Over the past few seasons, the Spurs have selected players in the draft that are now playing in various leagues in Europe. The Spurs modus operandi is obvious: they select these fringe prospects or guys that are not ready to make the jump and let them develop overseas. If they find something they like about them, they bring them over. Sometimes it works, like it did with Tiago Splitter, and sometimes it doesn't, as newest Raptor Nando De Colo can attest to. But it's a smart plan.
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The problem for us fans is that after all the excitement on draft day, these guys sort of disappear. Recently in the comments section, someone referred to these guys as part of the witness protection program. Since some of them could help the Spurs in the next couple of years, we decided to refer to these guys as part of the Spurs' Future Protection Program.
So with that in mind, we've decided to bring you periodical updates on the guys on the FPP.
Livio Jean-Charles SF/PF, 6'9", 20 years old
We are starting with the most recent Spurs draftee. Jean-Charles was selected by the Spurs with the 28th pick in the draft after a fantastic showing at the Nike Hoops Summit. The young French man then signed with Asvel and went on to participate in the under 20 FIBA Eurobasket. In four games, Jean-Charles was averaging an impressive 17.3 points and 6.3 rebounds on over 60% shooting but unfortunately suffered a knee injury that sidelined him. He had surgery and was expected to be out six months but it has recently been announced that he will be out all season.
Jean-Charles certainly has the physical tools to be an NBA player and is young enough that the Spurs can afford to wait for him to develop. We'll have to wait another few months before seeing how far along he is.
DeShaun Thomas SF/PF, 6'7", 22 years old
With the 58th pick of the 2013 draft the Spurs selected DeShaun Thomas, who immediately drew attention thanks to his performance in Summer League. He is playing with Nanterre of the French league at the moment.
Nanterre played the Euroleague but was quickly eliminated and had to settle for a spot in the Eurocup, the second tier European competition, where it has done well. In the French league, they are ranked 10th but with a winning record.
Thomas is an important player for his team, averaging 12.5 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 38% from deep in the French league. His numbers were lower in Euroleague play, facing tougher competition, but are closer to his averages in the Eurocup.
It's obvious Thomas can still score and his rebounding has been very solid. Whether it is a problem or a good thing that he is not playing exclusively as a power forward is debatable. It's hard to see Thomas improving enough in terms of defensive fundamentals to overcome his physical limitations as a SF. But if he can continue to hit the three at such a high rate and develops good defensive instincts, he could one day be an NBA stretch four.
Marcus Denmon SG/PG, 6'3", 23 years old
The Spurs selected Marcus Denmon with the 59th pick of the 2012 draft. After a quiet run in Summer League, he signed with Chalon of the French league. After averaging 12.9 points for that team, he had to have surgery to repair a broken ankle. He was signed by Tofas Bursa of the Turkish league this season. The team couldn't qualify for the top 16 in Eurochallenge (third tier competition) and has a losing record in the domestic league.
Denmon has been a potent but extremely inefficient scorer in both competitions but the fact that he has been playing some point guard is encouraging and could help him become a more complete player. It's still really unlikely he becomes an NBA caliber player.
Davis Bertans SF/PF, 6'10", 21 years old
Bertans was selected by the Spurs with the 42nd pick of the 2011 draft, when he was playing for Union Olimpija of the Slovenian league. Bertans had had an impressive international career up until that point with the Latvian youth teams. Serbian team, and Euroleague staple, Partizan Belgrade saw his talent and signed him even after a bad season with Olimpija. He put together a quiet but efficient season in both the Adriatic League and the Euroleague, showing the deft touch from outside (44.6% on threes in the Adriatic league, 47% in Euroleague play) that made him a coveted prospect.
Unfortunately, a knee injury sidelined him on July 2013. He's had surgery and was expected back a couple of months ago but apparently the Spurs intervened to keep him out until March. If Bertans keeps progressing and continues to display that great shooting stroke, he could be a very interesting NBA prospect, provided he either fills up to play as a stretch four or develops good defensive instincts to use his length to make up for his lack of foot speed in the perimeter. The fact that he has spent most of his playing career in two very good institutions and that he is still just 21 years old bodes well for his future as future NBA player.
Adam Hanga SF/SG, 6'7", 24 years old
After being selected with the 59th pick on the 2011 draft, Hanga made the jump from the Hungarian league to the much more competitive Spanish league. He played a couple of seasons for Manresa before making the jump to Laboral Kutxa, where he is teammates with Andres Nocioni, Lamar Odom and Spanish national team member Fernando San Emeterio. All that competition at the forward spots has relegated Hanga to a bench role, in which he is settling in nicely.
Hanga averages 4.6 points, 2.2 rebounds and one assist on nearly 15 minutes a game off the bench for a Euroleague final 16 team that has had success developing players for the NBA, with Nocioni, Splitter and Scola among their former stars. And his numbers improve in the Spanish league. Hanga seems to be the most NBA-ready of all the stashed prospects, so it wouldn't surprise me to see him make the jump soon. There will be more on him coming in the next few days.
Ryan Richards PF/C, 7'0", 22 years old
Richards, who was selected with the 49th pick of the 2010 draft by the Spurs, is equal parts intriguing and seemingly mercurial. The 22 year old has played for four teams in his young career, including a stint in Dubai. This is a guy that at one point drew interest from European powerhouse Real Madrid but is now playing for one of the worse teams in the Greek basketball league, facing relegation. He also renounced the Great Britain national team to play for Jamaica, despite potentially being ineligible.
Richards is getting very good numbers in the Greek league, averaging 10.6 points and 5.2 rebounds. His shooting numbers are far from stellar but his 36.7% from beyond the arc shows some promise. Richards still has the physical tools to be a good NBA big and if he can add a consistent three point shot and sharpen his rebounding instincts, he could definitely make the jump at one point. He is still 22 years old, which obviously helps. The questions surrounding him have more to do with his maturity. A fringe NBA player, and that's all Richards seems to be at this point, can't afford to have red flags in that department.
So that's what's going on with the Spurs' stashed players, Pounders. While our priority will continue to be covering the current season, you can expect to have updates on these guys as well.