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Why Spurs fans should be optimistic about San Antonio’s 2021 NBA Draft selections

Getting to know the newest members of the Silver and Black with Max Feldman of Front Office Gurus.

The Spurs are a few days removed from taking Josh Primo with the 12th overall pick, making the 18-year-old perhaps the most controversial first-round selection in franchise history. And while they went a safer route in the second round by addressing their shooting needs with Joe Wieskamp, there was a massive emotional response to their night as a whole across the fanbase.

Snagging the relatively unsung Canadian teenager in the lottery has received substantial criticism as a reach from the majority of draft experts. But for Max Feldman, founder of Front Office Gurus, that’s far from the case. So, I sat down with Max to better understand his stance on Primo and Wieskamp and get his perspective on why San Antonio’s draft-day decisions were a massive success.

You had Josh Primo 22 spots higher on your Big Board than the national consensus heading into the draft, what made you so high on the Alabama freshman?

It’s definitely cool to see two guys I’ve been pretty high on throughout the process get selected higher than the consensus. So, that was an exciting moment, but they obviously have a long way to go. We’ll see what happens on the court. As for Josh Primo, there are a lot of things that intrigue me. I think the biggest selling point for Josh Primo is that he was the youngest player in college basketball last year. He’s been playing up and against older competition throughout his entire career, essentially. The spot-up game is probably his strongest skill right now. The shooting stroke is extremely smooth, and he’s fluid on the perimeter. He’s incredibly smart. His competitiveness jumps off the screen every time you see him. Defensively, guarding the one and two are probably his strong suits. When he gets locked in and low to the floor, most guys aren’t getting past him. There’s just a lot of untapped skills with him right now. Between his playmaking and comfortability beyond the arc, the flashes of talent extend to several parts of his overall package. Off-the-dribble, his handles have improved over the last few years. And that was something that’s been a focus for him. Playing lower to the ground has opened a lot of possibilities, and we’ll continue to see how that benefits him as he develops. Primo isn’t as raw as some people make him out to be. There’s plenty of polish to his shooting stroke and perimeter game. And the fact that he’s only 18-year-old means he would typically be on pace to be entering his freshman year of college, yet he’s already in the NBA. It’s definitely a positive thing to get him into the system now and work with him on shaping areas of his game that could be future strengths.

When did Josh first show up on your radar? And how much of him have you seen live over the past couple of years?

Unfortunately, I’ve never seen him play live, but my first gig during my senior year of high school was writing for a Canadian-based basketball website called North Pole Hoops. I was covering Canadian recruits playing high school basketball in the United States. At the time, Primo was at Huntington Prep in West Virginia, which was when I first heard about him. Huntington Prep has been home to a bunch of NBA prospects like Keldon Johnson, Miles Bridges, and Andrew Wiggins over the years. So, he popped onto my radar during his time there. Primo wasn’t too prominent at the time, but it was a name I was starting to hear more and more. Over the next few years, he attended Basketball Without Borders, which is a huge international showing. Before that, he participated in FIBA U19s with Canada, where at 16, he was the youngest player on the roster. Even though he was buried in the rotation, the fact they included him was pretty telling of what they thought of his ability. He also had a huge showing for the U16 UPLAY Canada team on the Nike EYBL circuit back in 2018, and that’s where he began to explode and garner high major Division One offers. Josh’s name continued to rise through the ranks here and there, and honestly, I’ve always had a soft spot for overlooked Canadian prospects.

Based on who the Spurs have under contract, do you expect him to play right away or spend a lot of time up I-35 with the Austin Spurs?

With this selection, the Spurs probably saw him as the best prospect available. It doesn’t look like they were too worried about what players they already had in the fold. And seeing as he was the youngest player in college basketball and the draft, they shouldn’t have any problem sending him to Austin and allowing him to do his thing and squeeze out every ounce of talent they saw in him throughout the pre-draft process. There shouldn’t be any rush with this. And with the direction the Spurs are heading in, they won’t need to get him on an NBA court and put a load on him that he isn’t ready to handle. Taking everything slow will probably be best for both parties.

