With the 2018 NBA Draft almost here, the Air Alamo staff broke down the San Antonio Spurs’ direction for their two picks.
The San Antonio Spurs will enter Thursday’s 2018 NBA Draft with the No. 18 and 49 picks. These will help shape the future of the franchise, which seems to be fluctuating more than ever, as Kawhi Leonard seeks his departure from the organization.
Who will the Spurs take with these picks? No one will know until they arrive, but it’s worth speculating, especially at this time of the NBA calendar, when everyone wonders who the next superstar will be. If not that, it’s who contributes to the next championship-winning organization.
How might everything shape up? What about the standing for other players, out of range for the Spurs, in the draft? The Air Alamo broke everything down just 48 hours before Adam Silver opens the festivities.
Your top five players of the 2018 NBA Draft are…
- Deandre Ayton: Ayton has been labeled as the consensus number one overall pick in most mock drafts and for good reason. As a freshman Ayton burst on to the scene quickly for the Wildcats. He received consensus All-American honors and won the Karl Malone award as well as numerous Pac-12 honors. Most scouts believe he has the body and skills to be a dominant big man in the league.
- Marvin Bagley III: Along with Ayton, Bagley has also been labeled as one of the best big men on the board. Also a consensus first-team All-American, Bagley was also named ACC Player of the Year and won the Pete Newell Big Man Award. Another one-and-done Blue Devil going high in the draft? Nothing new here.
- Michael Porter Jr.: Yes, he missed practically all of last season with a back injury, playing in only three college games, but Porter had been labeled as an NBA prospect before setting foot on the Missouri campus. He led his high school team to a perfect 29-0 mark in route to a state championship while averaging 36.2 points per game. He was also a McDonald’s All-American and took home the game’s MVP honors. Most experts have him projected to go early despite his brief college career.
- Trae Young: Son of former Texas Tech Red Raider Rayford Young, Trae has been labeled as one of the best guards in this year’s draft. After deciding to sign with Oklahoma, Young took over the college basketball world his freshman year. He led the NCAA in points per game, averaging 27.4 and assists per game, averaging 8.7. Scary good numbers. He was also named Big 12 Freshman of the Year and a consensus first-team All-American.
- Mohamed Bamba: With an impressive wingspan and length, Bamba has been labeled as arguably the best shot-blocking big man in the draft. Named second-team All-Big 12, Bamba averaged 3.7 blocks per game and 10.4 rebounds per game during his freshman year for the Longhorns. A force in the middle, Bamba would be an upgrade to any team’s frontcourt.
- DeAndre Ayton
- Luka Doncic
- Marvin Bagley III
- Mohamed Bamba
- Jaren Jackson Jr.
- Deandre Ayton: What more can be said about the presumptive No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft? Ayton was a double-double machine during his lone season with the Arizona Wildcats. The big man posted gaudy numbers, averaging 20.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game on 61.2 percent shooting. Ayton even knocked 34.3 percent of his three-pointers; he only attempted 35 over the course of the season but developing a reliable long distance shot will make his game even more lethal.
- Luka Doncic: Regarded as the greatest prospect of all time by some basketball pundits, Doncic is considered the most pro-ready of all the players in the draft. Doncic’s EuroLeague resume speaks for itself. The Slovenian swingman has garnered accolades left and right, including EuroLeague Finals MVP and EuroLeague MVP, becoming the youngest player to receive that honor. At 6’8”, Doncic can do a little bit of everything. He is an experienced playmaker, a reliable ball-handler and a versatile offensive threat who can contribute immediately to whatever team selects him.
- Marvin Bagley III: Similar to Ayton, Bagley was a man amongst boys during his one season at Duke (don’t forget: Bagley re-classified to play college ball last year and should have just graduated high school a few weeks ago, which makes his dominance all the more impressive). Bagley put up almost identical numbers to Ayton, averaging 21 points and 11.1 rebounds a game on 61.4 percent shooting. However, the one knock on Bagley coming out of college is his defensive motor.
