San Antonio Spurs 2018 Draft prospects: Deep draft offers opportunity
By Ethan Farina
The San Antonio Spurs might not have a top spot in the 2018 NBA Draft, but there will be prospects to evaluate for their first-round pick.
One of the San Antonio Spurs greatest qualities as an organization has been their consistency. For the past twenty years Spurs fans have been able to count on postseason basketball to look forward to at the end of the season. That historic consistency is in jeopardy this season as the Spurs struggle to solidify their playoff spot in the hyper-competitive Western Conference. Faced with a daunting rest of season schedule and still without Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio is in real danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1997.
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San Antonio’s longstanding success has put restrictions on their ability to draft high-quality players. If there is any upside to the possibility of the Spurs missing the playoffs for the first time this century it would be that the coaching staff would have the opportunity to select a player in the lottery for the first time in 20 years. If the Spurs were to miss the playoffs this is the year to do it. This draft is stacked with talent throughout the lottery. With that possibility in mind, let’s take a look at some of the 2018 draft prospects that could end up wearing the silver and black next season.
A guard from Duke
Duke University always attracts top talent and their freshman this year have been no different. Freshman guards Gary Trent Jr. and Trevon Duval arrived in Durham and teamed up with Grayson Allen to form one of the best backcourts in the country. Of the two freshmen, Trent better fits what the Spurs need in a young guard at the moment. Standing 6’6 and 215 lbs with an almost 6’9 wingspan, Trent has almost the same dimensions as Danny Green and could someday fill Green’s shoes as the Spurs starting shooting guard. Dejounte Murray has played quite well since taking over the Spurs starting point guard role but one area in which he continues to struggle is shooting. Adding a proven shooter like Trent to play alongside Murray wouldn’t be a bad strategy.
The freshman from St.Paul, Minnesota is finding the bottom of the net on 42% of his three-point attempts and looks comfortable from hitting them from NBA range and deeper. He’s also knocking down 87% of his free throws.
One of the weaknesses of the Spurs backcourt at the moment is their lack of size. Neither Bryn Forbes, Derrick White, or Patty Mills stand taller than 6’4 and none of them would be considered strong defenders. The size and strength of Trent allow him to guard point guards up to small forwards fairly well.
He doesn’t jump out of the gym or have the burst of some of the top NBA guards and that could hold him back a bit. However, having a former NBA player as a father and playing for Coach K have surely taught Trent the value of hard work and fundamentals. That background would suggest that Trent has a bright future ahead of him. He might not be the defender that Danny Green is but Trent could develop into a lights-out shooter that would pair well with Dejounte Murray.
Next: Grayson Allen
Another Duke guard
The other Duke guard that could potentially fit well in San Antonio is Grayson Allen. This pick would depend a little bit more on how San Antonio does over the rest of the season. Allen might not be a lottery player but he’s undoubtedly a player that the Spurs should take a hard look at if they’re selecting in the low 20’s. Allen has been a winner at every level of his basketball career. He won a state championship in high school, he won a college championship while at Duke, he’s been named to All-ACC and All-American teams. The guy just wins.
His attitude has gotten him into some trouble at times. Spare me your “he’s a tripper” takes, they’re overblown. Allen is a fiery and driven competitor who has consistently been a leader while at Duke. He’s the most vocal player on the team and the one who they consistently rely on to step up in pressure situations. His performance against #2 Michigan State earlier this season was one of those instances.
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I’m willing to bet that Gregg Popovich would love Allen’s passion and natural leadership ability. He’s a hard worker who has filled out his frame and gradually improved while at Duke. Like Trent, Allen is a knockdown shooter with NBA range. He’s shot 38% from deep while at Duke on a healthy volume of shots, both spot up and off the dribble. Allen is also a creative driver and finisher. He’s adept at getting to the basket and finishing with either hand. Allen has also put quite a few people on posters throughout his time in Durham.
One of the knocks on Allen is that he’s a bit undersized for the shooting guard position. There may be something too that but I think that his work ethic and mind for the game would help him quickly learn the Spurs defensive concepts and become an adequate defender. This is another situation in which Dejounte Murray’s defensive talent and switch-ability would come in handy. Either Allen or Trent would fit well as a compliment to Murray in the Spurs backcourt.
Next: Lonnie Walker
MIAMI, FL – FEBRUARY 24: Lonnie Walker IV
A sniper from Miami
The Spurs could select a guard from Miami to add to their backcourt as well. Lonnie Walker IV is projected as a lottery pick right now and would fit in excellently alongside Dejounte Murray. The upside to Walker is clear. He’s long and athletic (6’5 with a 6’10.5 wingspan), he’s a lights-out shooter with NBA plus range, and he’s only 18 years old. It’s likely that Danny Green will opt-in to his player option for 2018-2019. That would give Walker a year to come off the bench and learn from other guards how to play the game the Spurs way. Chris Johnson of Sports Illustrated detailed Walkers scoring potential when he highlighted a 5-game stretch in January where the freshman shot 45.7% from deep on seven attempts per game.
