Spurs draft brainstorm: A long, winding path through the nooks and crannies
Bruno Passos and Trevor Zickgraf stop by Corporate Knowledge to talk about ... a whole lot of things.
For as long as I’ve been covering this team, I don’t recall a draft day with as many questions and uncertainties as this one. Picks could be traded, players could be on the move, there are about 30 different prospects likely somewhere on the Spurs’ radar, and plenty of folks are probable to get in their feelings this evening. Whether you root for chaos or quiet, tonight should feature some form of everything for any interested party.
We are not accustomed to this kind of drama around this time in San Antonio, so let’s work through it together, shall we?
I’ve enlisted Bruno Passos of Pounding the Rock (check out his helpful draft flow chart) and my old 48 Minutes of Hell homie Trevor Zickgraf to jump in on a flowing conversation we started last week. We dove into plenty of different, potentially digestible topics along the way, and I hope you enjoy.
Matthew: Based on discussions I’ve had with each of you over the last few months, I get the feeling that we have slightly differing opinions/thoughts on the player to take at No. 9. We can save Trevor’s undying love for Johnny Davis for later, but first Bruno: What’s your head telling you in this spot?
Bruno: I've given up on applying any measure of framework, past history or SWOT analysis to guess what the Spurs might do on draft night, and I got suckered into buying so much acreage of Killian Hayes swampland in 2020 that I've grown numb to pre-draft hype. That said, my dumb head is telling me the below at varying decibel levels:
The Spurs have a lot of guards! (more specifically, a lot of fine complementary, 6’6-ish offensive players who you'd rather not play at the 1 or 4)
The Spurs have glaring needs for guys that can consistently create advantages in the half court, as well as at the 4 and, to a less pressing extent, backup 5
The Spurs haven't typically addressed immediate need through the draft — unless that need is higher-upside talent, which we've seen bigger swings for in 2019 (Samanic) and 2021 (Primo)
The Spurs have a lot of guards!
The ninth slot isn't an easy place to reconcile all that and imagine a foundation-shaking move, which makes my preference to consolidate picks and talent to move up. As there's a low chance of that happening, I'm prepared for this to be another case of the team latching onto ‘Their Guy’ and for us to work backwards to understand why and get on board. If that's Jalen Duren, I'll buy into the long-term picture and short-term improvement at backup center. If it's another 6’6-ish guy who's better at operating off the ball, I look forward to seeing that because the Spurs have a lot of guards!
Trevor: Consolidating picks, even 9 plus 20 or 25, also feels like a logical move considering how crowded the roster is already. I wish we had some sense of how much the Spurs value some of the guys on the roster already, specifically Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell. If they stay at 9, I contend that Benny Mathurin, Dyson Daniels and Jalen Duren are the highest upside guys there. The thing I actually struggle with the most is how much to incorporate the current roster with who I think they should take.
I know you're not supposed to take fit into account but that seems a bit silly when, in theory, a top-10 pick in the draft is going to get some rotation minutes this season. For example, Jeremy Sochan is a guy in that range that is in a position of need and has upside. But he can't shoot. At all. So why would I want that guy paired with Dejounte Murray and Jakob Poeltl? Is that dumb? Am I being too shortsighted?
Bruno: I don't think it's short-sighted to consider the team's current situation, if only because at some point you're capping player growth and utility as well as your own flexibility by bottlenecking positions/archetypes and working towards complementary lineups. Obviously you're not trying to recreate the old Sam Bowie gaffe but at the ninth pick in an off draft, the likelihood and risk of that happening are somewhat smaller.
Matthew: The consolidation of picks is definitely something to watch for here, but in terms of what we’ve got in front of us, highlighting Daniels, Mathurin and Duren seems appropriate (though I feel pretty confident at least two of those guys will be gone by the time it’s the Spurs’ turn).
While I’m disappointed Trevor didn’t take my Davis bait, I am glad Sochan has entered the conversation. I’ve been all over the place with this dude for months.
OK, he’s versatile and all, but for a guy his size he’s not super lengthy and doesn’t have great vertical pop.
But damn he’s fluid, light on his feet, and he kinda just swallows up perimeter players, reads passing lanes beautifully and makes big guys really work.
Fine, that’s all great, but the shot is rough. None of this matters as much if he’s just going to be left open.