- Mohamed Bamba: The former Texas Longhorn has the potential to become a Rudy Gobert-type defensive player with a three-point shot. At the NBA Combine Bamba recorded a 7’ 10” wingspan and 9’ 3/4” standing reach, each the longest in NBA history. Bamba did not put up the flashy numbers like Ayton or Bagley, but averaged a steady 12.9 points and 10.5 rebounds during his freshman season. More impressive, Bamba averaged 3.7 blocks a game, racking up a school record of 111 blocks on the season. To put that in perspective, the Chicago Bulls averaged 3.5 blocks per game last season. While it’s unrealistic to expect Bamba to produce those kinds of numbers as a rookie, Bamba has defensive player of the year written all over him.
- Mikal Bridges: Some scouts have projected Bridges becoming the next Kawhi Leonard-type player. Bridges is a heady defender and a proficient perimeter shooter, connecting on 43.5 percent of his attempts during his junior year. His 6’8” frame gives him the ability to guard multiple positions and his defense will help him carve out a role in a starting rotation. While his offensive game can still use some work, he has the potential to develop into the best two-way player in this draft class.
My top five players of the draft are the same as many others. Mohamed Bamba, Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley, and Jaren Jackson Jr. all check most boxes that teams are looking for in a top-five player. I would say Ayton, Bamba, and Doncic are slightly above the other two. It’s too early to say which of the five will end up having the best career, any one of them could end the season as the Rookie of the Year.
A lot of it comes down to fit. The Suns have reportedly already made their choice clear.
This draft is as stacked with top tier talent as any that we have seen in the past decade. It’s a deep class, too. That being said, these five players have clearly separated themselves.
- Deandre Ayton: At the very least Ayton will become a physical force on the offensive end. I think he eventually taps into his athleticism and frame on defense to make him one of the best centers in the NBA.
- Jaren Jackson Jr.: This will probably not be the second big man taken in the draft, but I love Jackson’s upside to become an all-around big man in the NBA. The defensive work is there and he already owns something of an outside shot. If the low post offense comes around, then, there’s plenty to be excited for.
- Mohamed Bamba: At one point Bamba appeared to be a top 10 pick. Now, he might be top five or top three. All the tools are there for him to anchor a defense and the offensive adjustments to his game, since the 2017-18 season ended, are promising signs. Whether it happens in live game action remains to be seen, but there’s a lot to like here.
- Luka Doncic: I’m not on the hype train for Doncic as a future superstar, but he has the chance to become a solid player for years to come. He can do a little bit of everything on offense and should fit as a team’s No. 3 or 4 player down the line, but not someone to build a roster around.
- Michael Porter Jr.: On talent alone, Porter Jr. should be a top two or three pick. He will stand above the rest on offense and find no issue shooting over smaller players at the three and even the four. The back injury is a major concern, though. If he manages to stay healthy this pick is a home run.
Next: Spurs biggest needs
What are the Spurs’ three biggest needs entering the draft?
Rutledge: San Antonio needs to see if they can find a third scorer in this year’s draft. With Kawhi Leonard out last year and LaMarcus Aldridge the only true offensive weapon, the Spurs need to find a young player to help carry the load offensively to compete with elite playoff teams. It also may be time to truly begin the transition to a younger bunch with Ginobili and Parker getting up there in age.
Depth at the power forward and center positions should also be a need. San Antonio lost some depth there last offseason and never seemed to make up for it. Gasol and Aldridge are a solid starting duo in the middle, but behind them there is not much in Bertans and Lauvergne. Both players could leave in free agency.
If the Spurs do in fact decide to trade Leonard, a swingman will definitely be necessary. Rudy Gay came on late in the year showing flashes of his old scoring days, but he still struggled with injuries. Taking a chance on a good swingman early, if the trade allows San Antonio to move up high, could be one coach Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford might have to take.
Carter: The blaring need to me would be more depth on the wing. San Antonio has a group of perimeter players entering free agency in July, so there’s a strong possibility that they’ll look to add more depth at the shooting guard and small forward positions. I’d also really like to see the team add an athletic big man to pair with Aldridge.
Garriss: The Spurs are set to have several players who could hit the free agent market this summer, including Tony Parker, Rudy Gay, Danny Green and Kyle Anderson. Until the Kawhi Leonard situation is handled the Spurs should keep their eyes on players who can potentially fill that void at the small forward/wing position.
