Recapping Draft Night and Questions with Free Agency Approaching

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Thursday evening the San Antonio Spurs used their three first round picks to draft Jeremy Sochan with the 9th pick, Malaki Branham with the 20th pick, and Blake Wesley with the 25th pick.

As for the Spurs’ 38th pick in the second round, they drafted Kennedy Chandler, but eventually traded him to the Memphis Grizzlies for cash and a future second round pick (reportedly a 2024 pick the Grizzlies had from the Los Angeles Lakers).

Let’s recap how Thursday night went for the Spurs and some lingering questions with free agency approaching next week.

Sochan at 9

Sochan is a 6’9″ forward who primarily played the 4 at Baylor, but his head coach said he can also play some small ball five.

“You definitely have to have guys who can play multiple positions,” said Baylor Head Coach Scott Drew of Sochan. “The game has gone more toward position-less basketball. Having guys who can pass, dribble and shoot, and defend one through five, really makes the game a lot easier. Jeremy definitely fits that mold.”

Sochan played in 30 games for Baylor last season with averages of 9.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.3 steals in 25 minutes per game.

Sochan’s draft mock average was 11th, and two mocks had him going to San Antonio, so the pick wasn’t a reach at all.

Here are some of his strengths per the NBA Draft Guide:

  • Playmaking forward with good size and agility.
  • Plays with great energy and competitiveness.
  • Solid ball handler and passer for his size.
  • Highly versatile defender with a good nose for the ball.

One area that’s not a strength for Sochan is shooting the basketball. He shot less than 50% from the floor last season, 29.6% from three, and 58.9% from the free throw line.

In his interview with the media Thursday night, he said “shot consistency” is one of the areas he wants to improve in. He mentioned how the Spurs have a track record of helping players become better shooters.

“He’ll become a more consistent shooter,” said Coach Drew of Sochan being drafted by the Spurs and now getting the opportunity to work with Spurs assistant coach Chip Engelland.

“He’ll fit right in with the Spurs because he’s a ball mover, not a ball stopper,” said Drew.

When asked what his most NBA-ready skill is, Sochan said his defense.

“I think my defense. I feel like I’ll be able to bring it every day on the defensive side. On the ball, off the ball, switching. I feel like I’m also a good communicator, so I feel like I’ll be able to do that straight when.”

According to the Ringer, Sochan can defend all five positions and he has shades of Ben Simmons, Draymond Green, and Aaron Gordon in his game. NBADraftRoom.com has his player comps as Jarred Vanderbilt and Chuma Okeke.

Photo credit: Cleveland.com

Branham at 20

Branham is a 6’5″ guard from Ohio State. He played in 32 games and averaged 13.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2 assists, 0.7 steals, and 0.3 blocks in 29.6 minutes per game.

28% of his shot attempts came from three and he made 41.6% of his shots from distance. He shot 83% from the free throw line.

His strengths from the NBA Draft Guide are:

  • Versatile guard with a smooth offensive game.
  • Long and rangy; has three-level scoring potential.
  • Capable shooter from deep and mid-range.
  • Has the size and length to be an impactful defender.

Branham had a mock average of 17th, so the Spurs got a player who fell a bit. General Manager Brian Wright said Braham, Sochan, and Wesley all had a draft grade inside the Top-20 based on their draft board, so they were thrilled Branham and Wesley were still available at 20 and 25.

When asked what one of his NBA-ready skills is, Branham said, “shooting the ball, I’m a 3-level scorer.”

“We think he’s a 3-level scorer,” said Wright after the draft.

Branham said he worked out for the Spurs alongside Wesley and other draft prospects. He says Head Coach Gregg Popovich called him on draft night to welcome him to the team.

The Ringer Draft guide sees Branham with shades of Khris Middleton and Caris LeVert in his game. His skills are perimeter shooting and on-ball defense.

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee – USA Today Sports

Wesley at 25

Wesley is a 6’5″ guard from Notre Dame. In 35 games last season, he averaged 14.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.3 steals, and 0.1 blocks in 29.3 minutes per game.

40% of his shot attempts came from three and he made 30.3% of those shots. He shot 40% from the floor and 65.7% from the free throw line.

