The days of the Big Three in San Antonio are now but whispering memories. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were the last of the championship threesome to exit. One problem for last season’s team was the departure of their best player, Kawhi Leonard.
San Antonio continued their run at consistency, however. For the 22nd straight season they made the NBA playoffs. The Spurs managed to take the number two seed in the Western Conference to a deciding seventh game, but fell four points short of advancing.
The Spurs finished the regular season five games shy of a top-four seed and home court advantage, and they did this without their top guard. For as much as Dejounte Murray was valued for his modest offensive production, he was one of the best defending guards in the NBA.
Murray will return for the 2019-20 season, but logically his health is a big preseason question mark. San Antonio is still deep at guard with Bryn Forbes and Derrick White pegged as starters on the early depth charts. Patty Mills will bring a veteran presence to the Spurs’ bench.
The same front line is currently projected to begin next season as starters, but this is where the Spurs looked first in this year’s NBA draft. Like throughout their history, championship seasons as well, San Antonio goes about their business without a lot of pomp and circumstance. Here’s what we think of the trio of youngsters they added in the recent NBA draft.
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Most draft gurus had Šamanić available to San Antonio at the number-29 pick. The Spurs’ brain trust decided not to change that sequence of events, and they traded up to the 19-spot to guarantee they got the 6-foot, 11-inch Croatian power forward.
At nineteen years of age, Šamanić is clearly a building block for the future. His youth and international career are checkered with impressive double-double statistics. With a massive wing-span, Šamanić is an imposing shot blocker.
However, the whispers questioning the wisdom behind the decision to take Šamanić, let alone jump 10-positions on the draft board to get him, grew to mild murmurs. His stock was clearly ballooned by a stellar combine performance.
At 19, to do more than analyze Šamanić’s raw talent would be little more than conjecture. He has outstanding perimeter shooting skills, and handles the ball extremely well for a big man. Some point to San Antonio envisioning the Croatian version of Kevin Durant in Šamanić.
Since he is so raw, there is a strong indication Šamanić may spend all or most of next season in the G-league. With this type of youth and raw talent, any judgments on the grade of this pick will have to wait for more evidence to be produced.
Now, if you had to write down a grade for the Spurs’ first-round choice of Šamanić alone, it wouldn’t be a flattering mark. However, San Antonio added a second opening round draftee at their own number-29 spot.
They selected another young player, but one with a more proven track record than Šamanić. With a power presence on the wing in Kawhi Leonard now hoisting championship banners north of the border, San Antonio had a weakness on the wing.
Draft analyzers pointed to Kentucky swingman Keldon Johnson as a perfect fit for the Spurs style of play and current needs. Johnson is also one of a handful of first-round projects who have generated a great deal of discussion as potential stars.
Johnson is an aggressive player on the offensive end, reminiscent of Leonard’s style. He is a good shooter who tends to leave the play creation up to the play creators. Against the tougher teams on the Wildcat schedule last season, Johnson impressed.
Johnson shoots the ball at an average clip from beyond the arc, but San Antonio probably will not rely on him in that capacity. While he’s not perceived as a tenacious defender, Johnson is not a slouch either. He carries a 6-foot, 9-inch wingspan on his 220-pound 6-foot, 6-inch frame.
One huge attribute that followed Johnson into the draft was his high-marks for coach-ability. The Spurs’ staff thinks they can make him an even better shooter and defender, and possibly have their next version of a top-10 NBA swingman like they had before Leonard departed for Toronto.
Twenty picks after Johnson, San Antonio was left without players that stood out as must-adds. By selecting another defensive-minded guard for a team with a healthy pack of talented guards obviously indicated they took the player on the board with the most talent.
Quinndary Weatherspoon is an excellent defender. However, he may turn out to be a sleeper in relation to his offensive abilities. During his four-year career at Mississippi State, the former Bulldog netted double-digit points-per-game all four years.
With four full years of college experience under his belt, Weatherspoon will also be in line for immediate playing time in Pop’s backcourt rotation. One really interesting whisper of conjecture is the similarity between Weatherspoon and current Spurs guard Derrick White.
Both are above-average shooters with tremendous defensive skills. Long perimeter defenders with a good shot are a coveted commodity in the NBA. There is some sense that the more proven White could be dangled around as trade bait, obviously depending on how impressive Weatherspoon turns out to be when camp opens.
If San Antonio had jumped up the board to take Šamanić alone in the first-round, everyone would have thought Gregg Popovich would have finally lost his mind. We all know Pop plays a huge role in all team decisions, so the way the Spurs manipulated the 2019 draft clearly has his fingerprints all over it.
They added a future big man stud in Šamanić, plus worked to fill a gap on the perimeter at small forward. It is going to take a lot of work to turn Keldon Johnson into something that even remotely resembles a player as talented as Kawhi Leonard.
However, if anyone has the wisdom to accomplish player transformations it’s Gregg Popovich. In the end, San Antonio acquired a pair of multi-talented 19-year old projects and an experienced shooter with a strong defensive presence on the court.
As for filling the San Antonio mold, each of these picks definitely meets that criterion. Applying a letter grade, in spite of a lot still unanswered questions, we’ve got to give San Antonio a solid B. Really, he is Gregg Popovich you know, and Pop has invariably seemed to know best.