Further, the Spurs ranked close to the bottom in the NBA in a number of offensive categories such as 3-Pointers Attempted, Made and Percentage. As such, the Spurs should also consider targeting a player who is a proven scorer. Buckets were hard to come by for pretty much everyone not named LaMarcus Aldridge last year but if the Spurs can find a reliable shooting guard who can knock down the three-pointer, that will take some of the offensive pressure off Aldridge and Leonard (hopefully).
Last, the Spurs should give some lengthy consideration to drafting a center. While the Spurs’ primary center was Pau Gasol last season, the Spaniard is well removed from his All-Star days. Although still a serviceable big, Gasol was essentially the only center on the roster, besides Joffrey Lauvergne who only appeared in 55 games and contributed sparingly. As a result, Aldridge was forced to play approximately 62 percent of the time at the center position. Drafting a pure center would allow Aldridge to return to his natural position at power forward and allow the offense to run more efficiently.
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Farina: It’s hard to narrow down San Antonio’s needs to just three. A star to replace Leonard, three-point shooting, and young frontcourt players are a few. It all depends on how the situation surrounding Kawhi Leonard ends. What picks/players can the Spurs get for him? That answer changes how they should approach the draft.
It’s hard to find a star player with the eighteenth pick. If San Antonio is able to acquire multiple first rounds picks in this year’s draft they should focus on taking players with the highest ceiling, regardless of position. With an aging roster, limited young talent, and a star player who wants a trade, it’s time to think about the long-term.
Wolkenbrod: San Antonio needs perimeter scoring, especially with Rudy Gay opting out, Danny Green’s unknown future and the potential departure of Kawhi Leonard. Luckily, there are plenty of outside shooters in this draft to choose from.
The Spurs also need a younger big man to play behind Aldridge and Pau Gasol. They failed to acquire one last year and lacked depth behind the former, while the latter man struggled at times as he inched closer to age 40.
Finally, every team wants a wing. Maybe that’s Kevin Knox, but it’s difficult to believe he will remain at No. 18. Someone needs to replace Leonard, however, but it might not happen in the draft.
Next: The pick at No. 18
Who should be the pick at No. 18?
Rutledge: If he is there, it should be guard Zhaire Smith out of Texas Tech. Smith would bring a whole lot of energy to a team that needs more of it. His athletic ability was on display night in and night out as the Red Raiders advanced all the way to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history. A player of his caliber might be just what this team needs to get back to competing for a championship.
Carter: With a stacked lottery and high potential throughout the draft class, players are bound to drop out of the lottery. R.C Buford and Pop need to select the best available player. With that being said, athletic wing Zhaire Smith has shown a ton of promise in recent months. I believe his explosiveness, high IQ and defensive potential make him a solid all-around prospect for San Antonio to consider.
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Garriss: With the 18th pick, I really like Zhaire Smith, the swingman out of Texas Tech.
Farina: I’ll be crossing my fingers and praying that someone slides down on draft night. If Kevin Knox or Lonnie Walker is there at No. 18 it would be a miracle. Again, it’s largely dependent on what San Antonio is able to get in return for Leonard if he does get moved.
Sacramento and Memphis have expressed interest in moving down. If either team offered up their pick as a part of a package for Leonard, San Antonio should listen.
If the Spurs are able to move into the top five that changes things. The idea of Luka Doncic ending up in San Antonio is too perfect. Pairing Marvin Bagley with Dejounte Murray would instantly transform the makeup of the team. There’s a lot up in the air at this point. I’d like see San Antonio take a risk on someone. A player who may not be as developed as others but has a higher ceiling.
The team isn’t quite to the Kings level of “Where is this franchise headed?” and head scratching, but there are questions about the team’s future. San Antonio needs to knock this draft out of the park and come away with a player who they can build around for years to come.
Wolkenbrod: I want the pick to become Zhaire Smith, who the others already mentioned. The longer this draft process goes, however, the less likely he drops to No. 18. Without him on the board, I have Donte DiVincenzo as San Antonio’s first pick.
Next: How does this player fit in?
How does this player fit the Spurs next season?
Rutledge: Smith’s explosiveness on both ends of the floor draws similar comparisons to Kawhi. When Kawhi comes off the floor, Smith can continue to provide hustle on both ends. His length is an advantage when it comes to rebounding and last year it helped Tech turn defense into instant offense in transition, something the Spurs lacked last year. Head coach Chris Beard’s system is based on movement with or without the ball, similar to coach Popovich. He would fit in with the team’s rotation well.