Wait, 36 percent in spot-up catch-and-shoot situations isn’t terrible, and the form doesn’t exactly seem broken. Plus, he’s good finisher and shows some flashes of mid-range shot-creation ability.
The point is there’s a lot going on with Sochan. The versatility on both sides of the ball, the defense and the playmaking are typically the areas most often highlighted in his scouting report, but his spatial awareness and general I.Q. are two other elements that really jump off the screen to me. He just always seems like he’s exactly where he needs to be on both sides of the ball. I understand the dilemma in wondering whether or not to bring “fit” into the equation, but I really don’t feel like I’d be worried about that with Sochan.
Trevor: The fact that the shot doesn't look broken but has had such bad results worries me more than if he had some funky sling shot form like Tari Eason (let's circle back to that). Sochan reminds me of Aaron Gordon. A lot. Less athletic, probably with better awareness. I really like Aaron Gordon but readily admit that when Aaron Gordon is your second- or third-best player the results seem to have a high floor, low ceiling.
The other thing I keep coming back to is whether I'd feel differently if someone like Myles Turner or Brook Lopez were the Spurs’ center and not Jakob Poeltl. Poeltl is very good but having two guys you can lay off on offense concerns me. But maybe I'm taking roster construction in to account too much.
Real quick before I get to Johnny Davis: Would you guys rather have Sochan at 9 or Tari Eason at 20. I think the could be pretty special defensively but he does some wild shit with the ball and I think just needs to slow down in general on the court. I think I lean seeing if Eason is around at 20 (or moving up a few spots).
Here's my Davis stance: Very productive basketball players who can make difficult shots and give a shit on defense should not be ignored. Having said that, I'm ignoring him. I think he'll probably end up being pretty good, but the best version of Davis is one where he has the ball in his hands a lot. It's how I felt about Derrick White and one of the reasons I was always skeptical of a Murray-White backcourt reaching its full potential. I'm not opposed to more wings, but the Spurs seem committed to Murray so why not get guys that fit with him long term?
Bruno: Sochan is an interesting case and I agree with Matt that his floor and ceiling feel very swing-worthy. I know there are various lenses to look at picks through but thinking of The Idea of [Player] is a fun way to imagine them if they really hit. As a facsimile of Aaron Gordon who isn't perpetually living under the pall of his lost dunk contests, Sochan could be a rising tide on both ends of the floor and fill a huge positional need, especially if you subscribe to Chip Engelland Exceptionalism. I don't see him becoming the kind of franchise-shifting home run the Spurs are needing, but a triple is still a terrific outcome here.
And as fun as Eason is, I feel like you can overthink the draft by passing on one guy you like and trying to get, say, 90 percent of what he might be later on. (The good news for the Spurs is they have a potential trump card in this A/B scenario of pairing 20 and 25 to chase that second player they really like who may not be there at 20.)
On the topic of big wings worth the swing, one name that has shot up mock drafts the past few months is a guy Matt had homed in on for a while in Ousmane Dieng, who feels like he has a lower floor and, potentially, a higher ceiling than Sochan due to his on-ball flashes. Matt, here are your flowers. Now tell us where you are on him now and is he the type that you, in an ideal world, would A) consider at 9, B) see if he drops to your later slot or C) try to consolidate picks and make sure you nab him before 20? Or have you moved on now that he's too mainstream?
Matthew: It is I, a Dieng hipster who now must pivot slightly away from the masses as his popularity spikes. I mean, that's not exactly why, but as I watch more and more film of him I can't get past the straight up lack of physicality with which he plays. A definite contact allergy, it seems. Still, it's impossible not to be intrigued.
He's so young, he played on a really bad team, and he was asked to do a lot more than was probably planned right off the bat. But as the season rolled along he put up better and better numbers, he was visibly more comfortable, and most importantly his shot started falling. The idea of a long, 6'10 wing who can dribble, pass and shoot, operate as a pick-and-roll ball-handler and playmaker, and who shows a lot of defensive upside is tantalizing. But sooooo much has to come together.
