Opportunity knocking for Spurs’ Blossomgame

Jul 09, 2018 | by Jeff McDonald, San Antonio Express-News

LAS VEGAS — As a basketball fan, Jaron Blossomgame made sure he tuned into to watch Golden State and Houston put on a seven-game hoops clinic in the Western Conference finals last May.

As a prospective applicant for an NBA job, Blossomgame found the series to be must-see TV for another reason.

“You had Golden State and Houston playing P.J. Tucker and Draymond Green at (center),” said Blossomgame, the Spurs’ second-round pick in 2017. “Those guys are shorter than me. You can see how the game has changed. It definitely fits what I do.”

The small-ball revolution championed by the Warriors and Rockets places a premium on players like Blossomgame, a 6-foot-7 wing player who can switch pick-and-rolls and defend multiple positions.

That skill — combined with a Spurs roster uncharacteristically in flux this summer — could be Blossomgame’s ticket to the NBA.

Selected 59th overall out of Clemson, the 24-year-old Blossomgame spent the 2017-18 campaign with the Spurs’ G-League affiliate in Austin, and without an NBA contract.

On the strength of a breakout Summer League this year, Blossomgame has emerged as a strong candidate to join the Spurs in training camp this fall.

“That’s obviously the goal,” Blossomgame said. “That’s their decision to make. I’m just going to control what I can control, and that’s my performance here every day.”

The Spurs have made Blossomgame no promises about next season. He is doing his best to force their hand.

Blossomgame is coming off his best day of the summer in the Spurs’ 95-90 victory over Washington at Las Vegas’ Thomas & Mack Arena on Sunday.

He opened the game cutting for a dunk off a pass from Derrick White. He finished it with a putback slam of a Lonnie Walker misfire that sealed the game.

Blossomgame ended with 22 points against the Wizards. He made 8 of 11 shots, grabbed nine rebounds and added a pair of blocks.

“We’ve been really happy with the progress Jaron has made,” Spurs summer league coach Will Hardy said. “The thing you like the most about him is that he is so versatile. He can guard different positions, and that’s so important in today’s NBA.”

Hardy offers an interesting comparison for what Blossomgame might become: Tucker, the pugnacious Rockets forward who Blossomgame followed with such interest in the last season’s playoffs.

In order to get there, Blossomgame will have to add to his offensive repertoire. Tucker, the former University of Texas standout, secured a permanent NBA role only after he molded himself into a serviceable 3-point shooter.

Hustle and heart — qualities both players have in spades — were not alone enough to earn Tucker a steady paycheck.

Blossomgame made only 30 percent of his shots from distance in the G-League last season, though he played well enough overall to earn third-team all-league mention as a key component of an Austin team that won the championship.

“I didn’t shoot it well my senior year in college,” said Blossomgame, who averaged 16.5 points and 8.1 rebounds in 50 games with Austin. “I struggled early on in the G-League but then I kind of figured it out. I live in the gym. That’s the only way to get better.”

In any other summer, the Spurs might be content to give Blossomgame another season to develop in the G-League.

The departure of forward Kyle Anderson to Memphis in free agency — not to mention the uncertainty surrounding disgruntled All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard — has created a need for the Spurs to add low-cost depth at that position.

The Spurs consider Blossomgame an option to fill that breach.

The team is investigating veteran alternatives as well. They reportedly had interest in Rockets free agent Luc Mbah a Moute before he agreed to a deal with the L.A. Clippers on Monday.

History is working against Blossomgame a bit.

The Spurs have typically taken their time bringing second-round picks to the NBA. They haven’t signed second-rounder to an NBA contract within two years of his draft class since DeJuan Blair in 2009.

In Las Vegas and beyond, Blossomgame aims to compel the Spurs to speed up his own timetable.

“The main thing they want me to do is be aggressive defensively and attack the glass,” Blossomgame said. “Just be a glue guy out there for us.”

Blossomgame has been doing that for the Summer Spurs. What happens next is largely out of his hands.

If he has his way, however, Blossomgame will spend next season playing against the likes of Tucker and Draymond Green, instead of watching them on television.

Jeff McDonald is a San Antonio Express-News staff writer. | Jmcdonald@express-news.net | Twitter: @JMcDonald_SAEN

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