While the Spurs season may be winding down, the college hoops season is just heating up. It’s championship week, which means a lot of casual college basketball fans are getting a last chance to watch the teams that will be battling in the round of 64 after selection Sunday.
For San Antonio fans it means getting a chance to see some players that may be joining the team with their first or second round selection in the NBA Draft. The Spurs currently have the 3rd worst record in the NBA, and are tied with Houston and Detroit for the best odds at the number-1 pick. The lowest pick the Spurs can possibly get is the 7th pick. That means fans should be looking at the top end of the draft for future Spurs.
Here are the players to watch ahead of the NCAA Tournament.
Nick Smith Jr., 6-5 Guard, Arkansas
At this point in the rebuild, the Spurs should not be focused on fit. Rather, they should be taking swings on guys that could potentially become superstars. Nick Smith Jr. fits the bill.
Arkansas was a preseason darling, but faltered in a difficult South Eastern Conference, mostly due to injuries to key players like Smith Jr., who appeared in just 12 games this season. The freshman guard was a tantalizing talent coming out of high school with his length, (6-9 foot wingspan) shooting and athletic ability. Unfortunately, he hasn’t had a great opportunity to showcase that for the Razorbacks.
Smith Jr. has been wildly inefficient, averaging 13.8 points while shooting 39.5 from the field and 34% from three. This isn’t out of the normal for young guards with a knack for scoring at the college level, and maybe with more experience he could clean up his erratic shot selection. Another thing that hurts his profile as a prospect is he isn’t a great playmaker, so when he isn’t making shots, he doesn’t bring another aspect to your offense by getting others involved.
He is however a plus defender. With his size and length, he can disrupt bigger opposing players. He brings a frenetic energy to the court that can be frustrating on offense, but inspiring on defense. Regardless of his shot falling, the freshman guard will compete on the defensive end.
The Spurs have a lot of perimeter players, but none that jump off of the page as a potential star (yet!) Smith Jr. isn’t there either, but he has a lot to gain from a strong run this March. He could be a riser on draft boards if the Razorbacks make some noise in the SEC and NCAA tournaments.
Jarace Walker, 6-8 Forward, Houston
Walker is arguably the most impactful player for the number one team in the country. The Cougars are 29-2 and heading into the AAC tournament where they will face a conference that has only been able to beat them once. They are the far and away favorites to win the conference tournament, but Memphis is frisky, and UCF has an NBA talent in Taylor Hendricks.
Walker is a beast of a player at 6’8’, 240lbs. He’s got the athleticism to cover wings on the perimeter, and the strength to hold his own down low. He is a great competitor, and plays a very physical brand of basketball. He’s shown some ability to hit from range, shooting 36% on around 3 attempts per game, but is not really considered a floor spacer. Walker makes most of his impact felt around the basket on hard drives and finishes in the pick and roll.
What is really tantalizing about Walker as a prospect is his defensive versatility. In the modern NBA, switchable bigs give you a lot of flexibility on the defensive end. Walker and Sochan would give the Silver and Black two physical forwards who can hold their own inside and out. Offensively there would be some major question marks for how he projects with this current Spurs group. His swing skill is going to be shooting from range. If he can’t hit from range at the next level, do the Spurs really want to stack up on non-shooting wings to start their rebuild?
Despite his flaws, Walker is one heck of a competitor, which will be fun to watch when the games really matter. Spurs fans should watch how Walker defends, while keeping a skeptical eye on his shooting and handling ability.
Keyonte George, 6-4 Guard, Baylor
The Big-12 is the best conference in basketball, making its conference tournament must watch hoops. Kansas, Kansas State, Texas and Baylor all have NBA talent who could lead their teams to deep NCAA tournament runs. George is up there with the best of them, recently being named to second team all-conference.
Keyonte is a sniper from 3-point range. He has a quick release, and is able to get his shot off on pull-ups, coming off of screens and in the pick and roll. He’s the type of scorer that is hard to pass on as an NBA team. But much like Smith Jr., George struggles with shot selection, and presses the issue more than you’d like. This year he scored 16 points per game on 39/35/79 splits. Too often George will settle for a jumper when he has a driving lane to the rim. He’s not an elite athlete, which means he has a hard time getting great separation from bigger, more athletic defenders.
That lack of athleticism can come back to bite him on the other end. At 6 foot 4, he’s too small to guard bigger wings, and will likely be a target for NBA offenses. Despite those disadvantages, he is a great competitor. George gets out in the passing lanes (averaged 1.1 steals a game,) and works hard on that end to not be a weakness.
The Spurs severely need a prospect with shooting upside. George and Devin Vassell would give the Spurs two elite shooters and dynamic scorers on the wings. Again, they shouldn’t be drafting for fit, but it’s not hard to envision the Texas kid becoming a star in San Antonio.