What should the Spurs look for in the draft?

Elsa

So many people focus on "who" the Spurs should draft, but lets take a step back and evaluate the "what" that comes before the "who".

What kind of player, exactly, do the Spurs need in the draft? Ignore positions, ignore prospects you secretly (or not so secretly) hope for. Take all of that out of the equation, and instead focus on skills. For example: rim protection, size and athleticism, jump shooting, rebounding, playmaking, etc. There are more, and "size" isn't what most people would consider a skill but it is certainly considered one in the NBA. I've noticed over the past couple weeks a couple different trains of thought that I'd like to address and give a more relevant thread to discuss the topic on.

The first line of thought insists that the Spurs need another wing that can create off the dribble and shoot from the outside. Essentially, we need to find someone who can begin to ease the burden and/or "replace" Manu Ginobili. There are a number of prospects who fit the bill, but for this exercise, that's not important. Basically, those who follow this line of thought think that Manu is declining (he is) and that he would be most effective in a slightly more limited role where he doesn't have to make all the plays himself. He was pretty limited against the Heat as the only starting caliber player in the second unit, and was significantly more effective playing with Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Kawhi Leonard, because the defense couldn't just focus on him. This is a line of thought that makes sense, and is usually pretty persuasive, but I'm not convinced yet that the player we're looking for isn't already on the roster. Nando de Colo has shown flashes of creativity, and with a full year in the system could be significantly more effective next season. Cory Joseph also showed pretty substantial improvement, and may be a good option going forward. I would argue, though, that the best thing we could do for Manu in the second unit is continue to call plays, instead of him running the high pick and roll all the time. Manu has made a living freewheeling outside of the system, and for a long time it's been one of the things that put the Spurs over the top. But at this point, Manu needs to change his starting point: instead of beginning outside the system running a pick and roll, start out in the play, with the defense already shifting, and freelance from there. The Spurs offense is arguably the best motion offense in the game. Take better advantage of it, Manu.

The second line of thought suggests that the Spurs need to add a rangy, athletic combo forward to continue to battle Lebron James and Kevin Durant, who are respectively the two biggest obstacles the Spurs have to getting their fifth title. This is another pretty persuasive argument, because it would allow the Spurs to have another small ball option, drastically improve their defense by allowing switches on any pick and roll, and potentially make the offense more versatile by adding another guy who can run the floor, crash the boards, and hopefully shoot from the outside. If the Spurs keep most of the roster as is, though, how does this type of player get the minutes he would need to both develop his own skills but also quickly learn how to fit into the system? I just don't see a rookie coming in and getting the necessary development behind Kawhi Leonard to make this type of draft pick that beneficial immediately. Obviously, Kawhi is pretty versatile, and could probably play full time at SG if need be, so if there's a trade that involves Danny Green my mind could be changed, but I just don't see that happening.

The third line of thought is that the Spurs need to draft another big body, preferably one with the ability to block shots and protect the rim.This player would presumably back up either Splitter or Duncan, replacing the spot minutes that Dejuan Blair and Matt Bonner received in the rotation. Frankly, considering the uncertainty of the Tiago Splitter free agency, of the three arguments I generally find this one the most persuasive. That said, this "need" is relatively well mitigated because the Spurs already have an athletic, physical big man on the bench in Aron Baynes. Not everyone has the amount of faith in him that I do, but I found his play really impressive given that he didn't have much time to adjust to either the NBA or the Spurs. If he can stay out of foul trouble next year, I think he becomes on of the best all-around frontcourt partners that Tim has had in a long, long time.

Keeping in mind everything I just said, the argument I ultimately side with is both unpopular (particularly so in the incredibly boring offseason before college football comes and distracts us all) and one we haven't discussed yet. The Spurs don't need any of the above. We were 25 seconds away from winning the title in six games, without home court advantage, after turning in absolutely awful performances in two of the first four games. And you don't make major changes after a season that featured that much success. Every year, we say "our margin of error is incredibly small", and while that's true, we basically gave Miami two full games before choking away the championship in game six. That's a surprisingly huge margin for error. Next year, I've got no doubt the margin will be a little smaller, but keep in mind that as much as Manu and Tim are in decline, many of our other players, particularly Leonard, Green, and our rotating cast of backup point guards, are still improving. That's why I think the Spurs are most likely going to draft a player who may not be immediately ready for the NBA, or at least ready for regular rotation minutes. I think it's most likely that the Spurs "need" they try to address is a long term big man that fits in a Spurs era that will feature Tony Parker and increasingly relies on Kawhi Leonard. If they can come in now and play 10 minutes, that's fine, but I don't expect it to happen.

And after the positive results of rather minimalist roster tinkering the past two seasons, I'm perfectly OK with that. Even though it's boring, you should be, too.

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