It’s been almost 24 hours since the San Antonio Spurs made the most shocking (and controversial) pick if the 2021 NBA Draft, selecting 18 year-old guard Josh Primo out of Alabama with the 12th overall pick. The decision was met with confusion and anger from many fans, but it’s time to let the dust settle and get to know your knew Spur.
Born in Toronto, Canada on Christmas Eve, 2002, Primo attended high school at Huntington Prep School in West Virginia before transferring to Royal Crown Academic School back in Toronto. He was ranked as a five-star recruit by 247Sports and chose to play for the University of Alabama, where he averaged 8.1 points on 50% shooting (38.1% from three) and 3.4 rebounds in 30 games and was named to the Southeastern Conference All-Freshman Team.
He declared for the draft without hiring an agent to maintain his college eligibility, but — and this is something to keep in mind when considering why the Spurs drafted him — his performance at the Combine was reportedly so strong and his value skyrocketed so much that he chose to remain in the draft, and the Spurs were reportedly just one of several teams that was especially intrigued by his potential.
Alabama's Josh Primo had arguably the best day of anyone at the NBA Combine yesterday, especially considering he's just 18-years old. Made shots as always but also showed more upside as a creator than we had previously seen, with some really nice passes. pic.twitter.com/B7NxevGGoz— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) June 24, 2021
Here's Josh Primo in the NBA Combine shooting drills. pic.twitter.com/twWjN5Z3u5— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) June 24, 2021
In fact, sources are pointing out that several teams were looking to take Primo in teens by draft night, showing just how much his value had shot up behind closed doors, even if mock drafters were unaware of it. That would also explain why the Spurs were unable to trade back for him (and they reportedly tried). There would be no guarantee he would still be there, so they just had to grab him when they were picking regardless of if it felt like a reach at the time. (It’s a comparable situation to what they faced with Luka Samanic in the 2019 draft: reports indicated there were other teams between the Spurs’ 19th and 29th draft picks that were said to be eyeing him, so because they wanted him that bad, they snatched him.)
But enough about the draft itself; this is about Primo the person. Although he was the youngest player in the draft — and the youngest the Spurs have ever selected — he is extremely mature for his age, and going through personal tragedy at a young age likely has something to do with that. Some may have missed it while dealing with the shock of the pick, but after he was drafted, ESPN told his story of how his mother Sandra passed away in 2012 following lengthy battle with an illness, when Josh was just nine years old. Personal loss can shape a person for good or bad, and he took the good route.
As a player, he’s an active defender with a 6’11” wingspan, and while still developing, the skillset is there for him to be good shooter and playmaker. He’s still growing, and even though he likely would have been a guaranteed lottery pick had stayed at Alabama another year, another way to look at it is now the Spurs have complete control his development, and he will get much more special attention than he would have again college. (Again, reference to Samanic and the fact that the Spurs signed him right away instead of stashing him overseas: an indicator that they truly see something in him.)
Primo’s college production won’t wow anyone: About 9 PPG, but he is very active on defense, can handle the ball, shoots almost 40% from the perimeter, and is a natural three-and-D player off the bench as his playmaking progresses. The Spurs needed to get more athletic, bring in playmakers, and get younger: the youngest player in the Draft does just that.
ESPN’s Jay Bilas also had plenty of good things to say about him ahead of the draft:
“You know I think the more I watched him, the more I really liked them. I’d be surprised if he’s not a first-round selection. Really a talented player, one of those do-it-all guys. He has better size than I thought. He came off the bench but great effort and, he can handle it. I was very impressed with the way he played at the Combine.
“You know he’s a good catch-and-shoot guy,” Bilas said. “I liked them a lot and with the way he defended as well and he showed he can handle it, which I wasn’t honestly wasn’t sure that he projected necessarily as an initiating or handling guard, so he’s got a lot of ability. I was really impressed with him and he can be a sniper shooting the ball.”
Based on his age and current size, Primo may be a one to two year project before he’s ready for real NBA action and will likely spend most of the next season in Austin, but based on all the reports coming out about how rapidly his stock has risen, he’ll be worth keeping an eye on in Summer League and the G-League. He may not be the player Spurs fans wanted or expected them to draft, but as more information comes out about him, his potential upside is becoming tantalizing. With some patience, he could be one of the more exciting prospects the Spurs have drafted in recent memory.
Stay tuned for more coverage and Primo and the Spurs’ second round pick Joe Wieskamp.