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What we learned from Spurs’ win over China this summer

The California Classic was not kind to the San Antonio Spurs team in the Summer League. In their first two games, the Spurs were beaten by more experienced NBA teams. In their last game before heading to Las Vegas for the rest of the Summer League, San Antonio turned the tables and won comfortably against the Chinese national team 89-67.

San Antonio failed to shoot over 30% of its shots from the field in its first two games. The offense wasn’t perfect against China, but it definitely improved. The Spurs hit 43.2% of their shots from the field and 31.3% from beyond the arc. After playing loose with the basketball in their first two games, the Spurs lost the ball just 7 times and recorded 20 assists as a team. They increased the intensity of the defense, forcing China into 17 turnovers and recording 12 stocks (steals + blocks).

The Spurs were led by their rookie duo of Stephon Castle and Harrison Ingram. Castle dominated the first half with physical finishing around the basket and composure on the pick and roll. He finished the game with 18 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals on 8-of-21 shooting from the field. Ingram built on his good game on Sunday with a double-double on Tuesday. He was physical around the basket and sank three three-pointers on his way to a 16-point, 10-rebound performance.

The Chinese national team lost all three games in the California Classic. They have no NBA players on their roster (although Yang Hansen is a candidate for the 2025 NBA Draft). Playing well against this team isn’t necessarily an indicator of long-term success. But the young Spurs did enough in the game to head to Las Vegas with some momentum. They’ll have a chance to show what they can do against NBA talent when they face the Portland Trail Blazers on July 13.

Observations:

  • Castle came out strong with some good pick-and-roll finishes and aggressive finishing at the basket. He was effortlessly able to accomplish whatever the Spurs needed on a given possession with and without the ball. At UCONN, Castle showed that his strength is one of his best attributes. He can finish through defenders or shoot them through the basket. In just two Summer League games, Castle has shown a solid foundation to build upon.
  • After sinking two three-pointers in his first Summer League game, Spurs fans wondered if Castle’s shooting was better than expected. Tuesday’s game brought them back to reality. He was 0-6 from beyond the arc, including some ugly misses because no one was covering him. Castle’s technique still needs to improve before he becomes a consistent three-point threat. San Antonio wants him to play aggressively this summer, so expect him to continue to shoot from all over the court.
  • Despite shooting inconsistently on a night, Castle remained aggressive and engaged. That’s a sign of strong character. On one play, Castle missed a completely open three-pointer from the corner and chased his own rebound, but the ball bounced to China. Instead of sulking and running back to defense, he pressured the ball handler from behind, secured the possession and gave San Antonio another possession. Plays like that show Castle’s competitiveness and drive that made him a top-5 pick.
  • Ingram has been a lot of fun to watch in Summer League. He’s a fun, connection-oriented player who can catch and shoot threes, attack a closeout, and be a ball handler. He’s not afraid to do the dirty work, as he’s a beast on the offensive basket. He’s strong enough to defend multiple positions and play both inside and outside. It’s hard to find a spot for him in the Spurs’ rotation next season, but he’s a fun player who should develop some real skills in Austin with the G-League team.
  • Jamaree Bouyea has had his moments in the last two games. Against China, he had 14 points and 5 assists. He is one of the faster guards on the court and has good handling. His spin move in transition was one of the best open court plays we saw in the Summer League. He is someone to keep an eye on in Las Vegas.
  • Nathan Mensah returned after two disappointing performances. He played well on both ends, defended the basket and worked hard at the basket. He finished the game with 9 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks.