BY GARRETT JOCHNAU
It's been a fairly humdrum NBA season in San Antonio thus far—at least for the Spurs' standards.
Though most teams would be praised relentlessly for a 23-8 record, the Spurs' superb start is habitual in the Alamo City, expected by fans, teams and analysts around the league.
While often credited with flying under the radar, the veteran team's dramatic exit from last year's playoffs has given them recognition amongst the league's best.
San Antonio's early dominance is nothing short of expected, but the team has experienced quite a few surprises in the first few months of the season, namely their lone rookie, Nando de Colo.
While the de Colo is not a standout rookie among the rest of the 2012 class, the French guard has been impressive despite posting unimposing statistics.
He made his first impression with a buzzer-beater in the preseason to give the Spurs a last-second victory. Being handed the ball with the game on the line may be nerve-wracking, and the young guard stepped up.
He's yet to miss a game-winner in the NBA.
Since then, he has been used sparingly, although plenty know his name.
In a crowded Spurs backcourt, de Colo has established himself as a fan favorite, and a crafty and exciting player off the bench. Though he doesn't possess quite the talent of the Argentinian shooting guard, de Colo does bear a striking resemblance to Manu Ginobili.
As a crafty passer, impressive scorer and all-around compelling player, de Colo is a player on the rise for a team that could use a breakthrough youngster to accompany Kawhi Leonard in the coming years. However, unlike Leonard, who was given a large role from the get-go—even starting by the end of his rookie campaign—de Colo struggles for court time, which is expected considering the overflow of talent existing in the Spurs' guard rotation.
Despite his mere 12.3 minutes per game, the guard is not an abstraction in San Antonio. He has shined in individual moments, hinting at what might occur should he be given an increasing role. In the four games in which he logged over 20 minutes, de Colo has averaged 11.5, 5.5 assists and 5.0 rebounds—noteworthy stats especially when considering the opponent.
His most impressive performance came against the Miami Heat, when the Spurs decided to rest four of their best players.
The rookie almost led the shorthanded squad to an improbable victory over the defending champions. De Colo finished with 15 points (on .500 shooting) and five assists, establishing season highs in scoring and minutes—a direct relationship that could prove consistent should his time be increased.
And while this indication of what could come should evidence the necessity for a role increase alone, allotting him more minutes may be necessary anyway.
Tony Parker is currently averaging 34 minutes per game, something that is surprising considering Gregg Popovich's desire to limit his aging stars' playing time. Even more so than Parker, rest for Ginobili is becoming mandatory, who recently admitted to his deteriorating body as he grows older.
“I couldn’t keep up,” Ginobili told Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express News LINK
. “(Parker and Duncan) were unbelievable. They’ve been great all season long. I just joined in today.” If the Spurs expect him to produce in the playoffs, reducing Ginobili's minutes is a must, and de Colo—with his incredible parallels—is their best bet to produce in his place. If the French rookie is expected to one day take his place as the team's X-factor, his integration as one of the team's top playmakers should start early, as Leonard's did just a year ago.
Nando de Colo is one of the top youngsters in an otherwise veteran team. Although their intentions may be to win a championship now, preparing for the future is still an intelligent idea.
He may not be one of the league's best rookies, but the young guard has certainly made an impression in San Antonio. With multiple innuendos implying that the move would be a good idea, the Spurs need to reduce the minutes of their aging stars, and distribute them to de Colo, who is fully capable of handling a larger role.