If Primo earns NBA minutes as a rookie, what sort of role do you see him playing for San Antonio?

You have to consider his role and surroundings at Alabama a year ago when considering if he can have an instant impact for the Spurs this season. Primo had the eighth-highest usage percentage for the Crimson Tide and played alongside two of the three-highest volume three-point shooters in the SEC, in John Petty and Jaden Shackelford. And they all happened to occupy the same position. He was utilized in a smaller role within the Alabama offense. He wasn’t the head of the snake, so he can probably fit into an NBA offense as a spot-up threat and cutter. I don’t necessarily project it, but early on, if he was to play a role within San Antonio’s rotation, it would probably be as an off-ball shooting specialist. Head coach Nate Oats didn’t encourage midrange shots as much as the Spurs do, so maybe you could see him break that out as well.

Bryan Kalbroksy of USA Today wrote about the value of reaching for a guy a year early so you can control his development, what are your thoughts on that idea?

I love Bryan’s work. And in a piece called The Bargain Deals, I wrote about Josh Primo and his former teammate JT Thor. I buy into this notion that if NBA executives are saying a prospect is a sure thing to go in the lottery if they return to college for another season, then you should take them now and develop them within your system. I find this especially true for a team like the Spurs, who have a historic tradition of developmental excellence. Bringing that guy in right now, getting your hands on him, and having him be in the gym every single day around your staff is just so valuable. This is an idea that should be given additional stock, not frowned upon. Instead of letting your favorite guy return to a college program, you take them now, control their regimen, get their weight up, and set the pace for the process. Primo has developed pretty rapidly over the last couple of years in terms of polish on the perimeter. Whether it’s athleticism, physicality, or the playmaking we saw at the combine, getting him into their system a year early is so beneficial long-term. Whether it’s in Austin or around their NBA veterans, being a part of an organization like the Spurs at this age is invaluable.

What can Spurs fans hope to see from Josh Primo if he reaches his high-end outcome as a prospect in the next two or three years?

It’s tough to give him a projection that far down the line because the context at Alabama was suboptimal for picking apart his game. But looking back at the UPLAY Canada film is key towards projecting him. He was taking guys off the dribble a lot, whether at the top of the key or getting to his step-back mid-range jumper, something he was not allowed to do at Alabama. In terms of creating on the perimeter, we frequently witnessed live-dribble crosscourt passes at the combine, stuff we had never previously seen him do. He had success getting to the rim with his euro-step, so as cliche as it sounds, he has the potential to score at all three levels. He’s continued to polish his game, but right now, his focus should be on getting tougher around the rim and controlling his shot selection. That said, those aren’t abnormal issues for a guy as young as he is going into the NBA.

Be honest with me, is there anyone else you would have drafted ahead of Josh Primo if you were part of San Antonio’s front office?

Josh Primo was tenth on my Big Board, and the only player ahead of him for me that was still available was Florida sophomore, Tre Mann. Mann was a player the Spurs were connected to and worked out leading up to the draft, but I believe the fit with Primo still makes a ton of sense for San Antonio. He’s nearly two full years younger than Tre, and they were only separated by a few spots on my Big Board, so it was a 1A and 1B situation for me. Either guy would have been a great pickup, and the Spurs got tremendous value here. As I think back on the idea that getting a younger guy into your system earlier is more valuable than letting him slip through the cracks, I lean towards saying Primo was the right move for their front office.

You also had Joe Wieskamp 22 spots higher on your Big Board than the national consensus, what warranted such a high placement for the Iowa junior?

