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NBA Draft prospects the Spurs should be watching

Checking in on the 2024 NBA Draft class.

Kentucky v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The first third of the NBA season has not been kind to the San Antonio Spurs. Despite acquiring the number-one pick in the draft, Victor Wembanyama, the Spurs find themselves with the second-worst record in the league at 5-25. With plenty of holes in the roster, it is about time to look at what help may be coming in the 2024 NBA Draft class.

San Antonio could potentially have three first round picks in the upcoming draft – their own, a top-6 protected pick from the Toronto Raptors and a lottery protected pick from the Charlotte Hornets. They also own the Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans second round draft picks. While Charlotte’s pick looks unlikely to convey, the Spurs could have two picks within the lottery if Toronto misses out on a top-6 pick.

The 2024 draft class is not known for it’s top end talent. In fact, it’s widely considered a much worse crop of prospects than the 2023 class, and next season’s 2025 class. It’s still early in the draft process, and there are a number of players already rising up draft boards that could help San Antonio’s young core. As the Spurs continue to build through the draft, here are a few names to keep an eye on.

Reed Sheppard | 6-foot-3 Combo Guard | University of Kentucky

You’ll hear terms like “raw potential,” or “toolsy” or “high ceiling” thrown around during draft season. These describe players who have all of the skills and traits of an NBA player, but haven’t put it together. What about players who are just good at basketball? That’s who Reed Sheppard is.

If you saw the 6-foot-3 guard off the court, you wouldn’t clock him as a hooper. Maybe it’s his Sports Clips haircut, or his rounder baby face, but make no mistake – Sheppard can play ball. His parents are both Kentucky alumni (watch literally any Wildcats game and they will mention it no more than 5 times) and he performs exactly like you’d expect the son of a basketball family would. A sound connective piece who makes all of the right plays. And he could have higher potential than his college performance has shown.

He’s been damn good in his Freshman season. Sheppard is coming off the bench for Kentucky, averaging 12.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.8 steals per game. He’s been insanely efficient shooting the ball. Sheppard is shooting 58.5% from the field, 57.8% from three (!!!) and 89.5% from the line. His shooting is going to be his best offensive skill in the NBA. He can hit shots off the bounce or spotting up, all over the floor. He has deep range, and if you go under a screen, forget about it, that ball is going in for three points.

Defensively he’s got strong instincts and great hands. He has a whopping 5.7% steal percentage. He’s top-10 in all of college basketball in steals per game. Expose the ball, and Sheppard will rip it. He’s also good in the passing lanes. For being a smaller guard, Sheppard can also block shots. He’s averaging 0.8 a game in 11 games.

The question mark with Sheppard will be how he fares against next-level athletes. Kentucky is about to enter conference play, where Sheppard will play some of the best athletes the NCAA has to offer in the SEC. He was effective in UK’s games against high level programs like Kansas, Miami and North Carolina. He’s also not particularly great at getting to the hoop at this point. It will be interesting to see how his game develops now that his SEC opponents will overplay his three-point shot.

It’s hard to find a better fit for San Antonio in this draft. The Spurs lack perimeter shooting, guard play and point of attack defense. Sheppard would slot in perfectly as someone who can spread the floor for Wembanyama, defend at a high level and make plays for others as a connective piece. San Antonio needs to hit on their picks over the next few years to surround Vic with talent – Sheppard looks like a can’t miss guy at the moment.

It helps that Kentucky has a great track record with developing NBA guards. Around the league you’ll find guys like Devin Booker, Tyrese Maxey, Immanuel Quickley, Tyler Herro and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander thrive. Not all of those players set the world on fire in college, but have blossomed into excellent NBA players. There is a chance that Sheppard has more in the tank than we are seeing within the Wildcats system. He is someone San Antonio should be watching closely over the course of the season.

Nikola Topic | 6-foot-6 Point Guard | KK Crvena zvezda

Spurs fans have clamored for a point guard all season. Gregg Popovich and the Spurs staff have elected to go with a more point guard by committee approach this season, and the offense has struggled because of it. If San Antonio is in the market for a pure point guard in the draft, Nikola Topic should be one of those targets.

Topic is averaging 18.6 points, 6.9 assists and a steal per game for KK Mega Basket of Liga ABA in Serbia. Some notable alumni of that program are Nikola Jokic, Ivica Zubac and Goga Bitadze. Topic was performing so well that he was offered a chance to play in the EuroLeague with KK Crvena zvezda. He’ll finish his season playing in what is possibly the second best league in the world.

So what makes Topic such a highly-touted prospect? First of all, he’s one of the best playmakers in the draft. He plays with tremendous patience for an 18-year-old. He pokes and prods a defense, and makes smart reads. He’s able to pass well off the bounce and has high-level court vision. At 6-foot-6, he covers a lot of ground with his long strides, and is a good finisher at the rim, shooting 65.4% from two this season. He’s awesome in the open court with his ability to push the ball on the break, making plays for others or getting to the hoop himself.

The biggest knock on Topic’s game is his shooting ability. He’s hitting just 28.8% of his threes this season, but takes 4.5 a game. His mechanics are a bit rushed right now, but he will occasionally hit a pull-up three that shows signs of the jumper coming around as he matures. Another encouraging sign is that Topic is shooting 85% from the free throw line. Typically that signals that he can improve his jump shot from range eventually. I’m also not sold on Topic as a defender quite yet. He has a tendency to stand straight up and down on and off the ball. It’s going to be really interesting how he defends in the EuroLeague

Clearly San Antonio is interested in the Serbian guard. They sent three scouts to check him out already this year. He would provide them with the playmaking they desire at the position. If the jumper turns around, and he competes more defensively, it could be a slam dunk pairing with Wembanyama and the rest of San Antonio’s core.

Ron Holland | 6-foot-8 Wing | G League Ignite

Many considered Ron Holland to be the favorite to go number-one in the 2024 draft a few months ago. After a borderline disastrous start to the G League Ignite’s season, those takes have cooled a bit. I am still high on Holland’s ability to be an above average NBA level, especially scoring the basketball.

Holland is averaging 18.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.3 steals in 15 games. Whenever I tune into the Ignite to watch Matas Buzelis, or Izan Almansa or another one of their high-level prospects, I always come away most impressed by Holland. He’s a good athlete at an *alleged* 6-foot-8 (I think he’s closer to 6’6”) who can create his own shot. He’s not a great jump shooter at this point, but can get to his shot in the mid range or from three.

As a defender, Holland is up and down. He’s averaging 2.3 steals which is great, but on the ball he’s average at best. Opponents are shooting 49% when Holland is the primary defender. The Ignite has been a mess on that end, so it’s unclear how much Hollands defensive faults are due to the teams overall struggles. He’s a good athlete and obviously has good instincts to rack up the steal numbers he’s had.

The shooting numbers are not encouraging. He’s hitting just 23.4% of his threes on 3 attempts per game. However, he’s shooting 50% on catch and shoot threes. Too often Holland takes tough shots (again, could be partly the Ignite’s team issues) that are highly contested. Holland is hitting 37.5% of his guarded jump shots, and 60% on unguarded jumpers.

Holland is almost the antithesis to Sheppard. A “toolsy” player whose performed okay against good competition. As the Ignite settle into the season. He’s someone to keep an eye on. Especially for a San Antonio squad that could use some more offensive firepower.