“He’s super talented, incredibly athletic, fast in the open court and even in the half court the way he cuts and moves,” said Clemson Head Coach Brad Brownell of coaching against Wesley. “Really a tough cover. He has given them a little jolt of athleticism that maybe they didn’t have.”

Here are Wesley’s strengths from the NBA Draft Guide:

  • Long, shifty and athletic scoring guard.
  • Excels at creating separation off the dribble.
  • Confident mid-range jump shooter with good mechanics.
  • Has the physical tools to be solid defender.

Wesley’s mock average was 21st, so the Spurs again got a player who fell a few spots from where he was expected to be drafted.

Wesley said he’s seen the development and progression Spurs Devin Vassell and Josh Primo have made in their short time being in the Spurs organization.

When asked what his most NBA-ready skill is, Wesley said defense. “I think my best skill is defending. I love to defend.”

“Blake’s a combo guard, can play a little point, play a little two,” said Wright of Wesley. “He loves the gym. He wants to get better.”

Wesley’s main two skills are ball handling and feel for the game according to the Ringer Draft guide. He has shades of Tyler Herro, Jamal Crawford, and Bones Hyland in his game according to their assessment. NBADraftRoom.com sees his comps as RJ Hampton and Larry Hughes.

What do these picks mean for Lonnie Walker IV?

When the Spurs selected two 6’5″ guards with the 20th and 25th picks, the new question became ‘what will happen with Lonnie Walker IV, who enters free agency next week?’

The Spurs have until next Wednesday (June 29) to make Walker IV a restricted free agent with a $6.3 million qualifying offer. With so many perimeter players now on the roster, do the Spurs extend the qualifying offer, or let Walker IV enter free agency as an unrestricted free agent?

When asked if the three new drafted players are going to remain Spurs, Wright said that was the plan. This means 8 of the 11 players on the Spurs’ roster with guaranteed deals will be between the heights of 6’4″ to 6’6″. Do the Spurs plan to re-sign Walker IV, who would be the 9th player in that group of 6’4″ to 6’6″ players?

If the Spurs were to renounce Walker IV’s $13.3 million cap hold, they will begin free agency next week with $22 million in cap space.

Where does the Spurs’ roster stand?

Now that the Spurs used all three first round picks and since they intend to keep all three players, they have 12 players on guaranteed deals. Zach Collins’ contract guaranteed today.

The Spurs have three players on non-guaranteed deals in Keita-Bates Diop, Tre Jones, and Jock Landale. So the roster is now at 15 when considering all these players.

The Spurs have five players entering free agency in Walker IV, Devontae Cacok, Joe Wieskamp, DJ Stewart Jr., and Robert Woodard II.

The Spurs have reportedly agreed to a two-way deal with undrafted player Dominick Barlow of Overtime Elite. Barlow was expected to be drafted in the 48th pick range, but he went undrafted Thursday.

If the report is true, Barlow will now fill a two-way spot, leaving one two-way spot open.

With Barlow, the Spurs’ roster stands at 16 players. Teams can carry up to 20 players on their roster for training camp and in the preseason, but the roster has to be trimmed to 15 players and two two-way players by opening night in October.

What will the Spurs do with their cap space?

The Spurs have three ways they can use their cap space next week.

  1. Sign free agents
  2. Trade for players
  3. Take on contracts for picks

The Spurs can open up to $34 million in cap space depending on decisions with their free agents and players on non-guaranteed deals.

They can try to sign unrestricted or restricted free agents. There’s a new rumor Friday they may be a team that can send an offer sheet to Deandre Ayton, or if the Suns want to work on a sign-and-trade deal, Jakob Poeltl could be included in a potential deal.

The Spurs can trade for players already on deals. Since they’re a team with cap space, the Spurs are more flexible to absorb the contract of another player from another team. via trade Before the draft, they were rumored to have interest in John Collins of the Atlanta Hawks.

Lastly, with some teams limited in cap space, the Spurs could be a team that takes on bad contracts in return for future picks to help those teams open cap space.

It’ll be interesting to see which approach the Spurs take next week in free agency, starting June 30.

 

 

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