Who will lead the Spurs in scoring next year?
Jul 15, 2023
Predicting which Spurs have the best chance at being the team’s go-to scorer
Basketball is a simple sport in many ways. The team that scores the most points wins. Fans of the game understand that there are many more complexities that go into a winning formula. But at it’s core, basketball is about putting the ball in the basket. Those who can do it the most are considered great by the masses.
The San Antonio Spurs were not very good at putting up points last year. They ranked 23rd in the NBA in points per game (113.) Yet there is a lot of optimism for the team’s production next year. The selection of generational prospect Victor Wembanyama is the obvious reason for positivity around the Spurs offensive attack. Under the radar factors like a healthy Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson falling back into a secondary role, improvements from young scorers like Malaki Branham and Jeremy Sochan, as well as Zach Collins continuing his stellar play are all reasons for excitement.
But who will be the Spurs go-to guy each night? This is part one of a series where we will identify three players who have the chance to lead the team in each major statistical category. Basketball is a game of points, so we start with scoring.
The most likely to lead the Spurs in scoring is the player who looked ready to break out last year. Vassell averaged 18.5 points on 44% shooting from the field and 39% shooting from deep. If it weren’t for a knee operation that left him out for over half of the season, Vassell might have put up even better numbers.
Vassell was considered a 3&D prospect coming out of Florida State, though his three point shooting did not immediately translate. After his first two seasons shooting between 35-36% from deep, he improved to well above league averages from deep in year three.
Last season he was elite off of the catch. He hit 43% of his catch and shoot three attempts, hitting 78 of his 180 attempts. While he didn’t shoot incredibly well off of the dribble from deep, he made strides in that department, which really showed in some of his higher scoring games.
That ability to shoot off of the dribble and while moving is what makes him such a dynamic scorer. Vassell is extremely long at 6-foot-7 with a near 7-foot wingspan. He’s able to create a lot of vertical separation from defenders on jumpers that allow him to get almost any shot off. With more comfortability in a go-to role, Vassell’s efficiency with the ball in his hands should improve.
He won’t be the only offensive focal point. With Wembanyama likely drawing a good amount of pressure from opposing defenses, Vassell is an overqualified release valve. When the big man draws doubles, or has help-side defenders step up in the short roll, Vassell is good at relocating off ball to find open looks. Working off of other talented scorers like Wembanyama, Johnson and Branham should open up looks for Vassell off of the ball too.
Vassell has a lot to prove this season. A large chunk of Spurs fans consider him the number two behind Wembanyama. With his combination of shooting and self-creation, it would not surprise me to see him average more points than Wemby next season.
The future of the franchise might just have the ball in his hands enough to dominate this category. In his four games playing with an NBA ruleset (2 G-League exhibitions and 2 summer league games,) Wembanyama has averaged 27 points per game.
The last 5 first overall picks usage rating hovered around 27% (Zion Williamson and Deandre Ayton are outliers with a 30% and 21% USG.) That would have been the second highest usage rating behind Keldon Johnson’s 28% USG last season. If Wembanyama follows that trend, a lot of the offense will flow through him.
Wemby has looked most comfortable playing on the perimeter, where he’s shot threes off of the catch, and used his long strides to get to the rim. In summer league he was particularly strong screening, and then getting open for a shot. His combination of length and skill will make him a huge threat just by stepping on the court.
The Spurs system should open up a lot of looks for Wembanyama as well. He will get a ton of reps in the pick and roll where he has been particularly good. He will have room to operate in the high post, as well as work off-ball as a cutter and spacer when Collins plays out of the high post. I could see the Spurs running a lot of cross screen action to get Victor good position on the low block as well.
This team is likely going to put the ball in Wemby’s hands and ask him to score. Whether or not he can do that at an elite level against NBA defenses remains to be seen. The opportunities for Wembanyama will be there, and that could be enough to make him the leading scorer in San Antonio.
Johnson led the Spurs in scoring last season. Are we sure he’s not going to do it again?
KJ was the guy for San Antonio last year. If the game was close down the stretch, he was the one with the ball in his hands. He was pretty good scoring the rock too, averaging 22 points a game on 45% shooting from the field and 32% from deep. Johnson’s strengths were what he did as a slasher and finisher at the basket, rather than his shooting.
Johnson shot 61% at the rim last season, where he took 63% of his shots. KJ is a force getting to the cup with his left or right hand. He get downhill like a bull in a china shop, and has enough strength to finish through contact. He was at his most efficient doing so off of the pick and roll and handoffs.
Last season he was asked to do a lot more with the ball in his hands than he’s used to. He took 142 dribble jumpers last season, which is not his strength. That extra responsibility led to a drop in offensive efficiency. With a fully healthy Vassell and Wembanyama taking some of the offensive load off of Johnson, will he maintain the scoring volume on better efficiency?
With Wembanyama and Vassell being mainly perimeter players at this point, the Spurs will need rim pressure. Johnson can provide that in bunches. If the floor opens up for San Antonio with more scorers on the floor, whose to say that Johnson can’t build upon his success from last season?
What do you think, Pounders? Who do you think will lead the Spurs in scoring next year? Is there anyone not mentioned who has a chance?Share1. Devin Vassell2. Victor Wembanyama3. Keldon Johnson