Carter: If the starting shooting guard position is up for grabs, Smith could fill that role as soon as next season. If Danny Green decides to stick with the Silver and Black, then Smith could be a valuable spark off the bench alongside Kawhi Leonard and Dejounte Murray.
Garriss: Although he didn’t put up eye-popping numbers during his freshman year, Zhaire Smith posted a well-rounded stat line, averaging 11.3 points, 5 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. Despite only attempting 40 three-point shots, Smith connected on 45 percent of his attempts from long distance. While he is slightly undersized as a guard/forward at 6’4”, Smith has long arms and quick speed that make him a tough defensive matchup.
Defense is where Smith will have to earn his spot in the rotation starting out. He’s a great athlete but he still needs time to further develop his offense and gain more confidence in his outside shot, especially at the NBA level. For now, I would love to see a long, rangy backcourt with Smith and Dejounte Murray terrorizing opposing players on defense with their active hands and physical play.
Farina: Spurs rookies of years past haven’t typically had a prominent role on the team. Derrick White and Dejounte Murray both averaged 8 minutes per game in their rookie season, Kyle Anderson averaged 10. None of them appeared in more than 40 games in their rookie seasons. All spent time bouncing back and forth between San Antonio and the Spurs G-League affiliate, the Austin Spurs. This year could be different.
Rudy Gay and Joffery Lauvergne both declined their player options, Kawhi Leonard might be headed out the door, Kyle Anderson, Davis Bertans, and Bryn Forbes are all restricted free agents. Not to mention the questions surrounding Tony Parker, will the Spurs bring him back? Point being, there’s a lot of playing time potentially available. If the Spurs select a guard they might not play as much. There are already established players at both guard positions and in backup roles.
However, if the Spurs select a wing player or a big man, that young player could potentially have a much larger role than Spurs rookies of years past. Especially if it’s a big man. LaMarcus Aldridge is 32 and Pau Gasol is 37. If San Antonio ends up selecting a big man in this years draft, and they should think heavily about doing so, don’t be surprised to see that rookie early and often.
Wolkenbrod: DiVincenzo fills in the outside shooting need and provides eye-popping athleticism for a team that played slow last season. Of course, much of this plays off the 2018 NCAA Championship Game and a spectacular combine, but the athletic and physical tools, plus the ability to consistently hit 3-point shots made him soar up the boards and stand out.
Unless someone else gets excited and takes DiVincenzo closer to the lottery, he should be available.
Next: Who should the Spurs eye in the second round?
Who is worth taking a flier on at No. 49?
Rutledge: Kansas senior guard Devonte’ Graham would be someone worth taking. Graham was named Big 12 Player of the Year and a consensus first-team All-American. While he is a little undersized at 6’2″, he makes up for it with his outside shooting. San Antonio could use another perimeter player.
Carter: If available, Mo Wagner could be a great asset for the Spurs. His ability to score within a system and his floor spacing could be extremely valuable. Other guys I’d consider are Jevon Carter from West Virginia and Omari Spellman from Villanova.
Garriss: Two guys whose names I wouldn’t mind hearing called at No. 49 are Maryland’s Justin Jackson and Kansas’ Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk.
Jackson was on his way to having a breakout sophomore season before tearing his labrum 11 games into the year, effectively ending his season. Jackson has an NBA body with a 6’7” frame and 7’3” wingspan, which will make him an interesting prospect to take chance on developing into a 3-and-D player.
Mykhailiuk was a four-year player for the Jayhawks and he made a huge leap during his senior season, averaging 14.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.2 steals, while shooting 43.4 percent from the floor. More impressive, the 6’8” Ukrainian guard knocked down three-pointers at 44.4 percent clip last year. With his size and shooting touching, Mykhailiuk seems like a pretty safe pick that late in the draft and could have the potential to develop into a three-point specialist.
Farina: A late round flier that I would love to end up in San Antonio is Rawle Alkins from the Universtiy of Arizona. Alkins is a 6’5 guard from Brooklyn who has been called a jack of all trades. He did a little bit of everything while at Arizona. I see a little bit of Johnathan Simmons but with a much higher ceiling.
