Spurs Notes: Vassell, Defense, Jones, Birch, Bassey

Spurs guard Devin Vassell recently signed a five-year, $135MM+ rookie scale extension. As Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News writes in a subscriber-only story, Vassell’s contract is the largest in team history.

While some may have been surprised by the price tag, his teammates say Vassell doesn’t get enough recognition.

If you really watch the league, the players in this league, the coaches, they all respect Devin,” said second-year forward Jeremy Sochan. “I feel like he is underrated, but he is a special player, too.”

After being limited to 38 games in 2022/23 due to a knee injury, Vassell spent the offseason focused on weight training to improve his conditioning and withstand the rigors of an 82-game schedule. Vassell thinks the added muscle will help improve his finishing at the basket as well, according to McDonald.

Head coach Gregg Popovich believes Vassell is on the right track, both now and going forward.

He wants to prove himself, both as a player and a leader,” Popovich said. “He has already taken some big steps.”

For his part, the 23-year-old wing says he’s focused on helping the Spurs reclaim their status as a perennial playoff team and bringing a sixth championship to San Antonio.

This is where I want to be,” Vassell said, per McDonald. “Now all I am trying to do is win, get championships and put some more banners up there.”

Here’s more from San Antonio:

  • No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama has made an instant impact in training camp with his defense, according to Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News (subscriber link). “I came off a handoff and thought I had a wide-open three,” said forward Doug McDermott. “All of a sudden an arm comes out of nowhere and takes the ball. He’s pretty special. He’s going to dominate on that end of the floor.” Still, after finishing with the worst defense in NBA history last season, the Spurs know they can’t just rely on their prized rookie to lift them up. As Orsborn writes, Keldon Johnson struggled defensively in 2022/23, but he believes he has become an “elite defender” this offseason. “I feel like I’ve grown a lot this summer,” Johnson said. “I put a lot of hard work and time into my body and my craft in basketball. So, I’m ready. I’m excited to prove all the doubters wrong.”
  • Point guard Tre Jones, who signed a two-year, $19MM+ deal in free agency to return to the Spurs, started 65 of his 68 games last season. However, Popovich was noncommittal when asked if Jones will start in 2023/24, tweets Orsborn. “We haven’t made any decisions on who is where,” Popovich said.
  • Even after waiving Cameron Payne and Reggie Bullock, the Spurs are still facing a roster crunch, with 16 players on guaranteed contracts. Two players who might be battling for the final roster spot are centers Khem Birch and Charles Bassey, who both dealt with knee injuries last season. According to Orsborn, Popovich said the two big men have been full participants in practices thus far (Twitter link).
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