With the San Antonio Spurs playing on the road against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night, the AT&T Center played host to the Austin Spurs.
For Austin’s Livio Jean-Charles, it was akin to a homecoming after spending training camp and five preseason games in San Antonio this season before being waived and acquired by Austin in late October.
While the game may have looked like business as usual for most D-League players, playing back in the Spurs’ arena provided a little extra motivation for the French forward.
“Yeah I’m not going to lie, it’s really great to be back here in San Antonio.,” Jean-Charles said. “I was glad to play there so that was extra motivation.”
That motivation was a game-changer for Austin, as Jean-Charles recorded two season bests against the Delaware 87ers, finishing with 16 points, 17 rebounds and an astounding seven blocked shots in the 102-93 win.
After the game, Jean-Charles drew the praises of Austin Spurs head coach Ken McDonald.
“He’s been so good defensively guarding the rim. He blocked seven and he probably changed another seven in that game. Those don’t show up in the stat sheet unfortunately,” McDonald said. “He’s been really locked in. He just played great. We needed every one of those defensive plays to win the game.”
While Jean-Charles is tied to Tony Parker since he played for the Parker-owned ASVEL before coming stateside, his journey so far has taken on a different path. Like Parker, he starred at the Nike Hoop Summit in 2013 and was drafted in the late first round by San Antonio.
But, unlike Parker, who joined the Spurs immediately and was named a starter early into his rookie season, Jean-Charles stayed in France for several years before the Spurs brought him over for Summer League and signed him to a multi-year contract prior to placing him on waivers.
He battled his way through training camp with several players with only minimal roster spots available, and seemed a best fit for Austin, where he could continue to develop while learning the Spurs’ system.
However, life in the D-League isn’t without it’s challenges. Lineups and rosters change on a daily basis, and being the San Antonio affiliate means players like DeJounte Murray, Bryn Forbes and Davis Bertans have had several stints, which means fluctuating playing time, going at times from 12 minutes one game to over 30 the next.
But Jean-Charles has kept plugging along and playing his role.
“I’m trying to stay aggressive, playing with confidence. and adjust to the three second rules,” he said.
Jean-Charles said he is starting to establish chemistry with his frontcourt-mates Charles Garcia and Cory Jefferson.
“It’s not always easy to come on the team and try and work things together,” he said. “I feel like the chemistry is going up and you can definitely see it on the court so I’m glad to have those teammates.”
Jefferson agrees with the sentiment and goes one step further ranking the frontcourt among the D-League’s best.
“Me, Liv, Chuck, we all are playing our game and that just reflects out there and we have great chemistry whenever we’re playing,” Jefferson said. “I believe we’re some of the best bigs collectively in the league.”
Through this season, Jean-Charles is averaging 9.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 24 minutes per game. It’s easy to look at Jean-Charles and want to rush the development process. At 6-9 and 217 pounds, he seems destined for a role as a hybrid forward, who could also possibly guard shooting guards and centers if needed. He has the athleticism and reflexes that scouts fall in love with, but his time in the D-League will be beneficial to his development and will play a key role into getting an opportunity in the NBA.
There are still some raw areas of his game he’ll need to iron out. He can be turnover prone under the basket, is hesitant given space with the ball near the perimeter and most scouts would probably have ‘needs to bulk up’ as the number one item on their lists, especially guarding NBA-level big men.
But Jean-Charles is an ideal situation, playing under a coach known for player development and competing daily with the likes of a D-League All-Star like Jefferson and Garcia.
And even after easily his best game of the season, Jean-Charles is not resting on his laurels, instead preferring to focus on the game and challenges that lie ahead.
“I will say that I’m not feeling (improvement) because you always want to do more, you always want to be aggressive, so I’m trying to not think about what I’ve done.”
For now, Jean-Charles continues to push towards his goals to make the AT&T Center a permanent home. For now, he says he, Patricio Garino and Ryan Arcidiacono will continue “pushing the Spurs spirit in the D-League.”
Jean-Charles and the Austin Spurs will start a five-game road trip today in Canton against the Charge at noon. You can watch the game streaming on Facebook Live.