As we eagerly await Game 7 of the Finals Sunday, this two day layoff is a good time to get pumped for the draft next Thursday. I will be in attendance on behalf of PTR to take it all in. Here's my take on what the Spurs should consider doing with the 29th pick.
The NBA draft is the best draft. Unlike other leagues, which linger on for far too many rounds, the NBA draft is efficient. Two rounds and you're done. NBA rosters are small, and the ability to upgrade through the draft is huge. And while the 29th pick is not incredibly exciting, there have been countless examples of teams drafting well late in the first round. Whether it be the few stars that emerge from late in the draft or simply reliable rotation players, some teams draft well and make the most of their picks. The Spurs are one of those. Below are some examples from the last 5 drafts of players that appear to be NBA-level rotation players or better:
2015: Bobby Portis (22), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (23), Tyus Jones (24), Josh Richardson (40), Norman Powell (46)
*It's too soon to tell from 2015 but these are players I believe will be valuable rotation players in this league
2014: Rodney Hood (23), Clint Capela (25), Kyle Anderson (30), Nikola Jokic (41)
2013: Rudy Gobert (27), Andre Roberson (26)
2012: Evan Fournier (20), Jared Sullinger (21), Jae Crowder (24), Festus Ezeli (30), Draymond Green (35)
2011: Donatas Montiejunas (20), Kenneth Faried (22), Nikola Mirotic (23), Reggie Jackson (24), Cory Joseph (29), Jimmy Butler (30)
When players as good Jimmy Butler and Draymond Green can slip to the thirties, every pick matters. And the Spurs are as good as it gets when it comes to finding value in the draft. Whether it be draft and stash players or proven NBA talent, let us remind you what they have found past #20 in recent history:
2014: Kyle Anderson (30)
2011: Cory Joseph (29)
2009: Dejaun Blair (37)
2008: George Hill (26), Goran Dragic (45)
2007: Tiago Splitter (28)
2005: Ian Mahinmi (28)
2004: Beno Udrih (28)
2002: John Salmons (26), Luis Scola (55)
2001: Tony Parker (28)
1999: Manu Ginobili (57)
That's 12 players somewhere between rotation-level and hall-of-fame level the Spurs have found in the last 17 drafts. And when you factor in how many picks they've stashed, that's incredible.
At number 29, there are four directions they can go in:
1. Take the Best Player Available
Most GM's use the phrase "best player available" to justify their draft selections. If you tell the fans that you took who you believe to be the best player available, then it's harder to argue with the selection. My problem with the phrase is that it is so subjective. For one, winning and losing the draft is such a game of hindsight analysis. Especially later in the draft. In this draft there is a clear top two and after that it gets murky. To really know who the 29th best player in this draft is would be nearly impossible. To some extent you are rationalizing who is the best available based on what you need as a team. I expect the Spurs to take the best player available that fits their needs. Last week I listed their priorities as (1) a defensive center (2) a stretch-four and (3) a point guard. But with news of Bertans coming over the need for a stretch four isn't pressing. They still do need more shooting and so perhaps a shooting guard or wing player can slide into priority #2 as point guard is a longer-term need. Even with Danny Green and Kawhi locked into the wing positions, Ginobili (if he returns), Anderson, and Simmons are no guarantees to provide elite shooting next season. But a great wing is especially hard to find at 29. The value for shooting has never been higher, and the immediate impact shooting guards will go early. Shooting guard as a position is in the highest demand with the lowest supply. It's hard to imagine that the best player available will be a wing that can shoot. Patrick McCaw (UNLV), DeAndre Bembry (St. Joe's) or Caris Lavert (Michigan) are possibilities for that type of role. But more probable is a center or point guard, positions that are fairly deep in this draft and are needs of the Spurs.
2. Take a Center
Next week I will go into more detail on possible selections. But the Spurs desperately need shot-blocking, rebounding, and a tough presence in the post. While I suggested Joakim Noah in my last post, that was under the pretense of trying to win now. Realistically it's going to be hard given their cap situation to get a win-now level center. The draft will have some options late in the first round. Cheick Diallo from Kansas would fit the mold but is moving up on many mock draft boards. They could also look at Chinanu Onuaku (Louisville) or Damian Jones from Vanderbilt, an athletic, long center with upside. If the Spurs are considering offensive-minded centers then Stephen Zimmerman (UNLV), Diamond Stone (Maryland), and Zhou Qi (China) could all be available at 29.
3. Take a Point Guard
This draft is deeper than most at the point guard position. While the Spurs have Tony Parker for at least two more years and Patty Mills is still under contract, the need for a young point guard is there. Even if the point guard does not contribute this season, being mentored by Parker is invaluable. Additionally, Parker's health and need to rest gives reason to have three point guards on the roster. It will be easier to find value from the center or point guard position later in the draft. Wade Baldwin as mentioned would be ideal, but he likely will be taken. Tyler Ulis has hip issues which has him slipping on some boards. If him or Demetrius Jackson from Notre Dame fall in the draft, this may be the time to strike for a future floor general.
4. Trade Up
The main reason I think trading up in the draft could have value is the potential to dump a salary in a 2 for 1 situation. If there's a scenario to trade Diaw (and his cap hit) plus the 29th pick for a pick in the 15-18 range, the Spurs should consider. This not only gets you a better player in the draft, but also more cap space for free agency.
Overall, it's not hard to identify that the Spurs biggest needs are at the center, shooting guard, and point guard positions. There is value to be found at those positions. The good news is that the center position is especially deep and there are a number of point guards. It will be harder to land an ideal shooting guard and the Spurs have backup wings in Anderson and Simmons to develop. Given their cap situation, drafting a defensive center has a lot of appeal. But only if he's the best player available...