If you watched the way the San Antonio Spurs finished the season and read the extremely blunt interviews with coach Gregg Popovich in the aftermath of their playoff debacle, the off-season strategy to adding talent wasn’t going to be a mystery.
The draft prospects they are targeting fit the mold of this off-season plan of getting bigger and more skilled up front and more defensive minded. The players the Spurs have talked to or worked out are some of the most intriguing bottom of the first round/second round prospects in this draft.
From USC big man Nikola Vucevic, to Charleston guard Andrew Goudelock who shot the lights out at the 2011 NBA Combine in Chicago. The Spurs’ scouts are once again living up to their reputation as the league’s best. Here is a rundown and brief summary of what players the Spurs worked out and what skills he can bring to the Spurs.
The Big Men
Justin Harper - PF, Richmond 6’9”, 230 lbs.
Keeping with the Spurs goal of getting bigger, Harper is the most skilled big man they have talked to. He is a physical specimen. Registering the lowest body fat percentage at the draft combine at 4%. His shooting is off the charts for a man at his position as he performed consistently the best in shooting drills for big men at the combine in Chicago. He was 18-25 in the spot up from the college three point line drill. Both the best at the camp.
When it came time to perform against NBA talent he shined. Clearly out playing both Morris twins from Kansas in the sweet 16. Both of whom are projected to be first round picks. This kid has every basketball skill you want in a player. He can dribble like a small forward and shoot like a guard. The knock on him is the level of competition he played against. Coming from Richmond there is a small sample size to look at when playing against high level players. I’m sure the Spurs are taking a good look at this kid. He has all-star potential and in most drafts is projected as a late first to 2nd round pick. So he will most likely be there.
Nikola Vucevic – PF/C, USC, 7’0″, 260 lbs.
Gary Parrish of CBS sports was the first national writer to ”discover” Nikola back in February and glowingly wrote of his abilities. I bet he’s pretty proud of that now as the West Coast’s secret is out and he’s become one of the rising stars of the draft process. Of course the Spurs are the smartest kid in the class and have been scouting this kid for months.
Nikola went to the draft combine and measured out to be the biggest player there. Both height and weight wise. But with only 6% body fat. So we know he has a pretty good work ethic keeping himself in shape in between the end of the college season and draft time. Nikola can play both inside and outside. He has a solid mid-range game and can play with his back to the basket as well. His three-point shooting ability isn’t exceptional, but it’s a growing part of his game as he’s improved his shooting percentagein every college season. Unlike Justin Harper andthe question marks surrounding him being able to play against high level competition, Nikola is a extremely safe pick as he proved it against some of the best players in the draft. He clearly outplayed the projected second overall pick - Derrick Williams – in their matchup in February, holding Williams to eight points and scoring 25 himself.
Nikola can come in right away and contribute. If the Spurs are lucky enough for a guy with his size and skill level to be available at pick 29 they would be very fortunate.
Jamie Skeen - PF, VCU, 6’8”, 240 lbs.
His break out into the public and a lot of scout’s eyes were in the NCAA tournament where he helped lead VCU to the Final Four. He is a fantastic shooter for a player at his position, with range out to the NBA threepoint line. He also has a pretty good post game. He’s not a good athlete, in fact he was the second worst athlete at the NBA combine using DraftExpress’ Athletic Testing Composite Ranking. What Skeen will give a team is a solid bench big. He can come in and play the long fourandwon’t get bullied in the post. He can develop into a super charged version of Matt Bonner. Which is why you can see the Spurs took a look at him. If the Spurs took him late in the second round he would be a good value.
Enes Kanter – C, Kentucky, 6’11”, 260 lbs.
A rich man’s Nikola Vucevic. He has a nice post game and has range to 20 feet. He hasn’t played basketball competitively in a year due to college eligibility issues. If he played this year at Kentucky he probably would be in the mix for the top pick in the draft due to the array of skills he showed while playing in Turkey and in international games. He is a very intelligent player and has an advanced skill set for a player his age -19.
Kanter has a very good post game with an array of moves he’s been showing for years dating back to when he was beating up on American high school kids in international all-star games. But what really makes him special is his mid range game. Being 19 and in the NBA he’ll be working on extending his range to the threepoint line. A big man with that skill set and potential is very rare. Kanter won’t fall out of the top 10 so the Spurs could be considering a trade here or this is just another chat like they had with Derrick Favors last year.
Matt Howard – F, Butler, 6’8”, 230 lbs.
An undersized big even at the college level, Howard got it done with basketball IQ, toughness and hard work. That hard work paid off as he improved his three point shooting percentage every season at Butler. The Spurs are probably looking at Howard as a long four candidate. As that’s his most transferable skill to the NBA. Given the options in this draft I’d be somewhat surprised if they selected Howard.
All of the big men the Spurs worked out have one thing in common. They can all shoot the ball well for players at their position. The Spurs front office looked at their roster and saw that with Antonio McDyess retiring, they only have one guy - Tim Duncan – who can defend the post and has a mid-range game. Playing two bigs at the same time that have no outside game will bunch everything up and allow post defenders to collapse on wing players driving the lane thus taking away a huge part of the Spurs’ offense which is guard dominated. The front office knows this and is bringing in players to offset this. They want to avoid offensive stagnation with Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair playing together.
The Spurs also looked at two guards who are under the radar but both bring NBA level skill’s to any team.
David Lighty – G/F, Ohio St., 6’5”, 220 lbs.
Lighty is an elite perimeter defender. Their interview with Lighty showsthe Spurs are truly recommited to defense. He can defend threepositions and shutdown some of the best players in college basketball this year. In Ohio St.’s matchup with Michigan Statethis year, he destroyed Durrell Summers. Durrell Summers was the best player on Michigan St.’s 2010 Final Four run after Kalin Lucas went down. He willed them to the Final Four with his exceptional shooting. Summers was one of the best twoguards in college basketball entering last season. Lighty’s physical play made Summers passive and tentative and held him scoreless for the game. Jared Sullinger got all the publicity this year on the Buckeyes team but Lighty was the lynch pin of the defense. He developed a pretty good outside game this year as he hit over 40% from three point land. He sounds like an ideal defensive specialist that a championship team needs. If the Spurs lucked out and had Lighty fall to them in the second round he could challenge Richard Jefferson for his starting spot.
Andrew Goudelock - G, Charleston, 6’3”, 200 lbs.
A deadly shooter and a great athlete. At the draft combine he was the best shooter in the spot up NBA three pointer drill hitting 19-25 attempts. He also was perfect in the 15-18 foot jump shots on the move drill going 21-21. According to Draft Express’ Athletic Testing Composite Ranking he was the third best athlete at the combine. George Hill comparisons are apt as both players came from obscure schools and are good shooters and athletes. Being a guard and given his skill set he really doesn’t have a place on the Spurs unless the Spurs are considering trading Tony Parker and have a hole to fill.
With the Spurs direction clearly mapped out we know what type of player they are targeting and probably won’t stray from that unless someone falls to them they couldn’t pass up on. The Spurs know they need another big man with an outside game like McDyess in order to run their offense to a high level of efficiency.
They also know they need to have a renewed commitment to defense in order to compete at an elite level and that’s where the interest in a guy like Lighty comes in. It will be interesting watching the draft and off season play out and see if they Spurs can rearrange the roster to achieve this objective.