The Spurs are just two days away from making the fifth lottery selection in franchise history. While we have a good idea of the types of players who could be available in their range, there isn’t a clear consensus on who they should pick on Thursday night.
San Antonio has plenty of criteria to consider before coming to a decision, including frontcourt depth, three-point shooting, and incumbent talent. Will they aim for a high-floor role player that might be able to contribute from day one or take an upside swing on a raw prospect?
Teams are reportedly taking workouts and interviews more seriously than in the past after the Coronavirus pandemic kept scouts from conducting their usual pre-draft evaluations over the last year-and-a-half. So, let’s rank the lottery prospects PATFO have contacted ahead of the 2021 NBA Draft.
1. Moses Moody | Arkansas | Fr | G | 6’ 6” | 205 lbs
San Antonio already has a surplus of guards, and Moody will probably be gone before the 12th pick. Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated reported the Spurs “have angled to move up in the draft and into the top ten.” With that said, there isn’t much sense in trading higher into the lottery to acquire a prospect whose size and skill overlap with what’s already on the roster.
The Arkansas freshman should be a physical multipositional defender and reliable standstill three-point shooter from the moment he sets foot on an NBA court. He should have no trouble carving an off-ball role for whoever selects him, though he doesn’t project as a self-creator unless he can shore up his handle, develop a mid-range jumper, and finish better at the rim.
2. Keon Johnson | Tennessee | Fr | G | 6’ 5” | 186 lbs
Although we just discussed how the Silver and Black have a noticeably crowded backcourt, Johnson is one of the few prospects the front office should make an exception for should he slip on draft night. Seeing as the Tennessee freshman told the media that he received a glowing review at his workout with San Antonio, it sounds like this could be their guy.
There arguably isn’t a better athlete in this class, and his vertical pop, straight-line burst, and fluidity with the ball in his hands hint at a bright future as a high-volume scorer. Despite high-end flashes of creating offense off the dribble, Keon was far from a consistent shooter and too often detrimental as a decision-maker when facing defensive pressure.
San Antonio would need to be patient with Keon as he continues to round out his offensive repertoire. Still, his instincts as a man-to-man and team defender are impressive for someone who didn’t commit to organized basketball until he started high school. Taking the six-five swingman might signal a full-blown rebuild if they move pieces to open up minutes.
3. Kai Jones | Texas | So | F | 6’ 11” | 218 lbs
Kai is the undisputed darling of Spurs draft circles. The Texas forward is about as high-risk, high-reward as anyone in the 2021 NBA Draft, and his mouthwatering two-way potential at a position of need makes him a near no-brainer. San Antonio interviewed during the Combine, ran him through 3x3 scrimmages in a multi-day workout, and took him out for Salmon.
Despite missing basic rotations and looking lost from time to time during his sophomore season, Kai displayed a knack for making the spectacular seem routine. His explosiveness and mobility are off the charts for a guy his size, and if the shooting and ballhandling flashes become consistent production, PATFO could have a bonafide All-Star in a couple of years.
However, there’s a legitimate chance Jones is in the same position as Thon Maker if he can’t put everything together and raise his awareness on both ends of the court. Most of his skills are still theoretical, and he only started 14 games in two years for the Longhorns, so patience will be essential as the Bahamian big man acclimates from the Big 12 to the NBA.
4. Jaden Springer | Tennessee | Fr | G | 6’ 4” | 204 lbs
The Spurs also worked out the Volunteers’ other freshman phenom during the pre-draft process. Much like Moody and Keon, Springer doesn’t seem like a logical fit for San Antonio in the lottery. The 18-year-old has a higher floor than some of the players we’ll discuss later, though PATFO should be looking for an upside swing if they take yet another guard in 2021.
Springer is a physical driver who can bulldoze through smaller opponents and draw fouls once getting downhill. He also shot the three-ball well off catch-and-shoot sets and showed off solid passing chops. While his on-ball defense was outstanding, the lack of positional versatility, creativity as a ballhandler, and a pull-up jumper could cap his long-term value.
5. Alperen Şengün | Beşiktaş | Intl | C | 6’ 9” | 242 lbs
Sengun has been one of the more polarizing prospects in this draft class, landing anywhere between the top seven and mid-twenties in big boards across the nation. The Spurs worked out teenage sensation a little over a week ago, which shouldn’t be all that surprising given their stark lack of frontcourt depth behind Jakob Poeltl heading into this offseason.
The 19-year-old dominated grown men on his way to becoming the youngest MVP in Turkish Super League history. His undeniable production in what many consider to be the second-best domestic league outside of the NBA is encouraging. Though his back-to-the-basket style of play isn’t exactly what most front offices are looking for in the pace-and-space era.
His uncanny court vision, creativity as a passer, and shooting upside have Spurs fans salivating at the idea of PATFO unearthing the second-coming of Domantas Sabonis. As an undersized center with little switchability, his defensive fit is admittedly awkward. But that becomes easier to swallow if he can turn into a post-playmaking hub and reliable floor-spacer.
