Back in 2015, the San Antonio Spurs drafted 6’11” center Nikola Milutinov with the 26th pick in the first round.
Since being drafted, Milutinov has remained overseas, playing with Olympiacos Piraeus over the last three seasons. Now 23 years old, Milutinov has continued to improve in each season and he’s become one of the better young centers in Europe.
Milutinov is under contract with Olympiacos until 2020, but he does have an NBA buyout clause in his contract for this summer and next summer in 2019.
Before looking at what the chances look like for Milutinov to possibly join the Spurs next season, let’s first dive into where his game currently stands now that he’s had five professional seasons playing in the Euroleague.
Milutinov on Offense
The Stats: 8.8 points (65.2% FG), 75.6% from the free throw line, 2.3 offensive rebounds, 1 assist, 1.3 turnovers in 21:43 minutes per game. Milutinov started 26 of the 29 Euroleague games he played in last season.
Milutinov knows his role is to be a pick-and-roll big and he performs that role well. He has relatively quick foot speed to run quickly from the low block and set a screen up high, then he’s patient in either re-screening, or rolling.
If he catches the ball on the roll outside of the restricted area, he’s comfortable scanning the floor and looking for an open teammate outside.
Milutinow isn’t a consistent lob option, but he does know how to finish near the rim whether it’s with layups, jump hooks, or dunks.
You can see his play in the P&R in the video below. Milutinov is wearing #11.
Milutinov’s secondary method of scoring is through the low post. He can use his size to finish over or around smaller defenders in the post, and when he draws double teams, he’s able to stay patient and kick the ball out to an open teammate.
When he puts the ball on the floor or catches low in the post, he’s susceptible to having the ball swiped by help defenders. Olympiacos mostly goes to Milutinov in the post after the initial P&R didn’t provide a scoring advantage.
One of Milutinov’s main limitations on offense is that he’s not a floor spacer. He didn’t attempt any threes last season and when he’s not involved in P&R or down on the low block, he can shrink the floor on offense.
He has shown the ability to pass from the top of the key when left open and when he hovers near the rim, he can be an option a driving teammate can pass to, where he can finish with jump hooks or dunks.
Milutinov on Defense
The Stats: 3.4 defensive rebounds, 0.6 steals, 0.6 blocks, 2 fouls per game
Milutinov is a sold rim protector, but not with his shot blocking. Instead, Milutinov protects the rim by consistently throwing both hands up and absorbing contact with his body. He doesn’t commit a ton of fouls because he doesn’t try to forcefully block shots, instead he uses his body almost like a wall.
Many times, opponents that think they’re about to get near the rim have to end up taking tough floaters because Milutinov is usually there as a shot deterrer.
On pick and roll defense, Milutinov was mainly responsible for protecting the rim, so, he usually dropped back to make sure the rim was guarded, even if it meant the big he was guarding got an open mid-range jumper.
For being 6’11”, Milutinov shuffles his feet relatively quick when guarding laterally. He’s able to keep a safe distance between a guard going around a screen and his man rolling, by continuing to shuffle his feet.
When he had to switch, Milutinov defended guards and forwards relatively well in stopping dribble penetration. When he has to switch and guard players who can shoot from the outside off screens, that seems to be one of the areas where Milutinov has difficulty.
What are the chances Milutinov joins the Spurs this offseason?
The Spurs’ center currently on the roster is Pau Gasol. Joffrey Lauvergne is expected to decline his player option and seek a deal overseas. This means the Spurs could look to add Milutinov.
The question though is what are the Spurs willing to pay and what is Milutinov going to accept?
Because Milutinov has waited over three seasons before coming to the NBA, he has the choice to either sign with his 2015 cap hold of $1.6 million, or he could ask for more.
If the Spurs used Milutinov’s cap hold from 2015, they could offer him a four-year deal for $9.4 million. If Milutinov wanted more, the Spurs would either have to use cap space (which they don’t project to have this offseason), the mid-level exception ($8.5 million), or the Bi-Annual exception ($3.3 million).
According to Harris Stavrou of NBA.Sport24.GR, Milutinov would seek a deal like what Bogdan Bogdanovic signed with Sacramento last season – a three-year deal for $26.8 million. For San Antonio to offer a deal in that range, they’d have to use the full mid-level exception.
Considering Milutinov hasn’t played a minute in the NBA and because of his limited floor spacing on offense, and the potential to be targeted by perimeter players on defense, one would think the Spurs will likely offer Milutinov either a deal with his 2015 cap hold, or a deal like what Davis Bertans signed two years ago – the veteran minimum for two seasons.
According to Stavrou, there is a deadline to watch when it comes to Milutinov’s chances of joining the Spurs this summer. His buyout date is July 20 and the buyout price is $900,000.
As the Spurs head into free agency next week, the clock will start ticking on whether they plan to bring Milutinov over this summer.