Being in the NBA Draft lottery puts the San Antonio Spurs out of their comfort zone in some regard. There’s more pressure than ever to nail the draft selection with general manager Brian Wright running the show so early into his career. Ultimately, it’s head coach and franchise architect Gregg Popovich who will call the shots, but until not after the team does its due diligence.
Over the past two days, NBA Draft candidates have spoken with media members in regards to the conversations they’d had with prospective fits. The San Antonio Spurs have come up on multiple occasions with players at varying draft ranges. When push comes to shove, the Spurs are going to pick whoever they feel makes the right fit for their roster and organizational values. While it’s a logical way to proceed, there needs to be a balance.
Picking the most Spursy player and picking the best player available aren’t the same thing. This is why heads turned when the San Antonio Spurs picked Luka Samanic at No. 19 in the 2019 NBA Draft. Had they not selected breakout rookie Keldon Johnson at 29, a draft spot much later than his talent suggested, some may call their previous draft a bust.
The clock is ticking and the San Antonio Spurs cannot afford to screw up this pick. Of the three first-round draft candidates the organization has spoken to, this is the order in which they should be considered by the front office.
Next: Draft Prospect No. 3
For as much upside as Memphis big man Precious Achiuwa brings to the table, there’s also a much lower floor for him than there is for other prospects. In our most recent NBA Mock Draft, we actually had Achiuwa going two spots ahead of the Spurs at No. 9 to the Washington Wizards. His talent suggests that Achiuwa can be a valuable pick there.
However, he lacks the star upside that the San Antonio Spurs desperately need to swing at in the 2020 NBA Draft. Ancillary pieces and role players are absolutely necessary, but this team isn’t going anywhere if they don’t aim for star upside and Achiuwa hasn’t shown that. Instead, he projects to be a high-energy role player with tremendous athleticism and a modern skillset.
Would I be upset if the San Antonio Spurs picked Achiuwa? Absolutely not — He’d make a great addition to the lineup as currently constructed. However, picking him may not be the best use of the Spurs’ No. 11 pick as many potential stars from this class seem to have a chance at slipping. With the 11th pick, San Antonio can take a player who’s underrated compared to his contemporaries, placing a chip on his shoulder and driving this player to reach new heights.
That doesn’t seem to be Achiuwa, but I hope he can prove me wrong!
Next: Draft Prospect No. 2
One of the most underrated NBA Draft prospects, Maryland’s Jalen Smith has just about everything you could want from a modern big man. He’s very strong with a stout 6-foot-10 frame and a long reach that helps him block and alter shots closer to the basket. That doesn’t stop him from stepping out and defending on the perimeter when needed, timing his motions to disrupt the flow of his opponent’s movements.
There seems to be a high basketball IQ with Smith that would pair well with the San Antonio Spurs. Furthermore, he projects to be a solid floor-spacer from the power forward/center positions, which bodes well for the Spurs’ lineup of the future as currently constructed. While Jakob Poeltl may be the primary rim defender, Smith can play off of him at the four or off of Samanic at the five when someone else needs a breather.
This is a three-man rotation in the frontcourt that the San Antonio Spurs can build off of for years to come. However, it’s going to take some time and patience to get Smith adjusted to the NBA.
My primary concern is that Smith isn’t projected to go all too high by most regards. In our most recent mock draft, I had him going No. 14 to the Boston Celtics, which is a bit high compared with many other projections. To be honest, I’m higher on him than most, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the Spurs should pick him at No. 11.
Instead, Smith is a tremendous trade-back candidate. If a team finds a player they like who falls to San Antonio, they may be able to swap picks, gain an extra asset and pick Smith.
Next: Draft Prospect No. 1
So the San Antonio Spurs already have their point guard situation on lockdown with Dejounte Murray and Derrick White situated for the future, but neither has the star upside that French point guard Killian Hayes does. This is a polarizing prospect with so many varying perspectives on his game, but the signs all point toward Hayes being a great scorer in the NBA ranks.
Playing professionally in Ulm, Germany, Hayes is already displaying all of the tools of a great scoring guard who can play at either position. He’s similar to Minnesota Timberwolves guard D’Angelo Russell in that sense — He’s a high-volume scorer who can fill either role in the backcourt. However, Hayes’ passing seems to be advanced for his age and could be a catalyst in getting the rest of the Spurs’ lineup into shape.
Hayes had a conversation with the Spurs recently which came to no one’s surprise. A highly-regarded French point guard with an unorthodox style who models his game in part off of Manu Ginobili? Of course, the San Antonio Spurs wanted to get to know him!
Character players into the Spurs’ interest predominantly, which is why so many of these players are simply having conversations about who they are. Being a great basketball player is amazing and certainly plays a massive factor in the process, but the San Antonio Spurs are never going to pick someone who they don’t believe will buy into their culture and be a great community member.
Hayes seems to check off all of the boxes for the San Antonio Spurs from a cultural perspective. The biggest issue here is that Hayes isn’t likely to slip all the way to No. 11 barring something unforeseen.
On the off chance that he is, the San Antonio Spurs will be ready to pounce on the opportunity.