Looking ahead, way ahead

I’ve been watching a fair amount of college basketball lately.  Now that we’re in conference play, there’s been a lot of meaningful games and it also means the NCAA Tournament isn’t too far away so I have to do some research for my March Madness brackets so I don’t completely lose my ass.

Seeing as the NBA Draft is my favorite non-game night of the year, I also try to pay attention to the guys draft experts like ESPN’s Chad Ford and Draft Express’ Jonathan Givony project to be first round picks.  As a Spurs fan I do a couple of things.  First I look at the guys at the top of the draft that are going to be rumored for the Spurs to go after by trading Tony Parker (settle down, you know the rumors will start up right around draft work outs).  Then I look at what the Spurs need and who I think would be the best fit.  Because it’s more fun to look at franchise altering players, will run down those guys first. 

Team So Long Tony:

Before we begin, let’s get something out of the way.  There is nothing the San Antonio Spurs could trade to get a top two or three pick in the draft, so get the names Anthony Davis and Harrison Barnes out of your head.  Alright, let’s have some fun.

-John Henson, PF, UNC:  Henson is the number eight rated prospect on Draft Express and number 12 on Chad Ford’s big board.  Henson might be the best defender in the NCAA.  He leads the ACC in rebounds and blocks.  He also has an emerging offensive game, but doesn’t have much range out side of 10 or 12 feet.  So think Marcus Camby.  Wouldn’t be a great fit next to Tim or Tiago on offense, but they’d be ridiculous on defense, especially if you throw Kawhi Leonard in to the mix.

-Jared Sullinger, PF, Ohio St.: Sullinger is ranked fifth on Draft Express’ big board and seventh on Chad Ford’s.  He has almost the exact opposite strengths and weaknesses of Henson.  In his latest post Givony writes that Sully’s a monster of a guy who thrives in the low post because of his wide frame and great footwork.  He rebounds incredibly well despite being 6’9″ and not particularly athletic. But the part about Givony’s analysis that stuck out the most was how versatile Sullinger’s game is.

“His soft hands allow him to catch most anything that’s thrown his way, making him an ideal (andvery rare) target to build a half-court offense around. While not the most prolific passer at this stage, Sullinger shows good vision passing out of double teams, turns the ball over at an extremely low rate and rarely forces up bad shots, which only adds to his to his terrific scoring efficiency,” Givony writes. “Facing the basket is where Sullinger seems to have improved the most this season. He’s regularly stepping out to the perimeter, and is attempting one 3-pointer per game, making 45% of his shots from that range thus far and 36% of his overall jumpers.”

Sullinger is also the most polished of any of these big name prospects, which would add to the appeal a team like the Spurs would have for him.

-Perry Jones, III, PF, Baylor: Spurs fans may be familiar with Jones since he plays up I-35 in Waco. Jones is the type of guy that can draw a fan base nuts.  He’s an athletic specimen that can a lot on both sides of the court.  However, as Chad Ford writes on his ESPN Insider profile on Jones, he plays hard can be passive and is very uneven in his performance.  He’d also be unlike any other player the Spurs have ever had.  Imagine if he had even a couple years under Pop. 

The Spurs currently have the fifth best record in the league, meaning they’d have the 25th pick in the draft if the season ended today.  However, there are currently eight teams within three games of the Spurs and are only three and a half games behind Chicago for the best record in the league.  So a small losing streak or winning streak could have the Spurs drafting in the high teens or it could have them drafting at the bottom of the draft.  With that in mind, the next group of prospects are rated anywhere from 15 to 30 on Ford and Givony’s top 100 lists.

-Terrence Jones, F, Kentucky: Rated 16 on Ford’s list, this 6’8″ forward currently starts at the power forward at Kentucky, but has the ability to play either forward position.  If you do a Twitter search for this guy while they’re playing you’ll see a ton of Josh Smith comparisons.  He’s an athletic freak who is damn near unstoppable when he wants to be, but a lot of times just settles long two’s and threes.  However, if this guy slips out of the lottery, the Spurs should think about trading up for him, kind of how they traded up for Kawhi Leonard last summer.

-Arnett Moultrie, PF, Miss. St.: Rated 18th on Ford’s rankings and 26th on Givony’s, Moultrie has been a fast riser on a lot of mock drafts.  Here are his positives according to Chad Ford: Long, athletic big man, explosive leaper, runs the floor well, unusually quick for a big man, can play both inside and outside, good rebounder, especially on the offensive end.  Ford also says he needs to gain some weight and not shoot some many jumpers.  But he’s currently averaging 17 points and11 rebounds a game in the SEC.  He had some issues when he was playing at UTEP, but now he’s one of the best big men in one of the best conferences in the country.  Just remember this name when March Madness rolls around and when the draft rolls around.

-Austin Rivers, G, Duke: This may surprise you, but Rivers is ranked 22nd on Ford’s Top 100 and 20th on Givony’s.  He has his faults (he can be selfish, he’s a bit small for a two guard, I’m not sure his teammates like him that much), but did you see the shot he made against UNC the other night?  The guy can shoot, get in to the paint and he’s only 19.  If he decides to declare for the draft (he should stay in school another year) and falls in to the 20’s, whatever team can scoop him up with get a steal of a pick.  This guy’s floor is Jamal Crawford or Leandro Barbosa and his ceiling is something similar to Eric Gordon, and who wouldn’t want to have someone like that coming off the bench or taking the reigns from Manu Ginobili eventually?

-Festus Ezeli, C, Vanderbilt: The man with the coolest name in the draft has slipped some this season thanks in part to a back injury he’s still recovering from.  His numbers aren’t great, but has posted double figures in seven of his last eight games, including two 21 point games.  The 6’11” Nigerian projects as a late first rounder early second round pick right now, but how he plays the rest of this season and his work outs will dictate his placement.  If you’re thinking about a comparison, think Ian Mahimni (somewhere in between his play now and when he was a Spur).  Incredibly athletic, good shot blocker, good rebounder, a raw post game and not a great basketball IQ.  But he’s young and hasn’t been playing ball very long comparatively, so there’s still some time for development despite “advanced age” compared to other prospects.

So there’s just a few names to pay attention to moving forward.  All of these guys are from bigger programs, and the Spurs are no strangers to looking mid-majors and other small schools for their prospects.  We’ll take a look at those guys next time.  Any thoughts on who you’d like to see the Spurs draft?  Is a top 10 pick in a super loaded draft worth trading Tony Parker for?  Let’s hear your thoughts.

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