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Spurs NBA Draft 2016 Prospectus: Part I

The 2016 NBA Draft is rapidly approaching, so what should San Antonio Spur's fans be expecting? Well, the unexpected of course! With the 29th pick, drafting a generational super-star isn't going to happen. But what might be reasonable?

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

For Spurs fans, what should one expect for the 2016 NBA Draft to be held this Thursday, June 23,2016?  Briefly, predicting what the San Antonio Spurs will do is among the most challenging of draft predictions in professional sports.  Usually, nobody has a clue, and so Eli Horowitz has already provided a nice analysis of possible draft selections here. In short, be prepared for the unexpected, be prepared to withhold judgment for about four (4) years, and don’t worry about instant "Draft Grades" assigned one day after the draft before any player has even seen an NBA court.

Why wait for four years?  Because it takes about that long for the true results of a draft to be known.  For example, DeJuan Blair looked like a great selection by the Spurs at the end of his rookie year, but by year four the reality of his limitations were quite obvious. Some foreign players may take much longer (for example, Tiago Splitter) before one can judge the potential value of the selection.  For the interested reader, perusing the three most recent drafts available using this "4 Year Rule", the 20122011, and 2010 drafts makes for some interesting reading. In an average year, there is one (1) bona fide All-Star, 2-4 peripheral All-Stars, 3-5 starters, and 8-10 rotation players. Of course, the perspective of the team has a great deal to do with these numbers. For example, the 76ers view of what a starter or rotation player is not the same as for the Spurs, Warriors, or Thunder. To be explicit, it is highly unlikely that an All-Star player will be available at #29, and a generational All-Star (Manu Ginobili) almost for sure won’t be available.

Secondly, be aware of the "Hype Factor."  The NBA is a media driven league, and media narratives about drafts in general and players in particular can be quite distorted.  This is particularly true for domestic US players from high profile programs (Kentucky, Duke, UNC etc.).  In particular, there is "Draft Curve."  Far in advance of the draft, the class is considered to be "stellar."

The closer the draft comes, the valuations of the draft "quality" drop, particularly following individual workouts with the teams. Usually right before the draft, comments abound that this draft class has not lived up to the "hype", and may actually be a relatively weak draft class and numerous GM‘s are considering trading out of the draft altogether due to inadequate depth of talent. During the telecast, the announcers may sound like this draft is the most important draft ever, and every player is a potential All-Star.  Once the draft occurs and players are seen with actual NBA competition, then a more accurate understanding of the class emerges. Because hyperbole is often associated with the draft, it is common for various draft commentators to be label a draft class "the weakest draft class ever" or "a historically great draft class." Such comments are usually not worth the breath used to utter the phrases.

This particular year is unique, in that the rules governing NCAA players have changed dramatically, resulting in far more underclassmen entering, and then withdrawing from the draft than in a normal year. This provides additional hope to Spurs fans that a quality selection will be available by the time the Spurs are expected to draft at 29.  For example, players like Malik Beasley would not be in this draft if it were not for these rule changes.

from about pick 15 onwards, there is a fair amount of NBA rotation talent, probably more so than in the previous couple of years

My analysis is that this is an "average" draft class, particularly for the lottery.  However, from about pick 15 onwards, there is a fair amount of NBA rotation talent, probably more so than in the previous couple of years.  If the point of reference is a GM in the late lottery, then they are always disappointed.  For the Spurs, there will be a quality selection available at the 29th pick.  That could mean a domestic US player that may join the roster "right away" (Kyle Anderson for example, even though he spent time in Austin his rookie season), an international player for future development (Livio-Jean Charles), or even a US player that needs foreign development or a medical recovery year like Golden State did with Kevon Looney last year.  A partial list of Spurs draft strategies would include: 1. Make a draft promise (Cory Joseph), 2. Wait and see who falls (Kyle Anderson), 3. Trade for a "stashed" pick rotting on some team's roster, 4. Look for a medical disaster (DeJuan Blair), 5. Look for a contract disaster (Tiago Splitter), 6. Look for a shooting project (Kawhi Leonard), 7. Look for somebody big (Ian Mahinmi), 8. Trade up in the draft (George Hill for Kawhi Leonard, Erazem Lorbeck, and Davis Bertans).

Third, I will direct the reader to two very fine posts here and here concerning foreign talent. Why is it that the Spurs seem to be focused on foreign talent? In a nutshell, there are so many talent evaluators looking at the domestic US players, it is highly unusual for a talent to be missed. It happens, for example Kawhi Leondard or the name that should not be mentioned (Draymond Green). But on average, the talent evaluators get it right. However, there are many more mistakes made with foreign talent. Many examples abound, both underestimating (Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Nikola Jokic) as well as over-estimating (Darko Milicic, Jan Vesely).

Last, I will make a few theoretical comments.  Talent evaluations are just that, an evaluation of talent.  Many times, these evaluations do not take into account the developmental environment that player will be entering.  In an ideal draft analysis, there would be a numerical probability of the player living up to a given expectation, for example 21%, 54%, or 99%, although this type of precision is clearly silly.  For any given player, if he winds up in the wrong environment, even a 99% player could fail to live up to expectations.  Likewise, certain teams, such as the Spurs, may be able to get away drafting a 21% "lower probability" player, but may result in a player with a higher ceiling.  Then, by providing the right mentoring, playing experience in Austin, and role with the Spurs, have a much better result than another team might obtain by drafting that same player, theoretically of course.

to be continued in Part 2...