Because of that lack of physicality and his thin frame, he rarely tries to attack the rim, instead almost always opting for his floater (which is actually pretty damn good). His shot, while promising, is very inconsistent, and while he's got some definite self-creation upside with all that size, fluidity and touch, I really doubt he'll ever be a high-volume scorer in the NBA. To me, if the Spurs draft him at No. 9, it means they got some seriously good intel on the type of worker he is and the type of character and dedication he has. The talent is there, and the flashes of a dynamic player are tangible, but it really looks like it's going to be a process before the entire package comes together. If it ever does.
I'm all for taking upside swings in this draft, especially if I'm a team drafting in that mid-lottery range, but there are just other guys sitting there with plenty of upside and higher floors. I think it's probably pretty safe to assume the Spurs are exploring ways to consolidate picks (for a number of reasons), and Dieng just seems like a better bet closer to the middle of the first round.
Speaking of upside swings, I'd actually like to hear who y'all have in mind. We've already talked about Dieng, but who's a "risky" player you think will burn teams who pass on him?
Trevor: I'll give you four names. Two are not too off the wall, the other two are pretty off the wall.
Tari Eason: He got a green room invite so this isn't a bat shit crazy pick but what if Tari fell into the 20s (or to the Spurs at 20)? This guy might have the best defensive tools in the draft. He has measurements like Kawhi and racked up steals and blocks at LSU. He's also a tank who goes to the free throw line a lot though I suspect he'll be less successful doing that at the pro level until he learns to go left. We know he's worked out for the Spurs because he told fellow Seattle hooper Dejounte Murray so during a Dejounte IG Live. I think the Spurs could teach him to at least hit catch-and-shoot 3s. Anyway, he won't be Kawhi, but having a giant combo forward who can terrorize other teams defensively should go higher than 20. Question for both of you: would you rather have Tari Eason at 20 or Jeremy Sochan at 9?
Ty Ty Washington: I don't have a lot to say about Ty Ty except that he's a 1 who played off the ball a lot at Kentucky. The Spurs don't need a point, but having said that, Kentucky guards and wings tend to overplay their draft position (see: Johnson, Keldon).
Jaden Hardy: Here's where we get crazy. I haven't seen a mock with actual front office intel put Hardy anywhere but the 20s. This guy was a top-five prospect coming into the season and was supposed to be this year's version of Jalen Green for G-League Ignite. It didn't go as planned. He couldn't make a shot to save his life. I saw him against the Santa Cruz Warriors in late November and every shot looked amazing coming off his hands, and they just wouldn't go in. But he's got a lot of talent and is probably better at a lot of stuff than he gets credit for. This is the type of high-upside bet that has us all fall out of our chairs.
Dalen Terry: I saved one of Matt's favorites until the very end. Terry is a 6'7 jumbo wing that Brian Wright just can't resist. He defends his ass off, he can do some stuff off the dribble — especially when it comes to setting up teammates — and he can hit spot-up 3s at an OK clip. I watched A LOT of Arizona and he was all over the floor (in a good way). I wouldn't be stunned if the Spurs grabbed him at 20. I would be stunned at 9 and then quickly talk myself into it.
Bruno, do you have anyone? Perhaps a 6'4" tank from Colorado State you'd like to vouch for?
Trucked everyone in the Mountain West
Six-six, Two-fifty-five with a barrel chest
Can't think of a comp or position for he
Strong as a b'ar and can shoot the three
David, David Roddy, make that man a Sp'er
Our guy from Colorado State is an easy one, but as far as less obvious prospects that may go too low, I like Trevor's choice of Hardy since he has the highly valued shot-creation ability and range upside that you rarely come across at his projected draft slot. He's a pretty easy player to talk yourself into. I'm not sure anyone else outside the first round counts as a 'risk' given the price, but as far as upside swings I'll echo John Hollinger's recent mention of Josh Minott, whose combination of good (defensive metrics and measurables) and iffy (shooting and, to a lesser extent, age) is the type of stuff I'd love to sit in on front offices mulling over. It feels like he'll have more than a few fans within organizations.
Matthew: Feels appropriate that I'm sitting in a coffee shop as I read and reply to this response, Bruno.
David, David Roddy
Perhaps the new Big Body
I do not endorse this nickname
It's just an observation, all the same
Everything makes so much more sense to me now! I tweeted a question asking folks to give me the name of a player they want the Spurs to take a big swing on, and Minott's name came up in an unexpectedly high number of replies.
