In a frantic offseason with decisions by stars slowly being made (DWIGHT), the San Antonio Spurs went about their business quietly. After finishing the regular season with the best record in the NBA at 50-16, you could look back to the old cliché which says if it ain’t broke there is no need to fix anything. The re-signing of Tim Duncan was obviously priority number one as well as retaining key pieces like the surprising Danny Green, Boris Diaw in all of his roundness and Patty Mills. In recent times the Spurs have implemented the draft and stash strategy and this season was no different. Despite drafting Missouri’s Marcus Denmon, they also chose to bring over one of their assets obtained in the 2009 draft – none other than Nando De Colo from France. The name doesn’t quite pique interest in the same way a Dwight Howard might but the former 53rd pick comes to San Antonio with the potential to step in and contribute right away as well as becoming a key cog in the Spurs core as they move on into a new season with an aging lineup and more importantly, an aging ‘big 3′ of Duncan, Ginobli and Parker.
De Colo is an interesting player as he does not come into San Antonio with immense pressure on his shoulders yet the platform is there to potentially turn into the second coming of Manu Ginobli or as I like to put it, Ginobli 2.0. De Colo comes to the Spurs after playing the past three seasons for Valencia in Spain where he saw success winning the 2010 Eurocup. Even more impressive was his play for Cholet in France previous to this. With his buddy and Dallas Maverick Roddy Beaubois, De Colo was named a French All-Star in 2007 and 2008 as well as winning the MVP in that same game. This turned out to be the turning point in De Colo’s career as he broke out to become both the French league’s MVP and Most Improved Player in the same year. For Valencia last season he averaged 12.4ppg and 3.1 assists whilst shooting 46.5% from the field and 39.7% from three. These are all very respectable numbers for the Eurocup competition in which he was playing. To add to his credentials it should also be mentioned that he was a key member of the 2012 French Olympic team and is a regular feature in their team alongside fellow Spurs such as Tony Parker and Boris Diaw which can only help to ease his transition to the NBA.
The point I’m trying to make here is that like a young Manu Ginobli, Nando comes to the Spurs with a great list of European credentials. The question I wish to ask though is will this success translate to the drastically different NBA game? To begin to answer that we first need to break down De Colo’s game. First off, Nando De Colo is a 6’5 combo guard. While he is very much capable of running an offense he is much more at home playing off the ball at the shooting guard position. This may lead readers to ask where he fits in the Spurs rotation with a multitude of guards on the roster, that still remains to be seen. Regardless, with his skill set it seems inevitable that Popovich will find a role for De Colo coming off the bench for either Tony Parker or Manu Ginobli.
Most of De Colo’s strengths lie on the offensive side of the court with terrific instincts and feel for the game. At 6’5 he has great size for both the point and shooting guard position which can be seen to be a great asset especially when it comes to his court vision and finishing ability at the rim. Nando is an incredibly confident player and does not hesitate to look for his own shot especially pulling up off the dribble where he is incredibly effective. Playing off the ball, De Colo excels spotting up on the three-point line where he is an above average shooter with NBA range. With the ball in his hands though we see his brilliance shine through in pick and roll scenarios as he does a great job of distributing as well as finding his own shots. The bottom-line is that De Colo is a combo guard who truly is versatile enough to play both positions. Often a ‘combo guard’ will excel in one dimension of the offensive game which is generally scoring but Nando compliments his scoring knack with exceptional passing. Its one thing for me to make these claims, its another to see them for yourself. I present to you via the brilliant YouTube, Nando De Colo doing his thing at Eurobasket 2011 (France picked up a silver medal here) to the tune of some interesting jazz music which is fitting for his game in my opinion.
That video should also bring to light some of the glaring weaknesses that are present in De Colo’s game. The biggest of these is his lack of athleticism and lateral quickness. He is by no means a poor defensive player but at the same time it is one thing to defend European guards but whether or not this translates to the next level and the extremely athletic NBA guards such as a Russell Westbrook or a Derrick Rose is another question. De colo’s lack of lateral quickness means he may have issues staying in front of ball-handlers at times but only time will tell if this is the case as we have seen other ‘slower’ European guards get by defensively in the past. Another concern that comes about as De Colo moves to the NBA is the way in which he plays very much below the rim. This could result in trouble shooting and finishing inside over much bigger and more athletic shot blockers such as a Serge Ibaka or Dwight Howard. One again though, we have seen another Frenchman in Tony Parker effectively score on a regular basis in the tall timber so we can only speculate at this point whether or not these limitations will have a glaring impact on De Colo’s NBA career.
There is a great deal of optimism within the Spurs about Nando De Colo stepping into a Ginobli-like role for the team coming off the bench and he has all the potential to do so, but like many of the European prospects it is hit and miss. Some guys who appear to be certain stars falter and the step up in competition is all too much for them. As a Spurs fan I hope that De Colo can stick and carve out a niche for himself in the years to come with the end result being Ginobli 2.0 for the Spurs as the ‘Big 3′ start to pass the torch on to the next generation.