Fratello’s Fantasy Pick: Gary Neal

The San Antonio Spurs, with longtime coach Gregg Popovich at the healm, have compiled a league-best record of 37-7. They currently sit 5.5 games ahead of the 2X NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference’s king-of-the-hill battle for top seed.  In addition, they lead the beat-up Mavericks and dangerous Hornets in the Southwest division by 8.5 games.

First-year NBA player Gary Neal has played in all of these 44 contests and made key contributions.  As a true combo-guard, the 6’4 Neal has scored 8.7 ppg and averaged almost 20 minutes coming off the Spurs’ bench.  In six of the last ten San Antonio games, Neal has scored in double digits.

Neal is a seasoned international player. After going undrafted out of Towson University in 2007, he went to Turkey and led the Turkish Pro league in scoring. He then went on to the Spanish and Italian professional leagues before the Spurs signed him to a three-year deal this off-season.

Neal’s minutes per game have been climbing: He averaged 15.5 mpg In November, 21.5 mpg in December, and so far in January he’s playing 23 minutes a night. He’s gone over the 20 point mark three times and been a contributor on the glass with 2.6 rpg.

This Baltimore baller, only 26 yrs old, has fit right in with one of the most successful NBA franchises of the past 15 years. Neal’s overseas basketball experience has prepared him for the nightly high expectations of a juggernaut like San Antonio, with many established veterans as well as teammates fairly new to the rigors of an NBA season on a top ballclub.

Look for him to only get better and log even more minutes as coach Popovich tries to give his starters some rest in the second half of the season so that they’ll be fresh for the long playoff drive.

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