The San Antonio Spurs are entering a new era unlike anything they’ve seen since at least the mid 1980’s: rebuilding. Gone are the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan, and Patty Mills (not to mention any remnants from the bygone championship days outside of Gregg Popovich), and as a result, the effort the Spurs have put into building a young foundation behind the scenes via the draft over the last several years are coming to a head.
This is an organization that has always prided itself on its drafting prowess and making the most of players overlooked by other organizations. Dating back to their selection of Dejounte Murray at 29th overall in the 2016 NBA Draft, the Spurs still have a whopping NINE of their last twelve draft picks on the roster heading into the 2021-22 season, including all seven first round picks and ranging anywhere from late in the lottery to the middle of the second round. It goes without saying that is a lot, and while some of those players have already established themselves as part of main core, others have some work to do to prove they should be a part of the Spurs going forward.
With that in mind, it’s time to look at the state of each of the Spurs former draft picks that are still on the roster and where they stand with the team. This will not include 2021 draft picks Josh Primo and Joe Wieskamp since they will in all likelihood spend most of the season in Austin and don’t figure to be a part of the main rotation, but you can check out PtR’s 2021 Draft archives to learn more about them.
Without further ado, we’re starting the “State of the Spurs’ Draft Picks” series off with:
Tre Jones (2020, 41st overall)
2020-21 stats: 2.5 points, 1.1 assists, 47.4% shooting
As a second round pick out of Duke in 2020, and with no Summer League and very little training heading into last season do to the COVID-condensed season (not to mention the Spurs’ plethora of guards), it’s no surprise that Jones saw minimal playing time during his rookie season. His NBA stats are too small of sample size to take anything away from, but through other channels he has gradually begun to show that he could the be first Spurs’ second round pick since DeJuan Blair to make the main rotation.
Jones had a solid Gubble (or G League Bubble) showing last season, where he averaged an impressive 18.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 9.7 assists in seven games as the main point man, but a deeper dive still reveals room for improvement in the form of 3 turnovers per game and shooting just 8.3% from three. (Granted on the three-point stat, this was only in seven games, not an entire season, and slumps happen. The lack of Summer League in 2020 and shortened G League season were just one of many unprecedented challenges last season’s rookies faced.)
Perhaps the best indicator of where Jones stands today would be 2021 Summer League, where he shined while fighting through injury and being the leader of the team on the court. He was inexplicably snubbed from the All-Summer League team despite coming in fourth in scoring with 22.8 points on 50.7% shooting (36.4% from three on 2.8 attempts) while pulling in 4.8 rebounds and dishing out 6.3 assists in four games. The only negative, again, was his 4.8 turnovers, which led the entire SL. Some of that can be excused by growing pains and leading an unfamiliar group, but it’s still high and possibly proving that ball security is the main weakness he’ll need to work on going forward.
All three of these sample sizes come against different levels of competition — NBA, G League, and Summer League — and again, they came in short, compressed, atypical situations, so it’s hard to take too much away from any individual set of stats, but ultimately what Jones does going forward is what matters.
Jones has proven he is above the G League competition level at this point (if not extremely close), so the next step will be to establish himself as an NBA player, and the timing could hardly be more ideal for him considering there is a wide open spot on second unit left behind by Patty Mills. While Jones isn’t the shooter Mills is (and isn’t expected to be), he would bring a new element of floor management and defensive acumen that the second unit has lacked in recent years.
Of course, there’s the chance that Pop goes in a different direction and choses another shooter (possibly Bryn Forbes) over a floor general to replace Mills, so Jones still will have his work cut out for him. Because of his lack of experience, he will likely have a shorter leash than the other guards on the roster, so he’ll need to bring 110% every night (which shouldn’t be an issue for him), cut down on the mistakes, work on his outside shooting, and do whatever Pop asks of him.
If he can do all those things and earn a rotation spot in just his second season in Pop’s system, he will accomplish what few second rounders before him have done, and that would just be the beginning.