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Spurs NBA Draft 2016 Prospectus: Part II

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A look at what the Spurs need, and whether this year's draft is the right mechanism for meeting those needs.

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Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Before we start, there are some caveats to consider in this study of the current Spurs roster.  First, I could not have put together a roster this strong. I am just a simple blogger, I do not have either the time or the resources or the scouting network that PATFO has available to them, and they have done an excellent job by any measure.  This article is merely the comments of a fan who can’t make a jump-shot. But discussion of the current roster with its strengths and weaknesses including the origins of the failure in the 2016 NBA Playoffs are indispensable for considering the potential draft selections.  Bear with me as I try to perform a failure analysis.

Asset Analysis

The first place to start is by examining the 2016 Spurs playoff roster, ranked by playoff minutes, which gives us a crude measure of the value of each player's contributions to the Spurs in the playoffs.  One can assume that the more minutes a player played, the more integral the player was to the team, and the more reluctant the Spurs would be to lose the player.

Here is the 2015/2016 Spurs Playoff Roster:  Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Danny Green, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, David West, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw, Kyle Anderson, Kevin Martin, Boban Marjanovic, Andre Miller, Jonathon Simmons, Matt Bonner.

Players that are contemplating retirement are Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, David West and Andre Miller.  Matt Bonner is probably in the process of being replaced by Davis Bertans.  It seems unlikely that Kevin Martin will be retained due to his poor shooting in the playoffs.

Next, let’s take a quick look at the Spurs' D-League affiliate, the Austin Spurs, and their playoff roster, which we sort by minutes from their final playoff game against the LA Defenders.  (Note: some of the player's rights belong to the Atlanta Hawks, as indicated.)

Here is the 2015/2016 Austin Spurs Playoff Roster: DeShaun Thomas, Brandon Fields, Demetri McCamey, Keifer Sykes, Youssou Ndoye, Lamar Patterson (ATL), Cady Lalanne, Nick Johnson, Walter Tavares (ATL), Jean Nguidjol, Wesley Saunders.

For a summary of foreign draft picks playing overseas, please see the recent write-up by Warren Yiu here. Foreign draft picks "stashed" in Europe that are likely to be signed include Davis Bertans (Spain) and Nikola Milutinovic (Greece). Davis Bertans may already be in the process of signing with Spurs as described here. PATFO might have tried to sign Milutinov last year, but they just ran out of roster spots. Instead, he played a year for Olympiakos in the Greek League and also in the EuroLeague. Other foreign players include Adam Hanga, a 27 year old defensive SG who shot 28% from 3-point range, and Nemanja Dangubic, an athletic 23 year old SF playing in Serbia who shot 33%, 45%, and 32% from 3-point range in the Adriatic, EuroLeague, and Serbian League respectively.

Failure Analysis

Before starting a detailed analysis, some perspective is required.  Unexpectedly, the Spurs won 67 games in the 2015/2016 NBA regular season.  This is historically impressive.  This was accomplished while assimilating a new starter in LaMarcus Aldridge, accommodating a dramatically improved Kawhi Leonard, along with installing a new offense and losing several quality rotation players.  Secondly, while the Spurs were beaten by the Oklahoma City Thunder in 6 games, there is very little separation between the top four teams in the league, the OKC Thunder, the San Antonio Spurs, the Golden State Warriors, and the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Two of the playoff series featuring these teams went seven games, with the winning team rallying from a 3-1 deficit both times, and the Spurs could easily have gone up 3-1 on OKC if the ball bounced differently or some close calls had been made differently.

Normally, in this kind of situation, one would not normally want to overhaul the roster in any major fashion.

So why did the Spurs fail to advance to the Western Conference Finals?  There are several ways to analyze it: 1. Eye Test, 2. Financial Analysis, 3. Athletic Analysis. For the purposes of this article, we will the focus to these three areas, although clearly there is room for detailed advanced analytics, but that's a job for another writer.

