While Bryce Cotton, Orlando Johnson and Walter Tavares, among others, have been in and out of the D-League throughout the season due to call-ups from the NBA, there has been one steadying presence throughout the course of 2016: forward Deshaun Thomas.
Thomas, who had been a second-round pick of San Antonio back in 2013, is known by most from his days at Ohio State. During his years with the Buckeyes, he was formed a strong one-two punch with Boston Celtics big man Jared Sullinger, and then was the focal point of the offense when the team won the Big 10 Championship and advanced to the Elite Eight. Despite his strong play in college, he was often seen as a streaky shooter and seemed to rely on physically overpowering smaller defenders, a trait that would not be likely to carry over to the professional level.
He spent the last two years playing in France and in Spain and throughout those years he worked to develop his all-around game, as defensive issues also were a hinderance coming out of college, and also to find some consistency with his jump shot.
Through the 2015 portion of this season, he had showcased a bit more polish than his days at Ohio State, but there was still a lingering sense of inconsistency in his offensive game. Ever since the calendars turned over to 2016, however, Thomas has been a force to be reckoned with on the offensive end.
His improved efficiency is largely due to an uptick in his jump shooting numbers, of which he's currently hitting at a more than respectable 44% rate; a number comparable to Kevin Durant's 44.6% mark with the Oklahoma City Thunder this season.
In addition to his offense, he's also shown a bit more willingness to go after rebounds, another problem that plagued him on scouting reports after his junior season at Ohio State. Following Austin's addition of Brandon Fields from the Idaho Stampede, the team has moved towards a full-on small-ball lineup, with the 6'7 Thomas being asked to play the power forward spot.
Both he and Cady Lalanne have teamed up to clear the defensive boards with regularity and they have gone a long way in preventing opponents from scoring dreaded second-chance points. This opportunity to play the four has not only allowed him to prove that he can be a capable rebounder, but it's also shown that he can defend in the post if he's called upon.
Even with all of these improvements across the board though, the skill that stands out most is in the context of how he played in college, as well as in importance to the Spurs as they're currently constructed is his jumper.
This consistent jump shot, something that had long been missing from his game, has helped the Spurs continue to win despite their roster that has seen a number of talented players get called up to the NBA. Currently sitting atop the D-League's Southwest Division, it's going to take this version of Thomas for the team to be able to make noise once the playoffs roll around next month.