I'm glad Trevor gave us four guys, because I do feel like there are a lot of answers to this question. I'll add a player I see mentions of but don't really feel is being taken as seriously as he should be: Blake Wesley is on the short list of guys I'm going to be watching wherever he goes. Perhaps I'm just mesmerized by the "you can't guard me" pep in his step, but very few players in this draft have the go-to perimeter-scoring upside he does, and even fewer have the type of two-way potential that pops off the screen this much.
Wesley is a good athlete with great length and outstanding body control. His handling and creativity constantly keep defenders on their heels. His feel for the pick-and-roll and ability to facilitate and/or summon a burst downhill is tantalizing. He knows how to relocate and spot up off the ball. He can guard 1 through 3 and is a menace in the passing lanes.
But, like basically everyone in this draft, he's got issues. He's got a thin frame and doesn't have a ton of vertical pop when in a crowd, which really informs his ROUGH finishing numbers. His jumper is inconsistent (and often really bad) because his mechanics can be all over the place. And yet, I'm not too worried about this stuff, especially if he's drafted by the right team with the right developmental staff in place.
He's going to fill out, and he's too long and creative around the rim to just stay shooting 40 percent at the basket. It's crazy how many inexplicable misses he had in close when you watch his film. Once he gets to the more open spaces of the NBA, I feel like that element of his game is going to take off. And of course, as always, I'm just going to pull the 'Chip' card in confidence he'd be able to quiet down his erratic shooting.
Wesley may not ever be the picture of efficiency, but there's a lot of growth potential there. I now Stan down from Cape Wesley and move along, because now I'm wondering which player selection would confuse y'all most from a Spurs perspective if he ended up in San Antonio on draft night. Who would make Spurs fans want to throw their remote control through the television?
Trevor: I mean, Big Body and Big Boddy? Big Body and Big Roddy? We'll workshop it.
I don't blame you for your Wesley intrigue. It's the same reason I'd be totally fine for them deciding they need to trade too much stuff to the Kings for Jaden Ivey. They haven't had that kind of bucket getting at the guard spot since like 2015 Tony Parker. Having said that, if they picked him at 20, I'd definitely just call him Lonnie Walker V. That's very unfair but I'd do it for at least Summer League. Also, I'm with you that guys having iffy shooting mechanics doesn't bother me too much. The Spurs can fix that. It's when there's no obvious mechanical issues that I worry (like with Sochan).
Here's a question for you both: If the Spurs took a center at 9, what do they do with Poeltl? I think it's totally plausible to keep him until the deadline and have that rookie center be his back up while they look for the right deal. What's a Poeltl trade look like? Is there a 4 they can try to get? Do they package him with 20 to get back into the late-lottery, mid-teens?
As far as what’s a bad pick at 9, I think anyone who can’t maximize his potential next to whatever the best version of Dejounte Murray is. The Spurs seem at the very least short- and mid-term committed to Murray. Johnny Davis comes to mind. I just think that guy needs to be next to a point guard who can play off-ball. Also someone like A.J. Griffin terrifies me because of his injury history. Shaedon Sharpe’s recent quotes amuse me but also terrify me if I’m a front office thinking about picking him.
Bruno: I won't be reaching for the remote on account of any particular pick, but I guess I may raise an eyebrow if a night with 3 first-rounders doesn't give a bit more logic to the future core's construction. Going big with Duren or Mark Williams, which is generating a bit of buzz as we approach draft night, prompts an 'OK, now what?' on Poeltl's future and, given his impending free agency, makes you think that trading him is the best way to salvage his value.
If the Spurs like Duren's upside that much, so be it. But it's fair to question if that's the best way to maximize the opportunity of selecting at 9 given the number of decent bigs that are usually on the market for a good price, the ability for them to get played off the floor in the postseason, and the fact that this may drive you to make another move in the near term.
But maybe that's all part of a bigger picture vision that we need to see play out, which is why I'm looking at this postseason as an interesting litmus test for how the organization sees itself. How comfortable are they with this core's ceiling, and how might the draft or other transactions speak to an urgency to elevate it?
Matthew: Yeah, there's definitely been some Duren buzz, and I get it. I'm basically in the same camp as you, Bruno. Unless you view one of these guys (particularly Duren) as having significant offensive upside and versatility at the position, drafting a center ninth overall seems like a mistake when there are a number of anchor-type bigs who can defend, play in the pick-and-roll, rim-run and catch lobs.
