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We finished our evaluation of the rookies and sophomore in the Eastern Conference last week (if you need to catch up just follow these links for the Atlantic, Southeast and Central Division). After checking the Northwest Division, it is time to look at the Southwest Division.
San Antonio Spurs
Sophomore: Jonathon Simmons
Rookie: Dejounte Murray, Davis Bertans, Patricio Garino, Livio Jean-Charles, Nicolas Laprovittola, Ryan Arcidiacono, Bryn Forbes
When Jonathon Simmons reached the Nba, it felt like a fairy tale: the ex Houston Cougar found himself in the Abl and seriously considered quitting basketball before giving it one last try. He paid 150$ for an open tryout with the Austin Toros in 2013, won the spot on the roster and became a starter by the beginning of the regular season. Two years later, he was averaging 14 minutes per game for the San Antonio Spurs, and playing well enough to convince the team management to exercise the option on his second year. He will have his share of minutes again this season.
With the 29th pick the Spurs selected Dejounte Murray last June, who fell unexpectedly on draft night. He played only one season in college and ended up in one of the team most suited to refine and unleash his talent in the league. His body is made for the new era of the Nba, as a 6-5 PG with a 6-11 wingspan and the talent to be the future point-guard in San Antonio as he was in Washington. He will spend most of the season on the sideline, learning the nuances of the game and refining his skills, working a lot with shooting coach Chip Engelland, the best in the league at his craft.
Livio Jean-Charles and Davis Bertans are two of the many stashed players the Spurs have abroad, the 28th pick in 2013 and the 42nd pick in 2011 respectively. The Spurs normally have long rotations and the two rookies are likely to find minutes this season, but mostly filling gaps. Bertans might at least be able to stretch the floor: he showed a reliable three point shot when playing for Baskonia in Spain, but his knee injuries are a concern. As for Jean-Charles, he might find himself in San Antonio because the team wants to monitor his development from up close. He seems to have plateaued in his growth since he was drafted: the last two years he played for the team owned by Tony Parker in France and he became a starter last season, but was nothing more than a role-player. The goal for the Spurs is still to reach the Conference Finals, but the first season without Tim Duncan might be a transition year and the two Europeans might be here to understand if they can be part of the new era of the organization or they should be let go.
Considering the amount of guards at roster, including the last two members of the big three, signing Garino and Laprovittola was a surprising choice. The two Argentinians were both with the national team in Rio last summer but while Garino played four years at Washington and showed he can be a good shooter from beyond the arc, Laprovittola comes from a year in Europe where he split his season between Lietuvos Rytas in Lithuania and Estudiantes in Spain. It is unclear how they will fit, and the Spurs have to get back to 15 contracts by season opener, so some of the players at training camp are not going to make it. Speaking of, Ryan Arcidiacono and Bryn Forbes are unlikely to be part of the team, but they might end up with the Austin Spurs in the D-League.
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Sophomore: Justin Anderson, Salah Mejri
Rookie: A.J. Hammons, Dorian Finney-Smith, Nicolas Brussino
Justin Anderson‘s season started as expected: inconsistency on the court led to a lack of playing time. As the season went on, in part because of injuries, in part because he adjusted to the Nba game, he spent more time on the court, even averaging 21 minutes coming off the bench in March. His averages are not impressive (6.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1 block per game) but his defensive effort and hustle were critical for a team that has players mostly on the wrong side of 30 and coming off too many injuries. In his second season his role will be much bigger, because the Mavs need his energy, and the series against the Thunder in the playoff was a good example of what his impact might be.
Mejri looked like he was the umpteenth talented player from overseas who was about to go back to Europe, until he proved he belongs to the Nba. It’s a bit early to see him as a starter, most likely he will never be, but in his 397 minutes on the floor the team played better defense, and his 3.7 Defensive Box Plus Minus is a good mark of his play. He might find more minutes in his second season, but it will depend on Bogut and on his health.
A.J. Hammons was the 46th pick in the draft and according to many experts, including Espn own Chad Ford, his talent was worth a lottery pick. The issues start with effort, focus and conditioning, among others. The team does not need him to play right away, and he will have time to grow. But it’s up to him to convince coach Carlisle that he belongs.
Dorian Finney-Smith might be one of the few rookies that might make it on the court because Carlisle thinks he deserves it and not because he is forced to play a rookie. He is the kind of athletic wing with a good shooting touch so popular nowadays in the Nba, and if the ex Gators will adjust quickly, he might be of great help to a team that needs his athleticism and his potential as 3-and-D wing that can play both forward spots.
Brussino declared for the draft in 2015 and was completely ignored during the draft process, only to receive an offer from Dallas after he spent a season with the Penarol de la Plata in Argentina averaging 14.6 points, 5.5 rebounds 3.1 assists and 1.5 steals. He is a good shooter who can run pick-and-rolls, although the shooting part is what will get him minutes on the court this season. What might keep him off the court, though, is the language barrier. He’s working hard on his English and improving quickly, but it might still be an issue.
