LAS VEGAS — Summer League is all about the young guys, and no player in this year's draft was younger than Josh Primo, selected by San Antonio with pick No.12.
His talent is raw but real, and he's already showing promise in a bigger role than his 3 and D play at Alabama. Still, his coaches and teammates say the most impressive thing about him is that he's cool, calm and collected as an 18-year-old playing against grown men.
"It's a different feeling, coming into what's kind of like your first NBA game," he said after his pro debut at Salt Lake City Summer League. "But then again it is just basketball, so you've got to go into it with the same mentality that you would if it was in college, high school, middle school."
"I think the word poise always comes to mind. He's 18 years old, kid could be at summer school, a freshman in college, and the way he carries himself when things are going good, and things are going bad, to me, have made a big impression."
Poise doesn't mean perfection, and Primo turned it over six times in his introductory game. He wasn't satisfied with his performance afterward, and playing as a point guard is not something he did in his one year in college. At Summer League, however, everyone takes on a bigger role, and the young guns are encouraged to expand their games and leave their comfort zones.
"I think his passing is super natural. Both hands I think he looks to make plays, I think he can execute passes that maybe a lot of people don't naturally, some of that is he can pass with both hands off the dribble and get in the paint," said Johnson. "Adding the physicality piece to that, the bumps and the length and the athleticism and the speed of the game, it's gonna be an adjustment, but I think you see the potential and the natural talent and passing ability."
"Honestly, the way he's playing right now looks like he's making a lot of good reads as a point guard. NBA is definitely different from college, so some of the passes he's trying to make might not get there, but it's the fact that he's seeing it and trying to make the pass is impressive."
"That's something I'd been doing my whole high school career. Not a lot of people know that, but I've always really played on ball," Primo said. "Going into Alabama I took on a different role, and I accepted that to the fullest and just made sure that I was a great off-ball player. Now I feel like I have both things I can do whatever coach needs me to do on the floor."
"I think he's a versatile guy," Johnson said. "I think he's gonna be able to pass, dribble and shoot, and I think he's gonna be able to play on the ball and off the ball. That's a big part of the reason why we like him, and we think he can fit with the nucleus of our young guys. We have multiple guys who we hope can do that, he's gonna be one of those guys coming through the development program, and we hope he can be a part of it."
Confidence is key to that development, and Primo is actively working to build it even though he seems to have plenty. He went from 11 points and 6 turnovers in the first game in Utah to 17 points and 3 turnovers in his second.
He said the key was getting comfortable, not just as an individual but as a unit with his teammates.
"We haven't played much together as a team, so just getting that team chemistry going and then obviously just being more physical with it, being more aggressive, not as tentative, being aggressive to score, and then that's what's gonna jumpstart some of that playmaking," he said. "Devin's been working with me, trying to just get me to play free."
This is Vassell's first Summer League too, and after being drafted as a teenager himself just a year ago, he seems to be relishing his first real chance to take a younger player under his wing.
"At 18 years old to come out here and play with that much confidence... I talked to him before the game and at halftime like, 'bro, just play confident, play your game,' and he showed everybody that he's here and that he's ready," Vassell said. "He's young, he's gonna make mistakes, he's gonna turn the ball over, he's gonna mess up, but at the end of the day he doesn't let that get to him, he keeps coming and making some big shots in the fourth quarter when we needed him to, hitting tough ones. I mean, he hit a Dirk fadeaway in the first half... he has so much potential, I don't know if he knows how good he is or how good he can be."
Primo's ability to drain triples off the bounce and pass ambidextrously makes him difficult to guard, and he's shown more shiftiness than sloppiness with his dribble so far. He has a lot of learning to do, but this is about as good as on the job training gets. He's excited, not nervous, to play with the ball in his hands against the best players in his draft class.
"It's a great opportunity for myself," he said. "I'm blessed to be in this position where they're kind of asking me to do more for my team, and I love the challenge. I'm just gonna take it on and continue to push myself each day and compete."