He’s also one of the guys I was fortunate enough to build a relationship with during the pre-draft process. I spent about a month in the gym with him and eight other NBA prospects back in June when they were training every day. Game aside, he’s a terrific, friendly, hardworking human being. Wieskamp is just a guy who screams professionalism. He understands the industry and what it takes to make it in the NBA. I go to the University of Illinois, so I’ve seen him dominate my school time and time again, which, funny enough, piqued my interest. I’ve studied his game closely for the last few years. If you give him space, he’s gonna knock down a shot. He’s an extremely talented floor spacer. While I observed him in the gym, he was training for the draft alongside Corey Kispert, John Petty, and Max Strus, who’s already in the NBA. That’s a list of some very gifted shooters, and Joe Wieskamp was probably the most deadly unguarded spot-up shooter there. He’s so efficient with his shot prep, and Primo is too. That’s something that stands out when you watch both of the guys the Spurs drafted in 2021. They can get their shot off in a hurry, especially Wieskamp at six-foot-seven. Whether he’s wide-open or has a hand in his face, he’s getting that shot off, and it’s most likely going in. His efficiency was incredible. In terms of floor spacing, he was probably a top-two option in this class.

Do you think Wieskamp can earn minutes as a rookie, and are there any obstacles to him breaking into the rotation?

Wieskamp is one of those guys who should improve on defense when coached up by a franchise that emphasizes excellence on that side of the ball. Obviously, you’re not going to step on an NBA court for the first time and be completely comfortable and productive right away. But I think by the middle of the season, depending on how San Antonio’s year goes, you might see Wieskamp earn minutes. Just based on what he brings in terms of spacing to a team that finished last in the league in three-point makes and attempts, his shooting addresses a need they probably can’t ignore. And I think he fits in really well with the guys already in place across the roster.

Most of the concerns around Wieskamp center around his man-to-man coverage and defensive versatility, how can he improve in those areas?

I’ll start by saying Iowa’s defense was atrocious. It was one of the worst defenses in the Big 10, if not the country. They were a great team because they outscored everyone, not because they held their opponents in check. Defense just wasn’t a focus at Iowa. They had maybe one or two guys who were solid defenders, but besides that, it wasn’t really a priority. With Joe being such a professional and dedicated guy from my experience documenting his progress in person, defense is an area he wants to work on improving. He was very upfront about addressing his weaknesses when I was with him. Joe talked about wanting to improve his shooting on the move, defensive versatility, and lateral quickness. When it comes to those types of things, he’s incredibly self-aware. Wieskamp proved to be a better athlete at the combine than most people expected. He’s six-foot-seven with a six-eleven wingspan, and those are great tools for him to begin to build a foundation. He’s an average to above-average team defender, and he understands spacing. Staying in front of your assignment in the NBA isn’t an easy thing to do, and it’ll probably be a weakness for Joe early on. But I also think playing with the Spurs, who have a bunch of good perimeter defenders, will help him adjust to the next level. Guys like Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Devin Vassell should all help to alleviate some defensive pressure for Joe.

Joe is mostly known as a shooting specialist, but are there any parts of his game that might surprise Spurs fans?

Shooting against contests is something that goes overlooked when it comes to Wieskamp. We see that the numbers don’t necessarily show that, but it’s something that he does so well. If a defender is late around a screen or goes under it, he’s going to make them pay for that. His ability to keep the ball moving within the flow of an offense is impressive. He’s a quick decision-maker. There are a lot of points in his film where teams would blitz him off of screen actions to keep him from shooting, and he would make an intelligent dump-off pass to Luka Garza, Keegan Murray, or guys diving to the rim. He’s just a quick processor with a high level of feel for the game, and that’ll stand out once he cements himself as a knockdown shooter in the NBA.

Several prominent media outlets bashed the Spurs for their picks, what grade would you give PATFO for this draft?

Making my Big Board and doing all of those deviation tweets, I never expected the top two guys to land on the same team, so the Spurs definitely get an A from me. Over the last few years, we’ve seen how immediate draft night reactions don’t age well. Josh Primo’s context at Alabama is vital for understanding his value. Sure, the production wasn’t there, but he more than held his own as a kid who should have been a high school senior. The situation in San Antonio is pretty optimal for Primo and Wieskamp, so this was undoubtedly my favorite draft from a fit and best player available perspective.

For more in-depth pieces from Max Feldman on Josh Primo, Joe Wieskamp, and the rest of the 2021 NBA Draft Class, visit Front Office Gurus.

And to listen to my immediate thoughts on San Antonio’s draft-day decisions, tune into the latest episode of Alamo City Limits.