That's kind of the state of the big spot in today's NBA -- if you're not a truly skilled offensive player and/or able to switch on the perimeter defensively, it's difficult to justify a top-10 selection in most drafts. Still, there have been flashes of that stuff from Duren, however limited. If they take him as Poeltl enters the final year of his contract, I get it.
For what it's worth, it will be interesting to watch for any potential movement at the position. If they do select a big, I'd expect the Poeltl trade talks to begin quickly. I don't believe it would be good for him or the team to wait things out if it's just going to be a lame-duck year for Jakob. And at this point I have no idea what that would look like, as this team's summer could become so fluid it's difficult to apply any context to it prior to the draft. Just find a contending team that needs a center and hit the trade machine.
I'm actually going to fall in line with Trevor on this one. It would confuse the hell out of me if they took a guard like Johnny Davis or, later on, Malaki Branham. These are just a couple of examples of guards who project to be solid-to-good pros, but would just add to the backcourt logjam without skill types that significantly differentiate them from the rest of the Spurs herd.
Stop me if you've heard this before, but I don't think this team needs another guard who plays with the ball in his hands and is pick-and-roll-dependent, with average athleticism and questionable self-creation ability to boot. And I don’t think Davis’ talent necessarily stands out from the other players around him in the draft enough to justify taking him. I want to be clear: Davis can play, and I think he has the potential to be a legitimate scoring and defensive threat for whoever drafts him. This is just about style and progression for me. Unless these dudes have significantly higher upside than the players you've already invested in, I don't know why you'd go down this road.
Bruno: I haven't formed a strong enough opinion on Davis but am inclined to adopt a contrarian position just for fun. In the least, the man must have the best representation in the class for having already snagged a Taco Bell sponsorship ahead of the bigger names and more familiar faces. Here on Davis Island, we live más and ask questions about 3-point shooting later.
Matthew: Holy shit we’re well over 5,000 words. As much fun as this has been, let’s wrap it up. If you could draw a rough outline of a successful draft night (from trades to picks to team-building strategy), what would that look like?
Bruno: I wouldn't mind seeing some aggressive wheeling and dealing, whether that means consolidating 20 and 25 for a higher pick or moving up from 9. There are players I find more fun than others — Jalen Williams, Dyson Daniels, Dieng, Hardy and Terry, in addition to the top four guys — so it would be personally more fun to see one or two of those end up in San Antonio. So, I'll say some kind of pick consolidation, someone who can soak up more functional minutes at the 4, and one of those fun names above. Is that too much to ask for?
Trevor: I think peak Tari has a higher ceiling than peak Sochan, so if you can get Tari at 20 or even move 20 and 38 to move up a couple of spots to get him, then do it. Even if I'm not the biggest Dejounte guy I support them building a team around guys who fit well with DJ, because it's pretty clear that's the Spurs plan at least until a better one comes along.
So yeah, get a Mathurin or Daniels, who I think has some shooting upside and has the defensive versatility to switch 1 through 4. Is it ridiculous to think he can turn into a jumbo sized Lonzo Ball? More athletic Kyle Anderson? I am more than half expecting them to just keep 20 and draft Jalen Williams. If he were Eastern European or Argentinian EVERY MOCK would have the Spurs picking him. He's a good fit, even if he just ends up being the engine for the second unit, which we know matters more to the Spurs than most.
As much as I'm open to trading Poeltl, it is tough to find a trade that works for both teams. Him and McBuckets for Jerami Grant? From a value perspective it makes sense but how much does it help the Spurs, especially if Grant's looking for an extension? (Written prior to Wednesday’s Grant trade to Portland)
Matthew: Eason a higher ceiling than Sochan? Trading for Jerami Grant in a contract year?? I'm trying to wrap this thing up and you're dropping bombs in the chat, man. I could actually talk a lot more about Eason, and the reasons you’ve listed clearly make him a very interesting prospect, but I'm just going to let those ride and let the readers comment on the subject if they'd like. If only I had a podcast for this conversation (soon?).
