It’s been a week since the Spurs heard their name called last in the 2023 Draft Lottery, changing the future of the franchise with the potential to draft Victor Wembanyama. As if the news were some sort of sure sign of a new basketball messiah, it sent the franchise’s most devoted followers into a frenzy.
They asked: How should the team build around this new cornerstone? Should they trade draft assets to acquire stars to push for the playoffs? Package the promising young players on the roster to get another pick at the top of the 2023 draft? What about signing some major free agents to big deals with all of the cap space they have?
Well, from what Brian Wright has said thus far, expect something a bit less dramatic.
“We’ve learned that you have to be patient,” Wright told an ESPN crew at the NBA Draft Combine. “You don’t want to put yourself in the position where you have to unwind a lot of mistakes when you move too fast.”
Calculated, smart, smaller moves doesn’t sound like a push for the playoffs is on the table right away. However, the Spurs do have a projected $43 million available in cap space this summer. With the new CBA, teams that are below the salary cap floor (a to-be-determined number), will not receive revenue sharing like they have in the past, so it may make sense for the Spurs to spend smart money on role players to fit their new star.
Disregarding 2022-23 Spurs who are free agents, here are five players the front office should consider when building around Wembanyama this summer.
Fred VanVleet, 29, Guard (22-23 salary: $21.2 million)
Let’s get the biggest splash out of the way first, shall we? San Antonio has some questions at the starting guard position. Tre Jones took the reins last season and played well averaging 12.9 points and 6.6 assists as the de facto point guard. However, he may be better suited for a backup role with his lack of perimeter shooting in a starting lineup that may be deprived of it.
Enter VanVleet, who could bring offensive firepower, and a floor general who could get Wembanyama the ball in position to score. If he declines his player option, he should be a top option in the Spurs search for their lead guard. Toronto’s point guard struggled a bit (as did the rest of the squad) last season, but at his peak, he can provide volume three-point shooting on a decent percentage, and savvy in the pick and roll.
He’s a tough-minded player who could help set a good culture for the young team. He’s not a major upgrade as a defender at the point of attack over Jones. But he has quick hands, and can create turnovers defensively, allowing Wemby and co. to get out in transition.
Brook Lopez, 35, Center (22-23 salary: $13 million)
Wembanyama is likely not ready to play heavy minutes at center starting his career. At 7-foot-5, 220 pounds, his frame is not built to bang inside with the best bigs in the leagues. It’s assumed that Zach Collins will fill that role for the Spurs, but what if they could upgrade and add someone who can bang down low, protect the rim, and space the floor to three point range?
Brooke Lopez is an all-defense caliber center who has become one of the best rim protectors in the league. How many centers can block two or more shots a game, while shooting over 37% from three? Lopez and Wembanyama patrolling the paint could make for the scariest defensive front court in the NBA, and create space for the Spurs guards on offense. San Antonio would likely have to outbid the Milwaukee Bucks, who can’t afford to lose the big man. However, if the Spurs pay up to bolster their front line, they can save Wembanyama from some interior physicality early on.
Bruce Brown, 26, Guard (22-23 salary: $6.6 million)
We’ve seen role players shine in the NBA playoffs. Guys who can defend and be great connective offensive pieces bring a lot of value to competitive rosters. The Spurs need to find high level bench players who can keep up the quality of play on the defensive end and be somewhat of a threat on offense.
Brown is already proving at 26-years-old that he is one of the most valuable role players in the NBA. He’s a versatile defender who has greatly improved offensively with Denver. Shooting a better percentage on higher volume (35% on 3 attempts per game) no longer can defenses help off of him. His ability as a screener would open up a lot of options for Wembanyama as an inverted pick and roll ball-handler. Brown is another hard-nosed player who can contribute to a winning culture in San Antonio.
Naz Reid, 24, Center (22-23 salary: $1.5 million)
Why stop at one skilled big man? Naz Reid is big, athletic and has shown the capability to space the floor to the three point line. He’s effective in transition and as a pick and roll threat. If the Spurs decide they want to play fast (they were second in the NBA in pace last season,) Reid and Wembanyama would give them two big men who can protect the rim and get out on the break. He may not be the starter over Collins, but would give them a fun option off the bench in their big man rotation.
Georges Niang, 29, Forward (22-23 salary: $3.3 million)
Despite their glut of wings, the Spurs lack a true stretch four. Jeremy Sochan is more of a point forward with his lack of shooting. Niang would give them a strong 3&D forward off of the bench who can slot in when Wemby spends time at center. Opponents shot just 39% from the field when guarded by Niang last season, while he shot 40% from three on 5 attempts per game. Imagine a lineup with three guards who can shoot, Niang and Wembanyama? That would be the most space Victor has potentially ever seen on a basketball floor.