6. Tre Mann | Florida | So | G | 6’ 5” | 190 lbs
There wasn’t a single player in college hoops who took a more significant stride in their development than Tre Mann in 2021. The Florida sophomore upped his per-game averages across the boards and saw a massive bump in his shooting percentages while inheriting primary ballhandling, scoring, and playmaking responsibilities and did so in the hyper-competitive SEC.
Every competitive team needs an alpha on their roster, and I would gladly put my money on Mann if I had to bet on one guy outside of the lottery to become a go-to scorer in the NBA. Tre generated most of his buckets off the bounce, and a large share of them came from beyond the arc. If the Spurs are open to moving Derrick or Dejounte, he could be a replacement.
Questions about his defensive fundamentals and utility as a distributor are fair. And despite a rumored 40-inch vertical leap, Mann struggled to finish against elite length and didn’t show much pop in a crowd. These issues might make him seem like a reach at 12, but he could end up becoming the steal of the draft if he continues improving on his current trajectory.
7. JT Thor | Auburn | Fr | F | 6’ 10” | 205 lbs
Aside from having perhaps the best name in the 2021 NBA Draft, there are few prospects with a higher upside than JT Thor. The 18-year-old forward has a massive wingspan and unique mobility for a player of his size. Even though the results didn’t materialize into solid percentages, he appeared at home putting the ball on the floor and shot threes with confidence.
Thor probably would have been a 2022 lottery lock if he decided to return to Auburn for his sophomore season. And with that in mind, it wouldn’t be the worst idea for San Antonio to think about adding another first-rounder via trade. Would the lanky forward spend most of his rookie year with the Austin Spurs? Maybe, but adding top-flight talent should be a priority.
8. Isaiah Jackson | Kentucky | Fr | F | 6’ 10” | 206 lbs
The Spurs hosted Isaiah Jackson for a workout, which doesn’t necessarily mean anything since they’ve brought in more than 40 players during the pre-draft process. Few mock drafts have the Kentucky product going inside the lottery, yet what makes San Antonio’s interest intriguing is a report from Jake Fischer stating they’re “prime candidates to trade back into the mid-teens or early 20s for the right value.”
If you had to make a case for taking Jackson with the 12th overall pick, it would begin with his insane catch radius and absurd rim-protecting. Not only was he an elite lob finisher, but his 5.0 blocks per 40 minutes were near the top of the NCAA leaderboard. He also tied Cade Cunningham for the second-best BPM by a freshman in 2021, behind only Evan Mobley.
The rest of his game isn’t refined at this point, especially when it comes to committing avoidable fouls and creating offense outside of five feet of the basket. However, the free-throw motion is smooth enough that you can’t rule out the possibility of him expanding his range. And while his frame is spindly, strength coaches will have plenty of time to help him add muscle.
9. Davion Mitchell | Baylor | Jr | G | 6’ 1” | 205 lbs
There is plenty to love about what Davion Mitchell brings to the table at the next level. The former Baylor Bear is a versatile shot creator, a great three-point shooter, a capable passer, an exceptional point of attack defender, and most importantly, a winner. He checks several traditional Spurs boxes, and the odds he doesn’t pan out in the NBA are microscopic.
Mitchell’s tenacity and awareness are undeniable, but he will be at an automatic disadvantage on both ends of the floor given his height and six-four wingspan. He rarely got to the free-throw line. And as an almost exclusively below-the-rim finisher, scoring inside the restricted area against better, longer shot-blockers could end up being a real problem.
Slight concerns aside, as long as Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, Patty Mills, Tre Jones, and Lonnie Walker IV occupy touches within the rotation, finding minutes for Davion could be a difficult task. Excluding him from the group of players the Spurs should draft isn’t fun, but it feels like the right thing to do if they want to find out what they have in their young core.
10. Corey Kispert | Gonzaga | Sr | F | 6’ 7” | 220 lbs
You’re not misreading anything. Corey Kispert occupies the bottom spot in my first-round prospect rankings. The Gonzaga senior is undoubtedly the best shooter in this class by a mile, and the Spurs desperately need a three-point threat. The six-seven forward has genuine NBA range and can knock down shots standing still, on the move, and coming off screens.
Kispert is a plug-and-play sharpshooter who should make an immediate impact, but that’s not what San Antonio needs. Drafting him in the lottery is a move that implies PATFO are ready to win now, but without an all-star caliber player under contract and a weaker free-agent class, stockpiling and cultivating prospects who could become a cornerstone is vital.
A 23-year-old isn’t a finished product, and Kispert isn’t a one-dimensional player. He leveraged his gravity as a marksman to create opportunities for others, and his team defense was excellent. Nevertheless, it does little for a team like the Spurs to select a role player this early unless they have the proper infrastructure to ensure they’re the missing piece to a title contender.