And no, Bruno, I don't think it's too much to ask. Those are names on a bunch of Spurs fans' radars, for sure. (We didn't talk AT ALL about Jalen Williams. I regret this, because he is fun, and seems like he'd be one of the Spurs-iest picks in this draft). San Antonio has a ton of needs, so there are multiple paths they could take I feel would be viewed as successful. But there are a bunch of wings and forwards in this draft, and wouldn't you know the Spurs need those.
Though context could change on draft night, I'm a big proponent of taking Sochan with the ninth pick and building out from there. Pick consolidation has been mentioned, and I have no doubt this team is at least calling around for something that will allow them to package Nos. 20 and 25 in an effort to move up into the late-lottery range, as trading up from No. 9 seems unrealistic to me. It would be really expensive, and I'm not sure the Spurs have the types of assets that would make them competitive in bids for the Kings' and Blazers' picks ... unless they were willing to dig significantly deeper into a rebuild.
But I don't really get the feeling that's part of their plans at this point. If the Spurs manage to trade up behind the ninth pick, Jalen Williams or Dieng would be the two to pursue in my eyes. Maybe, MAYBE, A.J. Griffin, if you shoot for offensive upside and size and don't watch him on defense.
I do also think it's worth pointing out there's potential Duren slides, and there's also potential Mark Williams will be on the board regardless. At that point, it would be worth taking a long look at either player. If they aren't able to consolidate, it's not the end of the world having three bites at the apple. And once you get to that 20-to-25 range, the list of potential prospects grows exponentially, whether you want to be safer or really take a swing. We've already talked about Wesley, Hardy, Terry, Eason and others (I'd throw in Max Christie, Nikola Jovic and draft-and-stash candidate Gabriele Procida), and once you get beyond that, I say just latch on to your favorite player and go for it, regardless of position. Just take the biggest damn cut imaginable, because there are interesting options.
But as a streamlined strategy -- given what seems to be a lack of pure scoring upside in this draft, and especially if Mathurin, Murray and Sharpe are off the board, homing in on playmaking, versatile forwards or wings with size, length and defensive upside seems prudent. There are going to be several of those available to the Spurs in the first round, and they've got space on the court to offer each of them.
Any final thoughts, boys? About the Spurs, or basketball, or life in general? Anything you want to plug? Wanna just send out a hot take to Spurs Twitter?
Trevor: Listen, Tari’s got a lot to figure out and he might be a basketball knucklehead. But I think his size, strength & speed make him Basketball Derrick Henry in the open court, and if he can harness his more wild tendencies, he becomes new age Corey Maggette with his ability to get to the line. That type of efficient player has real value in today’s game. But I acknowledge Sochan is safer and his likely high end outcome is higher than Eason’s.
We didn’t talk much about trading up into the late lottery or teens, but looking at someone like Cleveland at 14 makes sense as a trade partner. What if the Knicks are willing to do a Knicks thing and move off 11? Then I think you’re right, Matt. Dieng or Jalen Williams make a lot of sense. Or Duren or Mark Williams. Duren-plus-Dieng would be quite the upside play.
My final final though is I will always root for a get nuts trade — like saying screw it and moving up for Jaden Ivey. The Spurs don’t typically endorse that kind of chaos but sometimes big moves are required. I’m not counting on it. I’m not even counting on trying to get up to 5 or 6 for Keegan Murray, but a big move up is the most fun outcome. They have all their future firsts, that Chicago pick from the DeMar trade, the Boston pick swap plus Keldon, Vassell and Primo to dangle. That’s a lot of stuff. So they could get nuts. But they probably won’t and I’ll talk myself in to the pick no matter what by the time the Knicks are on the clock at 11.
Bruno: Like Trevor, there's a big part of me that too craves the dopamine hits of a shakeup. Hopefully the other 29 teams deliver on that if the Spurs aren't able to manifest anything big. Other than that, I think the Spurs' handful of picks and the way the talent pool apparently flattens out from the teens out to the thirties should make it a hard night to get upset about. They have a good chance of coming out with some Dudes and I look forward to how they'll serve as a temperature check for this offseason.
As for what I want to plug, there is this new Matthew Tynan podcast I just read about a few dozen lines up which sounds delightful. Please see this as a rounding endorsement for that and not at all, say, a way of forcing Matt to see it through. Can't wait, Matt! Don't delete th—[REDACTED].