LAS VEGAS — Summer League is about process over results, but both were frustrating for the San Antonio Spurs as they dropped the opener in Vegas 91-89 to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
It was the first game for Tre Jones this summer, and he admitted that he needed to knock off some rust after three turnovers in the first quarter. Fellow sophomore Devin Vassell started the game just 1-6 from the floor as he continued to explore his ability to make things happen off the dribble. That led to a double-digit deficit for San Antonio early in the game.
Both players turned it around though, helping the Spurs erase that Timberwolves lead. Jones finished with 16 points and 8 assists, including a couple on three pointers by rookie Josh Primo. Vassell scored 23 points by the end of the game, hitting big shots down the stretch.
"I thought Devin did a good job of manufacturing a game when he wasn't playing at his best," said coach Mitch Johnson after the game. "He missed some shots early, a little out of rhythm early as well. He's still trying to kind of evolve into being comfortable handling the ball in pick and roll, doing things off the dribble. I think he did a good job of getting to the free throw line, getting some defense into offense and getting out into transition, and then he started to see the ball go in. I think that's a great step for him in terms of, it's not always gonna start 3-4, 4-5, and then you can have a 20-point game, sometimes you have to go manufacture them."
Unfortunately for Vassell, Jones and the rest of the Spurs, they came up short on the last play of the game with a chance to tie or take the lead. That pair of players lamented the loss after the game, but they'll get another crack at it on Tuesday evening against the Chicago Bulls.
GAME RECAP AND HIGHLIGHTS
Tre Jones played his first game of the summer so far, and he definitely looked rusty as he gave it up with a few sloppy turnovers to start.
Devin Vassell was also a bit sloppy with the rock, but he made up for it with solid effort on defense. He missed shots, as did rookie Josh Primo, but both showed improved ball handling in the process.
Rookie second rounder Joe Wieskamp spent most of the time in the corner on offense, but he showed a solid understanding of how to move in that limited space and drained a catch-and-shoot triple off a relocation.
San Antonio trailed 22-20 after the first.
Jones bounced back from his tough start with a couple of nifty assists to cutters and shooters. One of those shooters was Primo, who he fed for an easy catch-and-shoot three. Jones finished the half with five assists, but just 1-5 shooting.
Primo dribbled into an impressive post fade that he hit, but while his shot came around in the second, he got pickpocketed from behind and lost control of the ball once more.
Vassell kept shooting and kept taking primary scoring opportunities that you wouldn’t typically see him attempt in the regular season. He finished the first half 1-6 from the floor, still working out the kinks.
A lot of pleasant ball movement went unrewarded as open shots refused to fall for the Spurs, and they went into halftime down 49-38.
Keldon Johnson made an appearance courtside wearing his freshly-earned gold medal.
Tre Jones started the second half looking more aggressive and comfortable, driving to the hole and forcing Minnesota to foul. He did a good job of pushing the pace, and once again found Primo for a three.
Vassell kept shooting, but his struggles continued in that regard.
Jones took a large portion of the point guard duties, and after missing a driving layup he was able to recover on the glass and put it back in.
He drove through contact and finished a tough one inside, and then got out of his comfort zone and knocked down a three. San Antonio trailed 67-64 heading to the fourth.
Vassell hit a shot off the bounce to start the fourth, then took a turnover the other way for free throws.
The second-year shooter took a dribble handoff and drained a triple to tie the game, then got to the line for three more after drawing a foul at the arc.
Jones continued taking it to the bucket, banking home a close shot after driving left.
San Antonio took the lead late, but gave it up on a clear path foul. Vassell forced a turnover, then tied the game with a wide-open three on a feed from Jones.
The Spurs fell behind again and had a chance to tie or win at the buzzer, but the possession didn’t quite go as planned. San Antonio lost 91-89.
The San Antonio Spurs are ready to compete at NBA Summer League at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Monday evening at 6 p.m. CST, the Spurs will take on the Minnesota Timberwolves with a focus on development. In a town that fills gamblers with instant gratification or regret, don't expect to find out right away if the Spurs' decision to bet on 18-year-old Josh Primo will pay off. If he came back to Summer League two years from now, and the mature-but-baby-faced rookie still wouldn't be old enough to sit at a slot machine.
Primo isn't the only youngster in Silver and Black looking to make an impact in an increased role. Fellow rookie Joe Wieskamp hit a blistering 46% of his threes last year for Iowa, but the second-round pick hit just 1-12 from deep in Utah. He's looking to prove that he can hold his own on the defensive end of the floor, and continue to show that he has the speed and athleticism to be more than just a shooter.
Devin Vassell is starting his second NBA season at his first Summer League, and he seems to be loving the green light. He had the highest scoring average out of all the players at Salt Lake City Summer League, putting up 41 total points in two games even though he shot just 1-14 from three. He attempted almost 24 shots per game, and he's excited about this opportunity to build skills as a playmaker and learn how to process different pick and roll defenses in the moment.
"In the beginning they were just dropping, and as you've seen I was just getting to my mid-range," he said after the final game in Utah. "After a while they started blitzing and switching, which is great honestly because there's not gonna be one team in the league that just stays doing one thing. Being able to see that, and being able to adjust to that, and still being aggressive and still being able to make plays... like I said before in the last interview, I've been working a lot on my ball-handling and getting to my spots."
Coach Mitch Johnson is excited for Vassell to compete and to work on becoming a primary option.
"I mean, he took 30 shots tonight," Johnson said after the final game in Utah. "That's a lot of shots; hopefully he makes more than 11 most nights, but that's a skill in itself: learning how to take shots, learning how to miss shots, learning how to shoot through those things, he hit some big ones late, having to guard the best player. Those are the experiences and the reps that these guys are getting that they may not get as much or as often during the regular season, and that's why this experience is so critical in their development."
Tre Jones is another second-year player getting his first shot at Summer League play, and after spending the Salt Lake City games in the concussion protocol, he's ready to go today.
In total, the Silver & Black will play four games in Las Vegas; here are the biggest storylines to keep an eye on from Summer League.