<
>

'He can play': Spurs assistant Matt Nielsen full of praise for NBA version of Jock Landale

play
Jock Landale gathers the rock and drains and-1 (0:21)

Jock Landale hauls in the rock and knocks down the and-1 over Jimmy Butler for the Spurs. (0:21)

San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Matt Nielsen witnessed first-hand the impact Australian big man Jock Landale was able to make in his rookie season in the NBA.

Working closely with the big man at the Tokyo Olympics and throughout the 2021-22 season, former Boomer Nielsen praised Landale's ability to withstand a rollercoaster ride of minutes in a deep frontcourt rotation.

"My history with Jock was only about six or seven weeks before he got to the Spurs. I only got to know him just before the Olympics. It was a learn-on-the-go with Jock and myself," Nielsen told ESPN's The Jump.

"Talking about the Spurs season, I think he did a fantastic job. Obviously, his role and position on the team, he just had to be ready when his number was called, and I think he showed that in bunches. To his credit, he learned how to navigate that and when he was called, he nailed it. That just shows he can play in the NBA and moving forward hopefully that will work out for him."

Landale appeared in 54 games in his first NBA season, highlighted by a 26-point performance against the Indiana Pacers in March.

With a non-guaranteed deal for the 2022-23 season, Nielsen believes he has proved he belongs at the NBA level.

"That's way above my pay grade. Can it happen? Of course, and I hope it does," Nielsen said of Landale returning to San Antonio.

"He's well aware of that side of it. He won a lot of people over along the way, but I wouldn't be surprised if he has quite a few options moving forward. If it's with us next year that would be fantastic."

Back in Australia for the offseason, Nielsen, a two-time NBL Champion, has been impressed by the rising standard of play in the NBL, believing many players capable of making a similar leap to Landale in years to come.

"I came back to the NBL after 2014-15 and if I'm being honest, the talent wasn't probably up to scratch as much as it is now. Even watching the depth of the teams, the legitimacy of players being able to play a role in the NBA is so much higher than it was six, seven, eight years ago so it's pretty exciting. Watching Melbourne, they've got players all over the place that could legitimately hold their own I would think," Nielsen said.

Nielsen's coaching pedigree is growing in NBA circles, with the 44-year-old holding a variety of roles within the Spurs organisation, from the video room, player development, G League head coach and now on the bench under Gregg Popovich.

"I've been lucky to be with the Spurs for a while and to have Popovich around was always an amazing experience but to watch him on a day-to-day and see the way he does things is a very fortunate experience for myself.

"I loved it and benefit from it, but you also see how much the young guys on our team are really getting such an advantage at the beginning of his career."

The future of Popovich is unknown for next season, with the legendary coach yet to decide on continuing his tenure that began in 1996 and has included five championships. Nielsen hopes the opportunity to learn under the winningest coach in league history continues despite harbouring future ambitions of potentially manning the sidelines for his own squad.

"When I first came over here, I wanted to get involved with the club. I'd worked with them in the video room in 2014-15. Now that I have a taste of the head coaching in the G League and in the NBA it's no doubt it's something I'm aiming for in the future but timing wise I'm more than happy with where I am. It's such a different game and I'm learning on the run as I'm doing it.

"I am more than happy to continue to be an assistant coach under Gregg Popovich and I hope 100% that's what the plan is for next year."

Watch the Jump on ESPN with Andrew Gaze, Lanard Copeland, Nat Edwards and Kane Pitman every Friday night from 6.30pm.