Young Spurs Struggle, But Show Promise
Posted Jul 16 2008 1:00AM
LAS VEGAS-- Dribble. Penetrate. Recognize the roll a split-second late. Force a shuffle pass. Watch blown layup.
It was a sequence San Antonio Spurs rookie George Hill became all too familiar with during the team's 76-68 Tuesday loss to the New Orleans Hornets at the Thomas and Mack Center. And most often, Hill had been targeting big man Ian Mahinmi, who finished shooting 2-for-9 from the floor.
"Ian's a great player, and I think it was partly my fault for trying to get him the ball too late," Hill said. "It's a learning point. I've got to know when to make that pass and when to go finish it. "
Despite the bumbled connections throughout the Summer League contest, "Hill to Mahinmi" might soon be a frequent regular-season result for the Spurs. Hill, drafted No. 26 overall this year, and Mahinmi, finally expected to contribute after two years in France and one in the D-League, are key components of the Spurs burgeoning youth movement.
The team recently jettisoned Brent Barry (36) for Roger Mason (27), and forwards Robert Horry (37), Kurt Thomas (35) and swingman Michael Finley (35) are all free agents. Hill, who averaged 21.5 points and 4.3 assists for IUPUI last season, is making the difficult transition from college two-guard to professional point. Against the Hornets, he seemed comfortable bringing the ball upcourt, but often overpenetrated, which resulted in misses (0-of-10 FGs) or turnovers (five).
But he filled the stat sheet in other ways (seven rebounds, four assists), and impressed when defending against O.J. Mayo on Monday, hounding the Grizzlies star into a 5-for-17 showing. With improved decision-making, Hil's a likely candidate to spell Tony Parker during the season.
Underneath the basket, Mahinmi was active, grabbing nine rebounds (three offensive) and blocking a shot. He also got to the line seven times, sinking six free throws. As the Frenchman becomes comfortable with the American game's physical nature, he should avoid sequences like one in the third quarter, when he stole a pass at the top of the key (good), but heard footsteps on the break and bricked an indecisive runner instead of throwing down hard (bad). Even so, the Spurs coaching staff has recognized the progress Mahinmi has made since being drafted in 2005.
"It's great for coaches to see a player take advantage of a development opportunity and take advantage of the D-League," said assistant coach Mike Budenholzer. "He's gotten great coaching down there in Austin from Quinn Snyder. We've tried to use that to our best advantage to create a great opportunity and culture to develop in. He did well, and this is another part of his process."
Mahinmi admitted it's been tough having to work for three years to get in position to help the Spurs -- after being drafted, he wanted to join the team right away. Last year, he sandwiched a D-League stay with six games for the Spurs, but knows the D-League stay was beneficial. Mahinmi averaged 17.1 points and 8.2 rebounds in 45 games for the Austin Toros, and is looking forward to growing alongside the team's other young talent.
"We're doing it slowly, starting with defense, defense, defense," Mahinmi said. "Then we work on offense and do that. It's really, really slow -- we're taking it step by step -- but we're doing it good. And we really want to do it good."