Even conference champions need Summer League.
Coming off an NBA Finals appearance, the Spurs obviously didn't play any of their big-minute players, but used their slate of Summer League games to come away with a better idea of which players could stick on the roster for 2013-14 and beyond.
The Spurs fared well in Vegas, finishing with a 3-2 record. This record was impressive, considering they did not play any blue-chip prospect or any high draft picks.
Let's look at the five most important takeaways from the Spurs' Summer League season.
Aron Baynes (in black) played Dwight Howard tough in the 2013 NBA Playoffs.
Aron Baynes looks the part of a NBA big man.
At 6'10" and 260 pounds, Baynes has broad shoulders and a muscular frame. He runs the floor well and has good explosiveness for his size.
Unfortunately, he hasn't gotten much chance to show it in an NBA game.
Baynes played in just 16 games last regular season, and managed only 141 minutes in total. However, he flashed some nice potential in the first round of the playoffs against the Lakers, especially on the defensive end against Dwight Howard.
The Vegas Summer League provided Baynes with a great platform to show off his ability in front of the Spurs' organization, and Baynes took advantage.
In just 26.3 minutes per game, Baynes averaged a double-double of 12.0 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.
While the defending Western Conference champions' depth of big men is strong for 2013-2014, look for Baynes to carve out 10 to 15 minutes per game for himself off the bench with his physical play.
Even if Thomas doesn't make the Spurs' roster, he figures to get a lot of playing time in the D-League.
Deshaun Thomas can score.
Every team in the NBA knew that before they passed on Thomas in last month's draft, but they questioned other aspects of his game. Can he defend? Can he rebound? Or basically, is he athletic enough to do anything besides make open shots?
In the five Summer League games, Thomas showed that he can do more than make open shots against NBA defenders. Many times throughout the 10-day competition, Thomas displayed an ability to make shots despite a good contest from his defender. He also was able to sense when his defender wanted to block his shot, and used a pump fake to get past him.
Thomas also pulled in five rebounds per game during Summer League, so he shouldn't be completely overmatched on the boards against real NBA competition.
"I know what's at stake and what I have to do. I have to come out and play hard, play with great energy. ... My goal is to go out there and be coachable and listen and play my game."
The chances are slim for Thomas to grab the last roster spot, especially since the Spurs often keep it open for a midseason addition. But he did show that he is good enough to contribute at the NBA level.
Gary Neal can thank the Vegas Summer League for his shot in the NBA.
Three years ago, Gary Neal came from out of nowhere to score 16 points per game on 50 percent shooting from both the field and the three-point line in just 25.8 minutes per game. For more information on Neal's performance that year, look at this article from Neal's alma mater, Towson University.
Despite his undrafted status, Neal was the main catalyst behind the Spurs' 5-0 record, and the Spurs promptly signed him. He then went on to make the All-Rookie First Team.
Unfortunately, the Spurs didn't get any Neal-like performances from their unheralded players this year.
The Spurs' top five scorers in Summer League (Deshaun Thomas, Aron Baynes, Nando De Colo, Marcus Denmon and Cory Joseph) are all former draft picks of the Spurs and/or players who have suited up in a regular-season game for the Spurs before.
The closest thing to Neal was the play of Hollis Thompson, an undrafted forward out of Georgetown from the 2012 class.
A D-Leaguer from last season, Thompson didn't show enough promise to warrant a spot on the Spurs for 2013-2014. He had one good game to end the five-game slate, scoring 21 points on 12 shots, but he didn't crack double digits in scoring in any of the other games.
Nando De Colo may be coachable and skilled, but he's no Manu Ginobili.
During the 2012 preseason, thanks to the Spurs Nation blog, word got out about coach Gregg Popovich's nickname for then-rookie Nando De Colo: Mini-Manu.
Really, Gregg? Mini-Manu?
Don't get me wrong here. Nando De Colo has the potential to be a fine role player in this league. But Mini-Manu implies that De Colo somewhat approaches the style of play and skill that Ginobili brings to the table, which is absurd.
De Colo only confirmed this sentiment with his lackluster play in Vegas. His averages of 11.3 points and 4.0 assists per game are nothing to sneeze at, but the 26-year-old combo guard also shot just 34 percent from the field, committed 3.3 turnovers per game and fouled 4.3 times per game. He looked like he blended in just fine with the rest of the competition, which is not a good thing.
It's hard to imagine a 26-year-old Manu Ginobili looking that ordinary against fringe NBA players and other undeveloped talents, had there been a Summer League back then. Ginobili's relentless attack mentality and tough on-ball defense would've been difficult for the young players to handle.
Remember, at that age, Ginobili was busy placing third in the Sixth Man of the Year voting (per NBA.com) and establishing himself as a top young talent in the game.
Both De Colo and Ginobili are crafty playmakers who were drafted late in the second round, only to play a few years in Europe before coming to the Spurs.
But that's where the similarities stop, so let's stop comparing them.
Very few Spurs fans knew who Ryan Richards was when the Spurs drafted the British big man in the second round of the 2010 NBA Draft.
But after Spurs fans saw the then 19-year-old's Youtube highlights, they had reason to be excited.
Richards remained overseas for two years, then came over for the Spurs' 2012 Summer League, only to disappoint Spurs fans who had waited so long to see him play. Richards averaged just 3.3 points and 2.8 rebounds on 35.7 percent shooting.
This year looked like another uneventful stint for Richards, who barely got off the bench. That is, until the Spurs' final game of Summer League against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Richards put on a show, scoring 18 points in just 16 minutes in a 90-80 win. His highlights are posted on YouTube here.
While his defensive game still needs some refinement, Richards knows how to score from anywhere on the court. Whether it's post moves that end in layups, turnaround jumpers and even three-pointers, he can do it all.
He isn't quite ready for the NBA yet, but the Project Spurs blog suspects that the Spurs are still keeping their eye on him for the future.
And at just 22, he's got a lot of future ahead of him.