The Spurs selected Kyle Anderson from UCLA with the 30th pick. Teams that are picking that late in the draft, have a pretty full roster and are thinking about contending usually go the draft-and-stash route to avoid adding salary and using a roster spot on an unproven player. The Spurs have done that numerous times in the past. So the selection of an American player that will likely want to play in the NBA right away was a bit surprising. But there seems to be a lot to like about Anderson.
The consensus from the experts seems to be that he is a very unique prospect. At 6'8", he is a true point forward. He was UCLA's primary playmaker and averaged 6.5 assists in a little over 33 minutes per game. Unlike a lot of big players with a guard's game, Anderson also excelled on the boards, pulling down 8.8 rebounds per game. He was tasked with creating for himself and did a fantastic job of remaining efficient, with solid percentages from the floor and from three point range. Statistical models ranked him highly and his game is pretty to look at. On paper, the guy was a steal at 30th. So why was he still available at the end of the first round?
Anderson's Twitter handle is "SloMo" and it's appropriate, as he seemed to be moving at his own speed at the college level and has an extremely slow release on his shot. He mentioned at the draft combine that he's most comfortable playing point guard but at his height and with his lack of foot speed that's out of the question at the NBA level. The downside to the tremendous success he had creating at the college level is that he is used to having the ball in his hands a lot despite dealing with turnover issues. There are just so many questions about how his game will translate to the pros.
Where does a un-athletic 6'8" player that considers himself a creator above all and has always played in the perimeter fit on an NBA team? Can he effectively defend small forwards and make his mark as a secondary creator and spot-up shooter? Or should he bulk up and move to the power forward spot, where his lack of speed won't be exposed and his perimeter-oriented game can still create mismatches? Positions don't truly matter on offense but he has to guard someone and he won't have the aid of a zone defense.
The Boris Diaw comparisons are obvious and will be plentiful. But Diaw was quite athletic when he was young and even to this day he is deceptively quick. His basketball IQ is as high on the defensive end as it is on offense. And it still took him two years to find his place in the league. The reason why guys like Diaw are unique is not just because 6'8" forwards who like to pass are rare; it's because a lot of other ingredients are required for ground-bound, positionless players to be successful. And my first impression is Anderson might not have them yet.
The Spurs are surely hoping they can help him get there, and the good news is they're in no rush. The chances of getting a rotation player that low in the draft were slim. San Antonio will have four returning wings, so minutes behind Kawhi Leonard are not going to be as plentiful as some think. Anderson will probably get the Cory Joseph treatment and spend most of his first year with the Toros. The Spurs still draft-and-stash late first rounders; they just keep them in Austin instead of Europe. And the D-League could be a fantastic place for Anderson to get used to playing against better athletes and to find out what role he is better suited to fill at the next level.
More often than not, only players with superior athleticism are considered to be high upside guys. I would argue that multi-talented prospects like Anderson, even without those elite physical tools, are equally potential-laden. He doesn't need to learn the fundamentals like low BBIQ athletes; he simply needs to figure out how to pick his spots better and hide his weaknesses. No other team in the league emphasizes those two principles more than the Spurs, so if there is a quality NBA player to be unearthed inside this versatile college forward, I'm confident he will emerge.
The Spurs traded the 58th and 60th pick for the 54th and selected Serbian shooting guard Nemanja Dangubic. Now that's a typical Spurs pick.
The 21 year-old Dangubic is 6'8" and was named the MVP of the Adidas Eurocamp. He's also rail thin, has a mediocre wingspan and can't really shoot. Dangubic is great value that low in the draft, as he is a reliable three pointer away from possibly being an energy role player off the bench. But it's hard to imagine him making the jump anytime soon.
Fortunately, he seems to be in a great position, playing for Serbian team Mega Vizura, where he gets plenty of minutes and shots. His team will not participate in any major European competition but they do play in the Adriatic League, which means he will face quality competition. We'll just have to wait and see if he develops.