The 30th pick isn't supposed to mean much to an NBA franchise. But this is San Antonio, and San Antonio is almost never in the lottery and they haven't shown to be big players in the free agent market. Drafting well late in the draft matters to the Spurs, and they do it well. What's more, two basketball legends, Manu and Timmay, are likely heading into the final season of their Hall-of-Fame careers. So drafting smart now can really help the Spurs avoid struggling in mediocrity in the years to come. Can they put together a roster that gives Tony and Kawhi absolutely no reason to think about taking their considerable talents elsewhere? To top it all off, the 2014 draft pool was a deep one, and many teams were more confident than usual that there were rotation players, even impact starters, to be had even in the second round.
Kyle Anderson wasn't on my Spurs draft board. Because of the hype surrounding the rising point forward, I thought he might go earlier, perhaps to Toronto or Chicago. But he also wasn't the kind of player I thought the Spurs should draft. We need big men, to help mitigate the loss of Duncan on the defensive end. We could also use a guard who can shoot, slash, defend, and handle, to fill the void left by Ginobili. Green can do some of the things that Manu can do, Marco can do many of the rest, but neither is a terrific solution.
I knew Jusuf Nurkic, Adreian Payne, and Clint Capella would all be gone before the last pick of the first round. And I am confident that forwards Davis Bertans and Livio Jean-Charles have the talent to find their way into the Spurs rotation in the near future, and that at least one of them can back up the small forward position, so I personally wasn't rooting for Cleanthony Early to get the nod at 30. Nonetheless, the guy I wanted is listed as a small forward. I had Damian Inglis at the top of my realistic Spurs' big board. What I love about Inglis is his defensive ability, and his upside. The 19 year old is taller than Kawhi and just as long. He has the ability to hit the three, he has pretty good handles, and he looks to pass. Sign me up. He's also both South American and French, and he looks up to his paisan, Livio Jean-Charles. Drafted by another team, I'm not sure he reaches his potential. But under Spurs development, I think he could have been special. If he is destined to only play the three, we might have a player that could- if nothing else- fetch a future first rounder a few years from now, maybe netting us a big man. But with his handle, I liked Inglis as a two guard, recalling Stephen Jackson in Golden State, and playing next to Gerald Wallace and taking Charlotte into the playoffs. Who knows, maybe Inglis could even learn a little from George Gervin about how to finish in the paint just as easy as can be. Tracey McGrady? Okay, slow down, that's too much. But his length is easy to get excited about.
The next guy on my Spurs board was Spencer Dinwiddie. Bet on this: Nick Stauskus will continue to improve, and start reminding a whole lot of people of Manu Ginobili in the coming years. But Dinwiddie is the only other guy in this draft that has the ability, swagger, and intelligence to do some of the same things. Don't get too excited, Pounders, I'm certainly not calling Dinwiddie the next Ginobili, but I do like his game as a long combo guard. He was a distant number two on my board. Nobody knows how Dinwiddie will come back from his torn ACL, so I wasn't that confident about drafting him. I wanted to like CJ Wilcox, he's a breathtaking scorer, but the excitement ends there, and I start thinking about just trading the pick for a future first. Inglis was my guy. I didn't know about his broken foot, no one did. And I love two-way players.
Kyle Anderson is not a two-way player. But the more I learn about him, the more I like him. Like the Spurs, he's easy to root for. Love his attitude and his confidence. Love his court vision. Love his improved jumpshot and that high release. Love his craftiness. Absolutely love that, on top of everything else, he is a terrific defensive rebounder. I am hoping he gets into excellent physical shape, adding strength. I'd like to think he can add just a little bit of speed. I don't care about forward speed, if it is at all possible that he can improve his sliding speed. Can any readers speak to the possibility of training his body under Chad Forcier and gaining lateral quickness? I'm holding out hope.
The one area were adding speed would make the biggest difference is to the release on his jumpshot. But regardless, I have no doubt that Kyle Anderson can be an impact player on the offensive end. I am certain he could make it as a point guard, and I am even more sure that he can learn to adapt to the Spurs' beautiful motion offense as a complimentary facilitator. Whether or not he is a primary ball-handler, he can make plays. Sure, if he's the main guy initiating the offense, then he's the point guard. For me, though, his position is ultimately defined by who he guards on defense, because that will help determine who the coach puts out on the court next to him. Or we could look at it another way: who the coach plays next to Kyle will help determine who he guards on defense.
Boris Diaw has proven to be a terrifically effective power forward because he can do a little bit of everything, including play pretty damn good defense. Right now, it's hard to imagine that Anderson could be that kind of defensive player. If guarding the opposing four is Anderson's best chance to escape embarrassment on that end, does that mean he's a power forward?
The point is this: put Anderson out there with good defenders, and it doesn't matter what position he plays. Think about something like this as a hypothetical five-man unit, four years from now, when Anderson is 24 and Sugar K is 27...
CoJo - Green - Leonard - Anderson - Bigmanovic.
Joseph and Green guard the guards, Leonard takes on the likes of Paul George, Durant, and Wiggins, while our big guy is trying to do some Tim Duncan things in the paint. Anderson just takes on the weakest link, and ends possessions by grabbing the rebound and outletting to Leonard for the easy slam-- no wait, that just became another Danny Green three. Nice.
That might not be too bad, what with Joseph having improved so much after helping the rising young Canadian team make a good showing in the Olympics in 2016, and then take a medal in the World Basketball Championships two years later. But if Corey is on the court for his defense, do you want him or Anderson initiating the offense? You could have a two-point attack, of course. But I think you'll agree that our hypothetical team can do better.