That flame-throwing ability should translate well to the NBA where Walker will have even more room to get his shots off. He’s more of a deep threat but has shown an ability to finish in the lane with a variety of layups and floaters. His skills at the rim and behind the arc would compliment the motion offense of the Spurs. Walker would have plenty of opportunities to come off of screens into situations where he can either fire from deep or attack his defender as they try to close out. Reid Forgrave of CBS Sports described him as having “the look”.
You know how a guy can sometimes just have The Look? Walker has The Look. (And I’m not talking his amazing haircut, which teammates call “The Pineapple.”) Walker just looks like a guy who belongs on the basketball court, all smoothness and explosiveness and beautiful shooting.
Sweet haircut aside, Walker projects as an offensive-minded shooting guard who would fit well with the more defensive inclined Murray.
Next: Kevin Knox
A Wildcat wing
San Antonio could add a versatile wing to their team if they were lucky enough to select Kevin Knox in the 2018 Draft. Knox has moved up and down draft boards as the season has gone along. Other players have broken out and pushed him out of the spotlight but his versatility, size, and youth have kept him firmly in the lottery discussion. If the Spurs were to fall out of playoff contention and into the lottery they should give Knox a long hard look.
One of the most attractive aspects of Knox is his size. Standing 6’9 with an almost 7’0 wingspan, Knox fits the bill of a prototypical forward in today’s NBA. The young man is only 18 years old which means he may still have some growing to do. He will surely benefit from working alongside an NBA training staff that can help him fill out his frame. He’s already 215 pounds but looks like he could easily put on more muscle. Adding weight will help him switch onto stronger forwards in the NBA and potentially unlock lineups in which he could be featured as a small-ball center.
Knox can score from anywhere. He already has a very smooth stroke and looks comfortable letting it fly from deep. He’s currently hitting 77% of his free throws and 35% of his threes. He’s not just hitting spot up catch-and-shoot jumpers either. Knox has shown an ability to put the ball on the floor and pull up for a mid-range jumper or beat his man to the rim and finish with either hand. He truly is a player who can score from any part of the floor. He’s also a terror in transition. Knox has looked comfortable bringing the ball up the floor on his own, can find teammates leaking out with well-placed outlet passes, as well as hammering home alley-oops.
Great to see more hustle plays like this from Kevin Knox. Tremendous talent with excellent NBA tools but at times he gets away from the energetic, defensive-oriented mindset he first showed when he made his USAB debut @ age 15. Blending that with his improved skill level is ideal pic.twitter.com/K0k8y17MVV
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) February 21, 2018
Knox is still very young and may need a year or two to fully develop his outside game and fill out his frame. That being said, a potential lineup of Murray-Leonard-Kyle Anderson-Knox-LaMarcus Aldridge would be scary. The Spurs would need to miss the playoffs in order to even have a shot at Knox. Breaking their streak of playoff appearances might be worth it in order to add a player with his potential.
Next: Wendell Carter Jr.
Flashback to 1997
This season hasn’t been quite the struggle that the 1996-1997 season was, but there are some parallels to be seen. In the ’96-’97 season an injury-plagued season knocked the Spurs out of the playoffs and into the lottery. With the first overall pick, San Antonio selected the greatest power forward of all time, Tim Duncan, from Wake Forest University. The rest is history. This season, injuries have once again plagued the Silver and Black. They are once again in danger of missing the playoffs and going back to the lottery.
If that happens they could select another power forward from the state of North Carolina, Wendell Carter Jr. from Duke University. Now there is no guarantee that Carter will be available towards the end of the lottery. The Spurs would likely need him to slide down in the draft and have some luck with the ping-pong balls to get them to pick in the 11-13 range. Carter is an incredible prospect with an all-around game that is well suited for today’s NBA. He has the kind of inside-outside scoring ability that scouts go crazy over.
He’s looked comfortable backing defenders down and finishing with either hand, plays well in pick-and-roll, can beat you off the dribble, and, to top it all off, he’s hitting 50%(!!) of his three-point attempts. Yes, he’s only taken 38 three-pointers all season but his form and success from the free throw line (73% free-throw shooter) suggest that he will continue to improve from outside.
While he’s not a “jump out of the gym” type of athlete, Carter has a high IQ for the game that allows him to position himself excellently down low. His solid fundamentals and size (6’10 with a 7’3 wingspan) have helped him pull in 9.5 rebounds a game and block 2.2 shots per game. He doesn’t project as a rim protector in the Clint Capela/Rudy Gobert class, but he’s not going to be a defensive liability. It’s unlikely that Carter will be on the board when the Spurs pick but crazier things have happened. With the parallels between this season and the ’96-’97 season it almost seems a little bit like destiny that the Spurs would luck out and land another star forward.
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The Spurs selecting in the lottery is no sure thing quite yet. Kawhi Leonard could very well return and carry the Spurs to a 21st consecutive playoff berth. However, if there was ever a year to miss out on the playoffs and land a lottery pick, this is it. While breaking a historic playoff appearance streak would be a shame, it would allow the team to add a young talent to help carry them to success in the future.