Since the FIBA World Championship doesn't start for a few more weeks and there's no basketball to watch, this might be the perfect time to check in on the Spurs' former draft picks who never joined the team. I'm assuming most of you have at least heard these names before but I included some comparisons and basic info for the people who are unaware of the basics of each player.
6-foot-10 small forward. 21 years old. Strengths: elite shooting, size and length for position. Weaknesses: unproven as a defender, lacks strength. NBA comparison: more athletic Steve Novak. Best case scenario: 6'10" version of Kyle Korver.
Bertans continued his ascent through the European basketball circles despite an injury that sidelined him for a significant part of the season. After coming back, Bertans made enough of an impression to get the attention of Laboral Kutxa Baskonia, a traditional Euroleague team that has produced players like Luis Scola, Andres Nocioni and Tiago Splitter.
The contract has an NBA opt-out clause after every year and he might need to exercise it sooner rather than later. Shooters will always be valued and Bertans is already one of the best in all of international basketball. In three seasons with Partizan and including Euroleague play, Bertans has gone 193 for 436 for a ridiculous 44.2% despite being every bit the volume shooter. Last season he averaged over five three-pointers a game, connecting at a 45% clip. And the reason he still gets to take a lot of threes despite the scouting report on him being out by now is because he is a versatile shooter with a quick release who can fire off the dribble, come off screens and spot up.
The rest of his game isn't quite as developed. He's a solid athlete but is stiff on defense. Partizan played a quirky 1-3-1 zone and he was tasked with defending the rim and closing out on corner shooters, which he did well. But there are still doubts about his ability to defend quicker wings. And despite being a long 6-10, he lacks the bulk to guard traditional power forwards. This year in Spain should provide some answers to the questions surrounding Bertans' ceiling as a player. But he looks like a lock to make the jump at some point.
6'7" small forward. 25 years old. Strengths: slashing, all-around game. Weaknesses: inconsistent jumper, not elite at anything. NBA comparison: Landry Fields. Best case scenario: Corey Brewer.
Hanga is having a rocky summer. The Hungarian wing whom the Spurs selected with the 59th pick of the 2011 draft is rumored to be on the way out of Laboral Kutxa. His agent had to come out and deny a report linking him to Avellino of the Italian league but there are rumblings that Hanga will be loaned to another team this upcoming season after a down year in his debut with the team.
Hanga, who started the season injured, never quite adjusted as expected to a new, smaller role. His shot was off and a smaller usage resulted in a lower assist rate and, strangely, in a higher turnover rate. In the few games I caught, he didn't exactly look over-matched but also didn't stand out. Which is to be expected of a player whose main strength is versatility, after all, but might have not been what the club was hoping for when they signed him.
The reason for the interest in loaning him, though, could simply stem from the circumstances. There's a new coach in tow and it looks like the team is in a transition year. The starting bigs, Andres Nocioni and Tibor Pleiss, have both moved on, along with backup guards Pepe Poeta and David Jelinek. Hanga also plays the same position as Laboral veteran and member of the Spanish national team Fernando San Emeterio. And the team recently signed Bertans and might want to throw him right into the fire.
Whether this boils down to positional overlap or Laboral souring on his potential, Hanga will need to get back to work and prove he can be a viable NBA prospect again.
6'9" power forward. 21 years old. Strengths: mobility, feel for the game. Weaknesses: lacks bulk, underdeveloped perimeter game. NBA comparison: Jonas Jerebko. Best case scenario: Thaddeus Young.
Jean-Charles is a bit of a mystery man, since he missed all of last season with a knee injury. In the two seasons prior to being drafted, he played a bit role for ASVEL and didn't set the world on fire. So why was he drafted in the first round? He exploded into the limelight during the 2013 Nike Hoop Summit.
Here are some of the names from that event: Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Dante Exum, Aaron Gordon, Julius Randle, Dennis Shröeder, Noah Vonleh, Joel Embiid and Sergey Karasev. Jean-Charles led the event in points and rebounds, finishing with 23 points (on 13 shots) and 13 boards. Now, those stats don't tell the whole story but are still fantastic numbers against quality competition. And perhaps more importantly, he definitely looked like he belonged there, among all those other future NBA players.
Obviously, Livio shut down after the summit, not conducting a single workout with teams. The Spurs nabbed him at 28th and he got hurt, so it's impossible to know if that performance was just a beautiful mirage or if he's for real. If he is, the Spurs could have gotten the steal of the draft. Because in that Hoop Summit, Jean-Charles looked like a mobile, fluid athlete with a great feel for the game. He didn't force things and showed great body control and instincts.
The thing to look for in Livio's performance this upcoming season will be his work on the defensive boards and his 3-point shooting. He doesn't really have the bulk to battle for position down low right now with bigger forwards. A stretch-four can get away with that. But he hasn't proved he has a consistent outside shot yet.
Final two notes on Jean Charles: first, he and Bertans practiced with the Summer League team in Vegas. So the Spurs are keeping close tabs on them. And second, since he was a first-round pick, the Spurs could theoretically add him next off-season without having to dip into the mid-level exception or bi-annual exception. First-round picks can be signed using the rookie exception for up to three years after being drafted. Next off-season will be the last the Spurs will be able to do that. So the clock is ticking.
Thomas had a great year in Europe playing in the French league and will now be making the transition to the arguably more competitive Italian league, where he will play for Avellino. The bad news is his team won't play Euroleague, so it will be hard to see how he stacks up against top competition.
At this point, Thomas will have to do something to separate himself from the pack of undersized but talented power forwards that are out there. Improving his 3-point shot further is probably his best bet of ever making it to the NBA.
Ryan Richards returned to Austria, and more specifically to Zepter Vienna, where he won a championship. It's a minor league and he will play the third-tier EuroChallenge instead of Euroleague. But he seems to have a good relationship with the coach and what Richards needs more than anything after bouncing around Europe -- and not showing much improvement -- is some stability.
Hopefully he will discover what his strengths and weaknesses are and works towards maximizing those physical tools.
Denmon hasn't signed with anyone yet, as far as I know. He played last season in Turkey. He didn't show any type of new weapon in Summer League play and might just be destined to a long career as a gunner in Europe. But Gary Neal is living proof that in the right situation, an undersized shooter can thrive and get the attention of an NBA team.
At 24 and with no position to guard, Denmon is facing an uphill battle to ever make it to the league. But he will have to keep climbing, one jump shot at the time.