Eye Test: To my eye, the Spurs really were not able to guard Russell Westbrook adequately, and had trouble with Thunder bigs Steven Adams and Enes Kanter.  While Kevin Durant is undeniably a high level player, for my money, Russell Westbrook is the best player on the OKC Thunder, and he's the player the Spurs have the most trouble guarding.  As I watched the games, the player I wished the Spurs still had was Cory Joseph.  Adams was a problem for the Spurs with his strength and athleticism.  He could toss Tim Duncan around like a rag doll, and there wasn’t much Tim could do about it.  Tim is the better and more skilled player, but Adams is just too young, too big and too strong.  Aron Baynes, if he were still a Spur, could have come in handy to counter Steven Adams' strength and size.  When the scoring drought occurred in Game 6, it would have been very nice to turn to a Marco Belinelli.  But these former Spurs were on other teams.  It wasn’t possible to keep all of them, and everybody (players, PATFO, fans) knew it when these decisions were made after last season  There just wasn’t enough money.  There isn’t any blame to be handed out, and this is not a complaint about ownership.  However, from a basketball standpoint, either Cory or Aron might have been able to alter the outcome of the series.

Financial Analysis: Here are the payrolls of some NBA teams, including the aforementioned four elite squads according to HoopsHype:

Team

Payroll

$ Above SAS

% Above SAS

Cleveland Cavaliers

$108,300,458

$20,467,619

23.3%

LA Clippers

$97,019,321

$9,186,482

10.5%

OKC Thunder

$95,708,387

$7,875,548

9.0%

Golden State Warriors

$93,631,286

$5,798,447

6.6%

Houston Rockets

$89,792,263

$1,959,424

2.2%

Brooklyn Nets

$88,013,939

$1,811,000

0.2%

San Antonio Spurs

$87,832,839

N/A

N/A

For the OKC Thunder, Sam Presti is a pretty good GM, and is considered in many circles to be nearly equivalent to RC Buford.  Their coach, Billy Donovan is a significant upgrade over Scotty Brooks, and at least in this series, kept pace with Greg Popovich.  Thus, all other things being roughly equal, a team with a 9% higher payroll is likely to have at least some advantage.  We are all aware of teams that have spent outrageous amounts of money with little to nothing to show for it (Brooklyn Nets!).  But between two franchises as closely matched as San Antonio and OKC, one can see how a 9% margin in payroll could be important in deciding a closely contested series.  For example, Cory Joseph, Marco Belinelli and Aron Baynes were paid $7,000,000, $6,060,606 and $6,500,000 respectively.  Of the three, I think Cory would have made the most difference, and for less than the difference in payroll of these two rosters. I will contend that this difference is salary played a small, but important role in deciding the series.

An opposing point of view would point out that David West is worth significantly more than the veteran’s minimum.  It wouldn’t be unreasonable to add $10,000,000 to the Spurs payroll to account for the money that David declined when he left the Indiana Pacers.  Both Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili could easily be worth double their salaries of $5,250,000 and $2,814,000 and Danny Green took a discount to stay with the Spurs as well.  Let’s guess $2,000,000 for Danny.  Total up these salaries savings, and the actual value of the San Antonio Spurs roster would be $107,896,839 which is very close to Cleveland’s total.  So a reasonable counter argument to my assertion could be made that while the Spurs were outspent on a salary cap spreadsheet, the actual value of the Spurs roster was very comparable to all of the other NBA title contenders, and is thus not a factor in the series loss.

Athletic Analysis: The third aspect to analyze is to simply look at draft athletic testing data, and see if there might be any Spurs assets that could help to defend Russell Westbrook or improve rebounding against Steven Adams.  This analysis does not consider offensive needs, because other players are available for playmaking.  Also, basketball defense is more than just numbers on a spreadsheet, and just because a player has good numbers on a spreadsheet does NOT make that player a good player.  Nevertheless, to guard Russell, a player needs at least some identifiable athletic ability to even compete.

