubble.

Averaging just around three minutes per game in his seven appearances, the delay of the G League season has likely helped him greatly by giving him a chance to be part of the game-day process with San Antonio on a nightly basis. An opportunity to play in Orlando would give the Spurs a chance to see how much he’s absorbed, and let him top a roster with Austin, where he otherwise wouldn’t be getting minutes with San Antonio. Jones signed a three-year deal with the Spurs after the draft, meaning that he’d have to be assigned to the bubble to participate.

Luka Samanic

The first pick by San Antonio in the 2019 draft, Luka Samanic needs to be the primary focus in the G League bubble, now that he’s officially been assigned. I said as much on the most recent episode of the Forever Toros podcast, and stand by the point due to San Antonio’s need for him.

Standing 6’10”, Luka is the modern big-man that the Spurs will need if the team moves on from LaMarcus Aldridge, or if he moves on from them first. Samanic’s draft profile showed that he was young and raw coming into last season’s draft, with the ability to shoot from the perimeter, the speed to run the floor, and the height to work it inside. He’s only appeared in four games this season, but going back to the NBA’s bubble from the summer, Luka flashed what he could do in a 16-point performance to close out the season. With Keldon Johnson now doing his thing in San Antonio, the Austin Spurs will focus on accelerating the development of Luka Samanic.

How to Watch the G League

Per their website, the G League will be broadcasting games from the bubble on Twitch, ESPN+, ESPN U, ESPN 2, and NBA TV, and the championship will be presented by YouTube TV. The action gets started with the G League Ignite team facing off against the Santa Cruz Warriors on February 10 at 10am CST on ESPN2. As one of the other five games that day, the Austin Spurs will tip-off their season at 10:30am CST against the Memphis Hustle (Grizzlies) on NBA TV.

When the season starts, Austin will be debuting a new head coach in Matt Nielsen who was promoted to the role to replace Blake Ahearn after serving as an assistant under Ahearn last season. Coach Ahearn was hired by the Memphis Grizzlies to be the last coach on their bench, with an emphasis on helping with player development. Austin will also take the floor with a number of new players, with only Samanic, Weatherspoon, and Eubanks as individuals who have prior experience with the Spurs from the 512.

Who are you looking forward to seeing most with this team? Do you think either of the new rookies should be assigned to the bubble? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter @JarkClonas. Be sure to tag @SpursOnSixth and @ProjectSpurs.

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