There’s no exact science to the NBA draft, as many probably know. Organizations will rely on some combination of intel, scouting and gut instinct each year, but those are only a small part of a puzzle that starts coming together once hat meets head. In the end, everyone misses, and that margin for error typically gets wider the further away you get from the top of the draft.
Still, it’s not especially common for a first-round pick to get waived before entering year three. When it does happen, like with the case of Luka Samanic this week, it’s understandable that a fanbase would go through a spectrum of unhappy reactions. Let’s explore some of the most common variations of that foul mood, ranked from least justified to most.
6. [Waived Player] didn’t get enough of a shot
This complaint rarely exists in a vacuum. If you’re mad about Samanic’s lack of opportunity, it’s likely you have differing thoughts on how San Antonio’s young players typically wait behind less exciting veterans and/or spend significant time in the G League before breaking the rotation. Usually that last part happens and we see the fruits of their long-tail development in Austin; with Samanic, it didn’t, and the outsider is left wondering why a former 19th pick saw such limited time in San Antonio.
The problem with giving this too much weight is that fans never know what a team knows, or see what a team sees in workouts and off the court. Local media aren’t even allowed to sit in on the majority of team practices, further limiting access to intel on how well a player shows out there, or if something simply isn’t clicking.
What we did see in 356 largely forgettable NBA minutes was a player who fit no true positional mold and didn’t pop enough to merit his own; someone whose comfort level and confidence felt low, even for what was expected out of a project. While drafted for his extrapositional skills, Samanic remained a stretch big only in theory who shot 29.4% in limited NBA attempts while averaging about the same on a much higher volume in the G League.
Justified? Probably not.
5. Why’d they keep [Player X] over him?
Bearing some overlap with the gripe above, there are arguments to having kept Samanic at the expense of someone else on the roster, specifically. The Spurs were sitting on 17 guaranteed contracts and needing to remove two either via trade or by waiving them, and Samanic’s exit lowers that number to one.
Among those still on the roster (and bearing in mind additional cuts are still necessary), others have more immediate utility one way or another. There’s also the possibility that letting Samanic go early gives him a head start on finding a better situation for him, but that’s easy for me to say as a person who wasn’t waived by their employer this week. Not yet, at least.
Justified? What do you have against Keita Bates-Diop?
4. [Waived Player] shouldn’t have been selected in the first place
If you felt this way already this week’s news should’ve come as vindication, which means you’re not allowed to be mad, right? Isn’t that how this works?
Again, drafting is harder than draft discourse ever gives it credit for. And it probably shouldn’t be overlooked that the Spurs selected Future Olympian Keldon Johnson the same night they took Samanic, leaving one to wonder what the butterfly effect would’ve looked like had they gone in a different direction at 19.
That said, there were more popular options on the board, and a number of players still available that aren’t worth listing but have panned out. Do any of them transform the 2021-22 Spurs into a juggernaut? Absolutely not, but in a results-based business, it’s fair to judge decision makers on what comes from those decisions.
Justified? A bit, in hindsight
3. This is part of a bigger issue in lackluster drafting/team-building
Justified? Probably not — they’ve made other good picks before and since Samanic — but let’s return to this in a year or two when another Spurs’ mid first round draft pick that was considered a reach at the time comes of age.
2. I still believe in [Waived Player]
The idea of Luka Samanic, multi-tooled stretch big, still makes sense given the direction of the league and the needs the Spurs had at the time. Samanic is still young, and some casualties of previous roster crunches have gone on to have laudable careers. There’s no reason to think he can’t find a better fit, stateside or in Europe, where he’s more comfortable and able to let his legitimate talents shine. Remember Nando De Colo?
Justified? Hey, why not.
1. That’s a bummer
Justified? Yes, it’s a bummer.