The draft has never been much of a big deal around these parts, what with the Spurs drafting somewhere in the late 20's every year, so all the speculation and the mocks are mostly just rosterbating. This off-season in particular put the draft in the back-burner because we've been overwhelmingly fixated on the possibility of signing Blazers free agent power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. What once seemed like a pipe dream is seeming less and less remote by the passing day, it seems. Erik Gunderson, a Blazers writer for The Columbian, reported that Aldridge has already informed the team that he won't be returning, and ESPN.com reporters Marc Stein and Chris Broussard (...) posted a story claiming that Aldridge that "there is a 99.9 percent chance he is out of Portland."
More importantly, for our purposes, Stein claimed that the Spurs are still atop Aldridge's list of desired destinations, though the Lakers are closing fast. (You'll note that Los Angeles drafted Ohio Stage point guard second overall instead of Duke's Jahlil Okafor.)
Obviously the Spurs will have to engage in all kinds of deft maneuvers and machinations to open up the daunting amount of cap room needed for Aldridge. They'll need to deal away Tiago Splitter, re-sign Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili to discount contracts if they do decide to return, and perhaps give up on the possibility of re-signing Danny Green as well. Literally every penny will count. To that end, you can understand why there were reports circulating before the draft that they would look to either trade their first-round pick altogether or use it on an yet another international they can stash overseas for a while to save money.
So it should come as no surprise then that PATFO did precisely that, picking Serbian big man Nikola Milutinov. Still, due credit needs to be given to Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News, and our very own Jesus Gomez, who both nailed the pick, which is all the more impressive considering how secretive the Spurs are about these things.
"I just called Dan and he told me who to take," Spurs General Manager R.C. Buford joked when asked what compelled the Spurs to draft Milutinov, before explaining "We are excited to get Nikola. He is a young big guy that has improved a great deal over the last year. As we go into the future and need to replenish our size we are excited to add a player like that, give him a chance to develop and see what he can do."
Milutinov was the 37th rated player overall on ESPN.com draft guru Chad Ford's big board and his scouting report reads eerily similar, for better and for worse, to Splitter's.
Good footwork, mobile, great hands, sound fundamentals. Below the rim player, no jumper, "a little soft." The scouting report provided to NBA media, meanwhile reads: "Has great length and is very agile. Excellent offensive rebounder. Has terrific hands," and doesn't list any known weaknesses, which doesn't make sense because he's not Megatron.
Like Splitter, Milutinov has a knack for getting offensive boards, leading the Adriatic League with 3.6 per game, but he's so-so collecting caroms in his own end, averaging just 7.6 boards overall. He averaged 9.8 points per game on .573 from the floor last season in 28.0 minutes per game, but shot a crummy .587 on free throws. Also, like Splitter, he wasn't the most imposing rim protector, blocking just 0.8 shots per game last year.
On the bright side, Milutinov is only 20-years-old, so he's well ahead in his development compared to the Brazilian big-man.
Surprisingly, Buford compared Milutinov not to Splitter but another former Spurs big man.
"I think the comparison we've made more than Splitter is Rasho (Nesterovic)," Buford said. "A really good passer and the interesting thing about him is he's a better offensive rebounder than a defender rebounder. He's a terrific offensive rebounder. You don't see that with many people of any size, but he actually had more offensive rebounds this year than defensive rebounds. There's parts of his game that we need to develop, but from where he was a year ago to where he is now as a 20-year-old, he's come a long way."
Despite this tweet (you can follow him @NMilutinov, by the way)
What an honor and a privilege to be drafted by the @spurs. I am very excited to get to Texas.— Nikola Milutinov (@NMilutinov) June 26, 2015
several plugged in people in the know have reported that Milutinov will stay put in Serbia and play for Partizan NIS for at least another season, so don't count on him replacing Splitter in 2015-16.
Milutinov, a Serbian, may not be joining the Spurs next season. He plays for Partizan.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) June 26, 2015
If you're curious, such a move would save almost a million bucks of cap room for San Antonio.
If Milutinov is not signed this season, SA could save at minimum $991.6K. That helps with 10 players about to hit free agency.— Paul Garcia PS (@PaulGarciaPS) June 26, 2015
Naturally, Buford refused to speculate one way or another about Milutinov's immediate future, but explained that he won't be available to play in the Summer League because of his commitment to the Serbian national team for EuroBasket. If he does indeed stay abroad though, that will make an even dozen draft picks the Spurs have stashed overseas.
In the second round, the Spurs picked UMass power forward Cady Lalanne, the 63rd ranked player on Ford's board, an athletic leaper with a 7'3 wingspan who can rebound and block shots but offers little offensively. Technically, he's an international too, born in Haiti. He played four seasons for the Minutemen and averaged a career-high 11.6 points per game on .552 shooting, to go with 9.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks.
"He came in and had a really good workout," Buford said of Lalanne. "He's an athletic big guy that has a really good shooting form. The expectations for Cady, we don't know what to expect yet, but we hope to get him in for summer league."
Hopefully by then we'll have a lot more answers as to what next year's team will look like. For now we'll have to settle for a positive hint.