If Alkins is there the Spurs should absolutely seize the opportunity to draft him. He’s an NBA ready defender who just needs to work on his shooting touch. Tha’s the kind of thing San Antonio can work out.
The Spurs backcourt is lacking in players who can switch defensively as well as is needed in today’s NBA. Danny Green and Dejounte Murray can guard point guards through small forwards well enough, but Bryn Forbes and an aging Tony Parker don’t impact the game defensively in the same way that Alkins could. He could guard any position besides center. His combination of defensive versatility and outstanding athleticism should translate into a career as a defensive specialist, at the very least.
Wolkenbrod: I’m intrigued by Jarred Vanderbilt. He grabbed rebounds at an absurd rate in limited playing time, but only played 14 games, due to injuries, and is skinny as a rail. Plus, the one-year collegiate has no resemblance of an offensive game. It’s a lot of negatives, but Vanderbilt can be groomed by the San Antonio coaching staff and develop in the G League for one or two years, to fulfill at least part of the potential he flashed.
Next: What will we remember most about this draft?
In five years, what will we remember most about the 2018 NBA Draft?
Rutledge: This may be one of those drafts we remember for the big men with so many projected to go early. The league seems to value power forwards and centers more in the draft if they are looking for a centerpiece to build the franchise around. Many teams picking high are looking for that building block and this year’s draft might be a good time to find one.
Carter: On paper, this is one of the best draft classes we’ve seen in the past decade. Similarly to the 2017 Draft, we’ll remember this draft as one full of exceptional talents and incredible depth. Rotational players will emerge from this class in years to come. Above all, we’ll remember the top three of this draft as incredible talents. With Ayton, Doncic and Bagley all emerging, the 2018 Draft has the potential to provide some of the league’s greatest players for years to come.
For Spurs fans, it’ll likely be considered a draft of uncertainty. After a season of turmoil and a shaky start to the summer, fans will remember this draft as a turning point for the franchise. No matter the outcome, it’s the first step in what’ll surely be an offseason of rampant change in the organization.
Garriss: Looking back, I believe this draft will go down in history as the greatest class of big men in recent memory. This year’s draft is loaded with frontcourt talent: Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Mohamed Bamba, Jaren Jackson Jr., Wendell Carter Jr., Michael Porter Jr. and more. Almost all of these guys are projected to go in the first 10 picks, if not the first eight.
While some of them have question marks like a Porter Jr., who missed almost his entire freshman season at Missouri due to injury, many of these guys are projected to be players that franchises build around. Others, such as Bamba and Jackson Jr. look to develop into defensive stalwarts for their respective teams and will be competing for all-defensive honors in the not too distant future.
Guys like Ayton and Bagley demonstrated their physical dominance in college, punishing virtually every defender that stood in their path. These players possess the qualities of the traditional big man with the ability to bang in the post and play with their backs to rim. However, they have also adopted the nuances of the new era big man who can stretch the floor and knock down three-pointers. The modern NBA is transforming into a position-ambiguous style of play and each of these players possesses the requisite skill set and versatility to adapt and dominate this ever-changing game.
Farina: This year’s draft has been compared to the 2003 draft in terms of top-tier talent. That’s taking things a bit too far. Not taking anything away from the players who are projected to go at the top of the order this year, they’re all incredibly talented. But none of them have the league changing potential that LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade had. Those three have been some of the most influential and successful players in the history of the NBA. You just can’t make that comparison yet.
I think this draft will be remembered most for the players taken slightly out of the top five. I think there is a ton of talent from picks 6-15 that just needs to land in the right spot for it to really explode. Look at Donovan Mitchell, teams in the top 10 of last years draft thought about taking him. New York (No. 8) and Charlotte (No. 11) were both close to pulling the trigger but ended up going with other guards. Thankfully, he slid down to the Jazz and had one of the most exciting rookie seasons in recent memory.
It could be Kevin Knox, Wendell Carter Jr., or Miles Bridges, but I think that the players taken in the back half of the lottery are going to be the lasting story from this year’s draft.
Wolkenbrod: One day we will view this draft as the “Year of the Big Man.” Ayton, Bagley, Bamba, Carter and Jackson all have the chance to become starting centers sooner than later, and this group will make or break this class.
Somewhere, there’s a diamond in the rough, or someone who will not go in the lottery but find long term success. