While Spurs fans have been mourning the defeat of the Spurs in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs to the Los Angeles Clippers, PATFO has been hard at work preparing for the NBA Draft. Of course, since the Spurs are a well run organization, there is almost no usable information directly from the Spurs organization. In other words, the fans are left in suspense for the 2015 NBA Draft, and this is a good thing. This Draft Prospectus is thus pure and rampant speculation to feed the curiosity of Spurs fans as we wait for the actual draft to occur.
Brief Current Roster Analysis
The list of free agents can be found here. With the large number of free agents on the roster, nobody really knows who will come back, nor where the holes are to be filled prior to the draft. The large number of free agents is of course no accident. This is basically the end of the San Antonio Spurs built around Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. All three may well be around next year, but the roster going forward is likely to be built around Kawhi Leonard at SF.
Players under contract for next year: Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw, Patty Mills, Tony Parker, Kyle Anderson.
Restricted Free Agents: Kawhi Leonard, Cory Joseph, Aron Baynes.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Danny Green, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Marco Belinelli, Matt Bonner, Jeff Ayers.
The Last Roster Spot: Reggie Williams.
A back-up (or potential replacement for Danny Green should he leave the Spurs in free agency) would have to be high on the list. Two-way SGs with size are rare commodities, and require significant effort to develop. Danny Green is just the latest example.
Tim Duncan may return for another year, and he is still an elite big man even if his role is reduced relative to the past. Tim has expressed at least a passing interest in some area of coaching in the past, and a role for developing big men might allow him to stay in San Antonio full time as opposed to traveling with the team. This is somewhat of a modified Hakeem Olajuwon approach. Thus, drafting (or trading for) a developmental big man to be a "Tim Duncan Experimental Project" would not be a terrible concept.
Signing a high profile big man free agent, such as LaMarcus Aldridge or Marc Gasol, while highly titillating, does not really seem to be compatible with the Spurs current salary cap situation. It could be that a short-term contract to bridge time until the expected dramatic increase in the NBA salary cap may work, but while San Antonio has always attracted significant attention from free agents, actually getting them to sign has been challenging, and this year is not expected to be any different.
What do the San Antonio Spurs Need?
Who knows? All areas are potentially of need. The Spurs are in a classic situation where the best talent available is of interest. PATFO is likely to just collect the best talent available, and worry about finishing the team in free agency and during training camp. The draft is the one time of year in the NBA when the focus is all about the future, not immediate team needs.
Potential Spurs Draft Strategies
#1: Try and make your own luck by making a draft promise to a young player a year or two before they should really be drafted.
Exhibit A: Cory Joseph. For all of his faults, Cory Joseph was very good value when and where he was drafted. He is a serviceable back-up PG, and that is a successful draft selection late in the first round.
Last year, it was extremely disappointing to see Kristaps Porzingis withdraw from the draft, as the player clearly has franchise potential written all over him despite the high potential risk. The beauty of this is that he would have potentially been available in the late first round, although it is doubtful he would have been around by the time the Spurs would have drafted. It would be a surprise if Porzingis went #1, but it would be stunning if he was not selected in the Top 5 picks. This year, it was disappointing to see Aleksander Vezenkov withdraw from the draft. While not having the same fantastic potential as Porzingis due to his limited athletic ability, Vezenkov is clearly a very talented young player in Europe. The issue is if his skills will translate to the NBA as he continues to develop. He is a very polarizing figure among NBA talent evaluators, but from a productivity standpoint he has consistently been productive as a professional in the Greek League as a starter for a decent team. It appears that Vezenkov has at least role-player, if not rotation player potential in the NBA. Another year of seasoning in Europe could see his draft stock soar, placing him well out of reach of the Spurs. Another possibility could be Juan Pablo Vaulet, as discussed here.
#2: Wait and see who falls.
Exhibit B: Kyle Anderson. Hard to tell how he will develop, but was a quality selection.
#3: Trade the pick for a previously "stashed" pick, or for a European rotting on somebody’s roster.
In last year’s draft prospectus, I suggested:
Candidates could include Rudy Gobert (Utah), Sergey Karasev (Cleveland), Nemanja Nedovic (Golden State),Tomas Satoransky (Washington owned but currently in Spain), Joffrey Lauvergne (Denver owned and stashed in Serbia) and maybe Furkan Aldemir (LA Clipper's owned but currently in Turkey). Luigi Datome (Detroit) is probably not worth a first round pick, but might be worth a future conditional second round pick. I also like Janis Timma, the 60th pick of the 2013 draft currently owned by the Memphis Grizzlies playing in his native Latvia.
This year, I would be interested in Thomas Satoransky (Washington), Joffrey Lauvergne (Denver) and Sergey Karasev (Brooklyn), with the most notable addition of Nikola Jokic (Denver), but also Bogdan Bogdanovic (Phoenix), Vasilje Micic (Philidelphia), Walter Tavares (Atlanta), and maybe even Damien Inglis (Milwaukee) if they were available for a reasonable asking price. Jokic has continued to develop very well at Mega in Serbia, and I continue to argue that he has rotation, if not star potential in the NBA. Denver already has Jusuf Nurkic, who was every bit as good as predicted based upon his pre-draft Adriatic League numbers. Jokic is a different kind of player, and while he may not have the same stastical impact as Nurkic, may be an extremely valuable player with skilled shooting and passing ability.
#4: Look for a medical disaster.
Exhibit C: DeJuan Blair. Blair had no ACL’s, and slipped much further in the draft than expected. The Spurs got very good value out of Blair for a second round pick, despite his remarks since leaving the Spurs.
#5: Look for a contract disaster.
Exhibit D: Tiago Splitter. The Spurs can afford to be patient, and wait on a player for a while even if a longer term European contract distracts other NBA franchises.
#6: Look for a shooting project.
Exhibit E: Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi Leonard was not a shooting disaster, but nobody, and I mean nobody, predicted that he would develop into the kind of 3-point shooter he currently is, and he does have further potential for improvement.
#7: Look for a big body.
Exhibit F: Ian Mahinmi. The Spurs developed the player, but he got his chance and turned into a useful back-up for Indiana. For a developmental project, Ian must be classified as a success, even if the success accrued to another organization.
#8: Trade an existing roster player for a draft pick
Exhibit G: Trading George Hill for the draft pick that turned into Kawhi Leonard. This is a tough option, because the Spurs roster is so well built that any player lost must be replaced, and another franchise is not likely to simply give the Spurs a superior player for an existing player unless the Spurs are willing to assume a certain degree of risk.
This year, one could imagine Tiago Splitter being traded to Atlanta and Coach Bud, in exchange for the 15th pick, assuming there is somebody in that position that would justify the risk. In this draft, this is admittedly unlikely. Another possibility might be to trade Patty Mills to Philly and Coach Brown, in exchange for Vasilje Micic, the 35th and 60th picks in the second round. If Philly were to draft Kristaps Porzingis at #3, then they could really use a point guard, and Patty would make a great deal of sense in Philly. I fully expect Philly to take D’Angelo Russell however.