We back! Bruno and I are continuing our deep dive into this year’s NBA Draft as it relates to the San Antonio Spurs, who have the 12th selection. In our previous piece, we talked about general manager Brian Wright’s history as a drafter since he’s taken over in the Alamo City, and today we’ll talk about some of our favorite options for the Spurs current selection at 12.
Bruno, we talked about the profiles of a lot of previous Spurs draft picks and how it relates to the building of this roster last time. Knowing what you know now and looking at how prospects would fit with this roster, who would you like to see selected at 12, and who is a second prospect that you would be content with being selected but isn’t your first choice?
Bruno: I’ll answer this assuming none of the core young guys are moved, mostly to make this easier on me. To make this even easier, I’m going to caveat my first choice with what I think is a totally fair hedge and say that the Spurs’ hypothetically selecting this player — in this case, Texas’ Kai Jones — would also assume they’d weighed his wide range of pros and cons and decided one of the biggest swings in the draft is worth it. And Jones definitely feels like that as a 6’11” player with wing-like fluidity on both ends of the floor but who also very much plays like someone who started playing ball at 16. From The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks: “Jones has the talent and the athleticism to be a 6-foot-11 guard. Players like that don’t come around often. They basically don’t exist.” And the Spurs should have all the opportunity to vet Jones, whose projected draft range (from inside the top 10 through the late teens) reflects his vast breadth of outcomes, given not only he played down the road in Austin but that he was discovered through Basketball Without Borders, an organization Gregg Popovich has a long history with.
Australian Josh Giddey wouldn’t be my first choice, but I do love the idea of a high-level playmaker joining a young group that does not excel on the ball. If the Spurs bring back Patty Mills, he’d have the ideal teammate to get him up to speed, and he could bring the right kind of juice to a second unit that’s always thrived with movement and heady playmakers.
I’m curious where you’ll go with this. Is there a player projected in their range who’s a strong combination of fit and upside or are you leaning more in one particular direction?
Walker: I’ll begin by circling back to the same guy I ended our last piece with, Jalen Johnson. The Duke product has a high IQ on the defensive end of the floor and has shown enough flashes to make me believe he can be a plus defender in the NBA. Johnson also isn’t a fantastic shooter but the Spurs have improved jump shots in the past and I think they can do it again in this scenario. Johnson absolutely thrives in transition and thrives as a play-maker and that is something this roster desperately needs, especially with the potential departure of Demar DeRozan. He would bring a combination of size and speed that the Spurs don’t have that would play well attacking the rim with his above average finishing as well as creating for others. Johnson is my guy at 12.
As for a guy that I wouldn’t mind seeing picked, I’m going to go off the beating path here and go with Trey Murphy III out of Virginia. Murphy excels as a shooter and does so with significant size standing six feet nine inches tall, and carrying a wing span over seven feet. Murphy is also a fantastic, versatile defender and the previously mentioned length makes him a beautiful nuisance on that end of the floor. He was able to excel in Virginia’s infamous pack line defense and show why he will continue to be valuable on that end of the floor at the next level. He’s also fairly slender only weighing in at 205, but his frame seems to project that he could gain 15 to 20 pounds and not lose any athleticism. I’m a firm believer that college prospects can be limited by the system that they play in, and I think Virginia limited Murphy in a big way on the offensive end of the floor. He’s an underrated athlete with a great first step to the basket and pretty good finishing ability. Murphy shot 65.9% at the rim in half court sets last season. I think this is a name you’ll hear more and more as we approach the draft, and believe that Murphy is a guy who will be a late riser on NBA draft boards.
With that being said Bruno, we’ve now discussed prospects that we want to see taken or wouldn’t mind seeing taken, so lets flip this to the other side. What is one name that you would prefer not to hear called when the Spurs announce their first round pick, and why do you think said prospect wouldn’t fit in this system?
Bruno: Both of those are solid choices, which speaks to the strong position the Spurs are in at the 12 spot. There’s no shortage of options who can all scratch an itch one way or another. Murphy in particular seems like he’s flown under the radar and I have a theory that it’s on account of his name in a draft class stacked with memorable ones. Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland. Miles “Deuce” McBride. Cade Cunningham and tons of other alliterative prospects that could be superhero aliases. For people older than you, Trey Murphy suffers from an immediate association with 2001 draft pick Troy Murphy who, to be fair, had a completely respectable NBA career but also looked more like the superhero’s best friend. What was the question again?
As far as less desirable prospects, there aren’t many that realistically fall in their range in my opinion, but I’ll pick one who I think could be a solid pro, but who also could be answering the wrong question for the Spurs, and that’s Usman Garuba from Barcelona. His energy and defensive IQ definitely pop but it seems like he’s a better fit on teams that have shooting and versatility in the frontcourt. The Spurs in particular don’t have complementary pieces at the 4 or 5 that would suit an offensively raw player who projects more as a small-ball, low usage center, nor do they have the kind of playmaking and shooting at other positions where Garuba would be able to thrive. They could definitely add those, and Garuba could round out his offensive game to where he could eventually play alongside, say, a Jakob Poeltl, but it seems like the Spurs would be compounding the areas where they’re weak and missing a chance to plug some gaps by selecting him.
Walker: That’s an interesting choice. I’m going to follow you overseas with my pick here. I don’t hate Alperen Sengun as a prospect, but I question his fit within the Spurs system and his lack of defensive ability concerns me. There are often times where he gets beat just because he’s not fundamentally sound and gives the offensive player the blueprint on how to beat him. He isn’t really a guy who’s going to be able to play the five due to his size, and defensively I’m not sure he can defend anything other than fours in the NBA. Offensively, he’s skilled especially as a passer. He’s effective shooting from deep and has a great back to the basket game. I just don’t see how that type of skillset fits into this Spurs system especially with the current roster. I’d much prefer to see the Spurs go the big wing route and become better on the perimeter because that’s where championships are won in the modern NBA.