Player

Draft Year

Height

Weight

Wingspan

No Step Vertical

Max Vertical

Agility

Sprint

Russell Westbrook

2008

6’2.25"

192

6’7.75"

30.0

36.5

10.98

3.08

Danny Green

2009

6’5.25"

208

6’10"

29.0

33.0

11.30

3.30

Cory Joseph

2011

6’2.5"

184

6’5.5"

27.0

34.5

3.97

Adam Hanga

2011

6’5.5"

198

6’7.5"

27.1

34.5

Jonathon Simmons

2012

6’4.5"

204

6’7.5"

30.5

38.0

Nemanja Dangubic

2015

6’7.25"

193

6’8"

34.5

34.0

11.12

3.22

Julian Washburn

2015

6’6.5"

205

Cory Joseph is simply included as a point of reference, and Kawhi Leonard is specifically NOT included even though he will spend at least some time guarding Westbrook in any playoff series.  The athletic testing data matches what we tend to observe in the open court.  Danny just doesn’t have the physical tools to guard Russell Westbrook, and he is also older than Westbrook.  Jonathon Simmons might be a better matchup, but is only a year younger due to his circuitous route to the Spurs.  Adam Hanga is about 6 months younger than Westbrook and Dangubic is 4 years younger.

The bottom line is that the Spurs may actually have an answer for Russell Westbrook among current assets, with Jonathon Simmons being the most obvious and most ready option.  I would also argue that Nemanja Dangubic may be brought over to the US depending on the availability of a roster spot (Manu Ginobili?), and should be introduced to the Spurs system.  He might spend plenty of time in Austin, but he isn’t going to learn to guard Russell Westbrook-type players in Serbia, even in the EuroLeague.  He will be at the end of the bench, but he has the youth and the athletic ability to be given an opportunity, poor shooting and all.  However, this means that there probably isn’t an urgent need to draft an athletic defensive point guard as the Spurs already have a decent stock of options.

So what about Adams?

Player

Draft Year

Height

Weight

Wingspan

No Step Vertical

Max Vertical

Steven Adams

2013

6’10.75"

255

7’4.5"

28.5

33.0

Boban Marjanovic

2009

7’2.25"

293

7’8"

19.0

23.0

Nikola Milutinov

2015

7’?

Youssou Ndoye

2015

6’10.5"

247

7’4.5"

24.0

31.0

Cady Lalanne

2015

6’8.25"

241

7’5"

28.5

Nikola Milutinov is included in the list, although his complete data can't be found in databases I searched.  Since he lacks shot-blocking ability, it seems probable that his vertical testing values are low.  From the table, one can see that both Boban Marjanovic and Youssou Ndoye have the physical ability to bang with Adams.  If Milutinov is coming over this year as rumored, then there are good prospects for being able to compete with Adams for rebounding.

Conclusion

So where does this analysis leave us?  It suggests that a defensive PG to guard Russell Westbrook may not be the highest priority, as the Spurs already have some decent options.   The retirement or continuing decline of Manu Ginobili, however, remains a significant problem, with no obvious answer available among Spurs assets.  So for this draft, I would argue that the single most important position would be a SF with three point range and playmaking ability, court vision, and a willingness to defend.  We need a young player with talent, and someone who will "grow up" in the Spurs system and culture.  This means the player really should come from the 2016 NBA Draft, rather than a free agent. No player is going to be a straight one-for-one replacement for Manu, who is one of a kind, but finding a replacement for his play-making and shot making ability needs to be addressed.  If David West really does retire, we would also need a strong, rebounding PF capable of playing energetic defense.  Well.  If Boban Marjanovic is re-signed, and Nikola Mulitinov is signed, a rebounding center might not be such a high priority either.  However, if Tim Duncan were to retire, consideration would need to be given to another big, but perhaps Youssou Ndoye is ready or a free agent could be brought in.   My answers in order of priority:

  1. A Play-making 6'7" or 6'8" SF with slashing and 3-point range.
  2. A 6'8" - 6'10" Forward who can shoot and defend the post.
  3. A Center in the event of a Tim Duncan Retirement.

And who might the candidates be?  To be continued in Part III …