Popovich sings high praise for rookie Vassell ahead of Thursday game

‘I think he understands the game very well. He thinks ahead,’ Popovich says

FILE - In this Sept. 30, 2019, file photo, San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich talks with the media during NBA basketball media day in San Antonio. Freshmen at the United States Air Force Academy are called doolies, and the experience for those first-year cadets can be extremely difficult. Popovich, class of 1970, hasnt forgotten those days. And for the San Antonio coach, a couple days of lockdown at Walt Disney World brought back the memories of doolie life. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File) (Eric Gay, Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Spurs will wrap up their COVID shortened preseason on Thursday when they face the Houston Rockets again. Fans will see this frequently during the regular season due to the league cutting down on travel amid the pandemic.

The Spurs lost to the Rockets on Tuesday night in Houston 112-98 to go 0-2 in their first two exhibition games.

One highlight of the first two games has been the play of rookie Devin Vassell, who has averaged 11.5 points in his first two games as a professional basketball player and has been a dominant force defensively.

Vassel, the Spurs’ first lottery pick since Tim Duncan in 1997, has already recorded seven steals in a combined 56 minutes on the court with zero turnovers. His play has caught the eye of head coach Gregg Popovich, who has been pretty tough on rookies in the past.

“He really takes pride at playing both ends of the floor,” Popovich said. “I think he understands the game very well. He thinks ahead.”

In the first two games of Vassel’s young career, he had to go up against two of the NBA’s best backcourt players: James Harden and John Wall. Wall was traded by the Washington Wizards to Houston during the offseason for Russell Westbrook.

Vassell said he takes each game one possession at a time.

“At the end of the day, it’s just about playing defense,” Vassell said. “It really doesn’t matter who I’m in front of, who I’m guarding.”

Vassell had four steals against the Rockets and will get his second shot at guarding Harden and Wall when the Spurs tip-off against the Rockets at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Toyota Center.

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About the Author:

Greg Simmons is the sports director and a sports anchor for KSAT 12.