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Exploring possible trade scenarios for the Spurs to move up in the draft

There should be a few willing partners if the Spurs decide that moving up in the draft is their best option.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

This is the first of a three part series covering the San Antonio Spurs’ draft options. Part one discusses the Spurs’ assets that could be packaged together in an attempt to move up in the draft and which teams might be willing to move down. Part two will highlight those players who won’t likely be available to the Spurs at 19 whom the Spurs could be targeting in the draft. Part three will highlight players who should be available to the Spurs should they stand pat on draft night.

The Spurs don’t often partake in draft day moves. It may not be the most exciting approach but it’s hard to argue with the results. Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, Kyle Anderson, Cory Joseph, George Hill, Tiago Splitter, and Tony Parker were all drafted late in the first round and have all found success in the NBA. With the Spurs’ ability to find players overlooked by other teams but who possess the talent and desire to improve, no move has oftentimes been the right move. The Spurs have two picks in the first round this year — 19th and 29th (via the Raptors) — doubling their chance of once again striking gold later on in the first round.

The talent level of the 2019 Draft is widely considered flat after the top three prospects. It’s not that talent can’t be found after the top three picks; it’s that these players haven’t been able to stand out from the crowd and could go in almost any order. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you’re the Spurs. All of this unknown only increases the chances that a player falls into their laps later on in the draft, making the case for standing pat even stronger.

Counterpoint: Kawhi Leonard

Despite what draft experts or fans think about the players in the draft, if PATFO is targeting a specific player who won’t likely be available to them at 19, they will certainly explore the possibility of moving up in the draft. How far up the draft their assets could get them remains to be seen, but this article will look at a few teams who might be looking to move down in the draft that the Spurs could target.

It should be noted that the Spurs are not the only team in the NBA with the assets to move up in the draft. The Boston Celtics own the 14th, 20th, and 22nd picks this year along with future draft picks and young players that could be used to move up. They have an infinite amount of options with their assets, so it’s hard to know exactly what direction they will go on draft night. The Atlanta Hawks also have three first round draft picks this year, but their trade up range is a lot higher than that of the Spurs, so what they do shouldn’t have much of an impact on the Spurs.

Other teams without the draft capital of the Hawks and Celtics could still move up in the draft using players already on their roster. Because of the multitude of possibilities from other teams, this article will only focus on how high the Spurs’ assets could move them up in the draft. If their offer ends up getting beat by another team then so be it.

NBA draft pick value

The NFL has a draft pick value chart that is used by NFL teams. While not as widely accepted as the NFL chart, people in NBA circles have developed similar charts for the NBA draft. One such chart comes from ESPN’s Kevin Pelton and is based on historical performance from players drafted in these positions. His chart from last summer looked as follows:

At face value the Spurs’ two draft picks would be worth a total of 1900 points, good enough to move up to 10th in the draft. This assumes that both the trade is even, which is not often the case, and that there’s a team ahead of the Spurs looking to trade down. Typically the team trading up has to overpay to do so. The higher the team is moving up, the more uneven the trade becomes.

Recent draft day trades

The next thing to look at are some recent draft day trades that might be comparable to what the Spurs would be looking to do:

  • 2018 draft: Phoenix Suns acquire the 10th pick from the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for the 16th pick and an unprotected 2021 first round pick (via Miami Heat) from the Suns.
  • 2017 draft: Minnesota Timberwolves acquire Jimmy Butler and the 16th pick from the Chicago Bulls in exchange for the 7th pick, Zach LaVine, and Kris Dunn from the Timberwolves.
  • 2017 draft: Portland Trail Blazers acquire the 10th pick from the Sacramento Kings in exchange for the 15th and 20th picks from the Blazers.
  • 2017 draft: Utah Jazz acquire the 13th pick from the Denver Nuggets in exchange for the 24th pick and Trey Lyles from the Jazz.
  • 2016 draft: Kings acquire Bogdan Bogdanovic, the 13th pick, and 28th pick from the Suns in exchange for the 8th pick from the Kings.
  • 2015 draft: Washington Wizards acquire the 15th pick from the Hawks in exchange for the 19th pick and two future second round picks from the Wizards.
  • 2014 draft: The Bulls acquire Anthony Randolph and the 11th pick from the Nuggets in exchange for the 16th and 19th picks from the Bulls.

In almost every significant draft day trade over the past five years, the team moving up has overpaid; the one main exception being the Jazz’s robbing of the Nuggets in the 2017 draft. The Jazz were able to move up 11 spots in the draft by including a decent-but-not-great Trey Lyles and ended up drafting Donovan Mitchell 13th overall. Based on the draft pick value chart provided above, the team moving up typically overpays by an average of roughly 33 percent.

Spurs’ assets

If the Spurs were to follow the trend of where the team moving up overpays by roughly 33 percent, the 19th and 29th picks would only be able to move the Spurs up to 14th or 15th in the draft. Teams might be more interested in the 19th and a lottery protected future first round draft pick from the Spurs since it’s almost certain to end up higher than the 29th pick from this year. That could possibly get the Spurs a couple spots higher, although it would be significantly more risky for the Spurs.

