Now that the NBA Draft lottery has come and gone, we know that the Spurs will go into the 2022 draft holding the 9th, 20th 25th, and 38th picks. While scoring a top 4 pick would have been huge, the Spurs still have a plethora of options to work with.
The Spurs’ current roster situation could impact how they approach the draft. As a brief summary, the Spurs have 8 fully guaranteed contracts for next season. Zach Collins has half of his contract guaranteed, and it seems highly likely the Spurs will guarantee the other half to see how he performs after a full offseason of training. The Spurs also have non-guaranteed contracts for Keita Bates-Diop, Tre Jones, and Jock Landale. Of those three, Tre Jones seems the most likely to have his contract guaranteed. Then there’s the looming contract decision for Lonnie Walker IV and the fact that the Spurs could open up a lot of cap space for signing free agents. The point is, the Spurs already have a pretty crowded roster, so it seems unlikely they will make four picks, including three first rounders, in the 2022 draft.
Draft and stash
Draft and stash used to be a prime draft strategy for the Spurs, but as they have fallen further away from championship contention, this strategy has been mostly abandoned. Instead, the Spurs have preferred to use the NBA G League as a way of developing their rookies. The only problem with using the G League instead of draft and stash is that first round picks who play in the G League are still signed to guaranteed contracts and are part of the main roster, which won’t help the Spurs if they are trying to keep roster spots open for potential free agents. So while I wouldn’t consider this a primary option for the Spurs, it’s still something worth considering if some of these other options don’t end up coming to fruition.
Trading for future draft compensation
The Spurs could balance their draft picks by trading one of their 2022 draft picks for future draft compensation. It’s hard to know for sure which team would be interested in trading into the 2022 first round. Teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, and Philadelphia 76ers are without any draft picks this season, but they also all owe future first round picks to other teams, making it difficult for the Spurs to get a draft pick in the near-term. That said, any team could be willing to part with a future first if there is a player still on the board at 20 or 25 that they like. It will certainly be something the Spurs consider on draft night, especially if the draft shakes out in a way where they don’t love the options left in the 20s.
Just last year, the New York Knicks owned the 19th and 21st picks in the draft and decided to trade the 19th pick to the Charlotte Hornets for a lottery-protected 2023 first round pick. The Houston Rockets also sent two protected future first round picks to the Oklahoma City Thunder for the 16th pick.
Trading up in the draft
On the surface, I don’t see a whole lot of opportunity for a major trade up. The Houston Rockets hinted they might be willing to trade out of the third spot, but it would likely be way too expensive for the Spurs to seriously consider. I also wouldn’t give up a potential lottery pick in the 2023 draft, which is expected to be a much better draft. The Sacramento Kings are always a wildcard, but they would likely be looking for an established star as opposed to draft compensation. The Portland Trail Blazers didn’t blatantly tank just to move down in the draft. They are still clinging onto the hopes of keeping Damian Lillard happy and will either make the pick or trade it for an established star. Other than that, the teams ahead of the Spurs in the draft are also actively rebuilding and won’t likely be looking to trade down.
A more likely scenario involves combining some of the Spurs’ later picks in order to move up in the draft. In 2020, the New York Knicks acquired the 23rd pick from the Utah Jazz by trading their 27th and 38th picks. They then traded the 23rd pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves for the 25th and 33rd pick. Last year, the Knicks traded 21st pick to the Los Angeles Clippers for the 25th and a future second round pick. These are the types of trades the Spurs may be looking at if they want to try and move up from the 25th pick.
On its own, that doesn’t really solve the Spurs’ roster issue, as they would still have three first round picks in 2022. What it might do is make another trade up more valuable to other teams. For the sake of this article, let’s assume the Spurs are able to trade their 25th and 38th picks to the Denver Nuggets for their 21st pick. It makes some sense for Denver considering that is their only pick this year, and they have an expensive roster. Getting a second pick and filling multiple roster spots via the draft could be a way to inexpensively complete their roster.
Then, the Spurs could shop their 20th and 21st picks to teams in the teens to see if anybody is willing to trade back. The most obvious choice out of those teams is the Cleveland Cavaliers at 14th. For one, the 14th pick for the 20th and 21st picks is fair value. Additionally, the Cavs may have to send their 2023 first round pick to the Indiana Pacers if it falls outside the lottery. That might leave them without a pick, so maybe they would be interested in multiple first round picks this year or might look to trade 20 or 21 in 2022 for a first round pick in 2023.
Again, this is just one example of how the Spurs could navigate the lower end of the first round in order to move up in the draft and help maintain roster flexibility during free agency.
Draft and stash, trading for future draft compensation, and trading up in the draft are just some of the options that Spurs will be looking at as the draft nears. There’s certainly other options not yet discussed, such as trading players like Doug McDermott or Josh Richardson plus pick(s) to move up in the draft. The only problem with that in terms of roster construction is that trading those players will most likely require the Spurs taking players back in return, which doesn’t help free up roster spots heading into free agency.
Please leave a comment on how you would like to see the Spurs navigate the 2022 draft.