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Sophomore: Jarell Martin
Rookie: Andrew Harrison, Wade Baldwin, Deyonta Davis, Troy Williams
Last year Jarrell Martin should have been sidelined for the season while recovering from foot surgery, but the ridiculous amount of injuries that plagued the Grizzlies forced the team to play him anyway. He was not that bad, all things considered, and certainly proved he can be that kind of energetic player who hustles up and down the floor, embodying the grint’n’grind approach that is the core of the team’s culture. Of course he suffered another injury during the playoffs and was forced to undergo surgery again, but as long as Deyonta Davis will have to be on the shelf (more on that later) he will be the fourth or fifth big in the rotation. And new head coach David Fizdale might use longer rotations, opening up minutes for the younger players.
Last June, the Celtics sent the 31st and 35th pick for a 2019 first rounder. Memphis used the 35th to select Rade Zagorac from Mega Leks, who will remain in Serbia for two more years. Deyonta Davis was the 31st pick, and signed a contract paying him 4M in 3 years. Davis is a great athlete, smooth and agile while being a 6-10, 240 pounds center who can still bulk up a few more as he develops. He is tailor-made for the center spot in the modern Nba, he has the tools to be a great defender capable of switching pick-and-rolls without losing quicker guards, alter shots in the paint and collect rebounds. He should be playing behind Marc Gasol, but he will have to overcome the plantar fascitis on his left foot before playing real minutes.
Andrew Harrison was picked in the second round by the Phoenix Suns in the 2015 draft and shipped to Memphis. When the 2015 training camp was over, the Grizzlies waived him and sent him to the D-League, and this summer they acquired him again. The team is forced to change its offense and adjust it to modern Nba, but never had the personnel to be a threat from the perimeter. Harrison is now in the mix to help the team spacing the floor, since he was a 37.8% shooter from beyond the arc in his two years at Kentucky.
If Harrison should help with spacing with his 37.8% shooting in college, Wade Baldwin should be a starter (spoiler: he won’t be). The 17th pick in the 2016 draft shot 43% from three in his two years at Vanderbilt while averaging 4.8 assists and running the offense as the team’s PG. His mere presence on the court should bring an interesting twist to the team’s offense, considering he can share the floor with Mike Conley and play off the ball of each other. Troy Williams will be waived and will end up in the D-League much like Harrison last year.
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Sophomore: Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell
Rookie: Chinanu Onuaku, Gary Payton II, Kyle Wiltjer
Sam Dekker was the 18th pick in the 2015 draft but, despite coming with good expectations, he came into the league with a herniated disk that required surgery. The rehabilitation process forced him to stay off the court until February, and spent the rest of the season with the Rio Grande Vipers in D-League. He seems to be fully healthy now and his athleticism and outside shooting will certainly be helpful to Mike D’Antoni and his high-octane offense.
Montrezl Harrel‘s season looked much like Dekker’s, minus the injury. He showed off all his hustle and energy, but his inexperience surfaced as well, and ultimately that’s what sent him to the Rio Grande Vipers. All of his shots come from within 5 feet from the rim, and he will have to prove himself as a rim-runner to find minutes on the floor, but the team already has other, more experienced and refined players in that spot. Besides, the Rockets selected Onuaku with the 37th pick last June and offered him a contract that is structured to help him develop away from the spotlight. He will be in D-League most of the time, but the ex Louisville already proved he wants to work hard and is open to adjusting to anything to succeed, including underhanded free-throws.
Gary Payton II signed with the Rockets and played very well in Summer League and convinced Houston to offer him a contract that has the first year guaranteed. He is in a unique position in this roster: Patrick Beverley might have to undergo knee surgery and be out for at least a couple of months and all the other guards does not seem to be reliable on defense. If he had to keep his three-point shooting honest, he might be a starter quite soon. Unlikely, but not impossible.
Kyle Wiltier might be part of the final roster and might develop into the future stretch four for the Houston Rockets, but there are too many players in the frontcourt right now. He will be assigned to the Rio Grande Vipers most of the season and play in the D-League.
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New Orleans Pelicans
Rookie: Buddy Hield, Cheick Diallo
New Orleans hopes Buddy Hield and Anthony Davis will turn out to be a match made in heaven. Hield is the scorer the team needed to get some pressure off Davis on offense and allow him to be the devastating force he can be. The ex Oklahoma guard should also develop into an effective ball handler and run the offense, or at least initiate it, and he proved he can do it for stretches in preseason, after horrible showings in Summer League. Coach Alvin Gentry wants to take it slow and said he will not start Hield on season opener, but it is unclear he will be able to keep his proposition when Hield will start scoring as much as he is supposed to do. He clearly is the most talented backcourt player on the team by a wide margin and the sooner he develops a chemistry with Davis, the better. Because of all of the above and because of the injury occurred to Ben Simmons, Hield is the favorite to win Rookie of the Year.
Bill Self pretty much refused to play Cheick Diallo, so why would any Nba team do so? The physical profile of the 33rd pick last June is impressive, with a 6-9 frame, a 7-4 wingspan and great athleticism, he can be a nightmare for any opposing offense, run the floor very well in transition and be a rim runner in pick-and-roll situations, much like DeAndre Jordan or peak Dwight Howard could. He is still raw as a prospect, he started playing basketball only 5 years ago, and he will develop away from the spotlight, although the Pelicans don’t have a D-League affiliate. But he does not have to be a franchise changing player, he just has to be good enough to play defense and roll to the rim. He is a project for a better future that see Davis and Hield at the center of it all.