In addition to draft picks, the Spurs have a few players they could include in any attempt to move up in the draft. Due to their age and high upside, Murray and White could probably move the Spurs the farthest up the draft, but with the uncertainty of this year’s draftees, it would be a pretty big risk by PATFO. I consider them to be borderline untouchable in any attempt to move up in the draft.

Lonnie Walker IV and LaMarcus Aldridge are in the next tier of untouchables — Walker IV because he might have the highest upside out of anybody on the Spurs’ roster, and Aldridge because PATFO would likely only trade him for another star and not to move up in the draft.

Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli aren’t valuable enough to help the Spurs move up in the first round of the draft. Mills is probably a negative asset at this point, and Belinelli could likely only be traded to move up in the second round (something I’d strongly consider if it becomes an option). I might even be overselling Belinelli somewhat, but since he’s a reliable shooter on a relatively inexpensive expiring contract, I could see him being valuable to another team.

Bryn Forbes, Davis Bertans, and Jakob Poeltl could all be attached to a draft pick in order to move up in the draft. How far would depend on which teams are looking to move down, which teams value the skill sets provided by these players, and which other teams are also looking to move up. Shooting and a cheap contract are valuable commodities in the NBA, and Forbes and Bertans are two of the best in the business for their respective salaries.

DeMar DeRozan is the tough one. He’s not untouchable, but if he ends up getting traded I think it will be long after the draft has been completed. One or more of the teams vying for a superstar free agent this summer is likely to strike out, which would open the door for a DeRozan trade, but I don’t think he’ll get traded for a draft pick.

Looking for a trading partner

If the Phoenix Suns or Chicago Bulls end up missing out on one of the top point guards in the draft, they could be interested in somebody like Murray or White. Outside of that scenario, and assuming DeRozan doesn’t get traded on draft night, I don’t see any scenario in which the Spurs are able to trade their way into the top 8 of the draft. The Hawks own three picks before the Spurs draft at 19, but they will almost certainly be looking to trade up and not down. For that reason, I have not included them as a trade back option in this article.

The Washington Wizards are the first target on my list. Their only draft pick this year is 9th overall. They also don’t have a second round pick until 2023. John Walls’ maximum contract kicks in this summer, meaning they have only a few players eating up a good portion of their cap space. The Wizards were also 26th in three-point shooting this season, which is something they will almost certainly be looking to address in the offseason. The problem is they are not expected to have any cap space this summer, meaning it will be very difficult (if not outright impossible) for the Spurs to send a player like Forbes or Bertans to the Wizards without having to take a player back in return. Dwight Howard is the only player currently on their roster whose salary aligns with that of Forbes or Bertans. Yikes.

Another team likely looking to fill several positions for cheap is the Minnesota Timberwolves. They aren’t in as bad of shape as the Wizards, but they could be looking to move down in the draft to sign a couple draft picks for the same price it would cost them to sign one player 11th in the draft. The 11th for the 19th and 29th (or even a future protected 1st) straight up probably isn’t going to get it done, and just like the Wizards, the Timberwolves aren’t going to be able to take on player contracts without sending another player back in the trade. It would be complicated but might be worth a call if PATFO have a player in mind. While not important within the context of this article, I would also give the Timberwolves a call to see if Robert Covington is on the trading block.

The Charlotte Hornets at 12 might also be looking to trade down. We’re getting into that range where the Spurs 19th pick and a future lottery protected first round pick could be enough to move up. The Spurs were reportedly in contact with the Hornets last year to see what it would cost to move up to draft Walker IV. Of course, the Spurs didn’t end up moving up and were still able to get their player - -yet another reason to stand pat. Still, last year the Spurs didn’t really have many assets. They do now, and they shouldn’t be afraid to use them if the right deal comes up.

To me, the most realistic trade partner is the Miami Heat at 13. The 19th and 29th could be enough to get it done. The Heat desperately need to find players to fill out their roster on the cheap, so drafting two players on cheaper rookie contracts might be in their best interest. The Heat only have one second round draft pick until 2025, meaning stockpiling draft picks should be something that interests them. When Googling trading down, the Heat’s name came up most frequently. A lot can happen between 13 and 19, so it might be worth considering if the Heat are willing partners.

The final team I’m going to look at in this article is the Detroit Pistons at 15. Trading the 19th and 29th picks to move up 4 spots seems expensive, but it’s not too far off the going rate based on previous draft day trades. I wouldn’t make this deal if I were the Spurs, but I have no idea what they are thinking or what players are at the top of their draft board. A player like Nassir Little could very well be there at 15th but not 19th. He could be worth moving up for.

Final thoughts

To summarize, based on previous draft day trades, the Spurs could likely trade the 19th and 29th picks to move up 4 or 5 spots in the draft. The Spurs have a few young assets that could be used to move up a couple more spots, but most teams in that range are over the cap and won’t be able to take on contracts without sending salary back in the trade.

The second part of this series will examine players like Nassir Little who might be on the Spurs radar but won’t likely be available by the time the Spurs are drafting at 19. I will profile several of these players, borrowing heavily from White-Walker76’s excellent draft profile fan posts that he’s been compiling over the past couple months.