Avery Bradley - Terrence Ross - Kawhi - Anderson - Bigmanovic
Aka: Anderson - Bradley - Ross - Kawhi - Bigmanovic
I'm being creative here, in imagining that Ross becomes a player who can get to the basket and finish with ease, drain threes, and defend as good as Jimmy Butler. Basically, I'm asking you to imagine a wing (whatever the name on the back of his jersey) who can do a lot of the same things that Lance Stephenson can do, without needing the ball in his hands, and without the cookoo birds nesting in his dome. In this unit, Anderson is clearly the man running the offense, and all three of our smalls (whatever their names) are stoppers, and the Spurs again try to hide Anderson on D. But since Anderson is now a true mismatch on the offensive end, as a 6'9" Andre Miller, can't we do even better than that?
Anderson - Ross - Leonard - Jean-Charles - Bigmanovic
Aren't we luckly to have Leonard and Bigmanovic in the silver and black? How do we get these guys? Anyway, here again we (hypothetically) have several stoppers on the floor. Here, Anderson is surrounded by two-way players. The idea, again, being that our SG (whatever his name is) can defend both guard positions equally well. Jean-Charles can defend either forward position. Leonard has so much help it's just silly. What's the opposition to do? Now they really have to think about how to hide their PG on defense, or if they can even play him at all against this defense of ours.
To round out the picture, let's go ahead and imagine that all our guys can shoot. Leonard, Anderson, our SG, LJC, even our new-school rim-protecting big man. Being a marginal defensive talent himself, Anderson's best chance for success is in being surrounded by multiple versatile defenders who can also compliment each other on offense. It's hard for me to get too excited about Tony Allen types anymore. I need Bruce Bowen at the very least. Of course, every player's best chance for success is in playing with two-way players, but it becomes crucial for one-way players.
So what I am saying is that there is a chance for Kyle Anderson to be a great player for San Antonio on a very dangerous team. But I think the way to make the most of his talents is to trot out huge lineups, with no need for the kinds of little guards that struggle on defense just as much as Anderson does. And also without the necessity of playing Anderson against units that have a forward who is not a threat to score. Give me two big guards, and I am pretty sure the Spurs can live with Anderson no matter what his limitations. Or even better: give me one big slashing guard, and two even bigger wings. If Oladipo dials in his jump shot, he'd be a perfect "backcourt" partner for Anderson. Orlando is gonna be hurting for offensive players, and when they finally find one, there's a good chance the Oladipo - Elfrid Payton backcourt has to give way in order to pay everyone their due (which is why I would have drafted Dante Exum - Adreian Payne myself, and be done with the rebuild). There's also this kid from Houston, who is going to Duke next year, that I've seen play, and I really like. Great kid. His name is Justice Winslow, keep an eye on him. Two-way player. Really good.
I know it sounds like I have my head in the clouds here: "All we need are home run lottery picks, and we'll be in great shape. Let's just pluck the guys we need away from other teams." Okay, sure, that's the way to win with Kyle Anderson? Well, duh. But what I am also suggesting is that the way to win with Anderson is to flesh out the roster without much in the way of point guard depth. I don't believe that Anderson has to run the offense in San Antonio, especially in a modern European-style offensive system. But my point is that whether he does or not, I don't think the Spurs need to pair him up with traditional point guards. There's always room for a scorer like Patty Mills, much more a guy like Tony Parker. But if your playing a guy like Anderson serious minutes, you don't additionally need three other point guards on your roster (like the Spurs have now, and most teams try to have at all times). Not only would you not need them, you could likely be better off without them.
So here I am, still looking for two-way players. And now more than ever, now that the 2014 draft has come and gone. Heck, maybe there's a chance that Damian Inglis develops adequately in Milwaukee, and his foot mends perfectly, but he needs a bigger role than the Bucks can give him with their need for genuine guard play next to Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker. But the most important need, and the hardest to fill, is a solid defensive big man, with a good enough offensive game. I don't buy for a minute that the center position is becoming obsolete. It's the classic power forward that is becoming obsolete. Yes, the offensive, low-post big man is gravy at best, but the defensive center is still a must have for 49 contenders out of 50. Any Spurs team without that is gonna face longer odds than we are accustomed to. I'll miss Timothy Theodore Duncan when he's gone.
Re-reading that last paragraph, I feel I have to repeat that I am excited and intrigued by the Kyle Anderson draft pick. It's not what I felt we needed to do, but I get it. Especially with Manu taking his passing with him when he retires next year, and with Boris Diaw not getting any younger. As many have said, it was a very Spurs-y pick. Anderson's got that old man game, and something like a team-oriented European game. And despite what I've written here, I don't want to pronounce judgment on his defense just yet. And I am certain he will improve in many areas, thanks to hard work and good coaching. I'm also drinking the Kool-Aid. I think Kyle Anderson is talented enough to stick, and perhaps to be one of our big-game closers someday, whether he's a starter or not. I believed in Tiago Splitter (even though I wondered why nobody seemed to want Marc Gasol), I believed in James Anderson, I believed in Ian Mahinmi and Luis Scola, I believe in Livio Jean-Charles, and Davis Bertans. I admit I am sucker for the sense of possibility that the draft brings, and I don't always get it right. But dammit, I believe in Kyle Anderson. Still, even the great Tim Duncan needed the right kind of help.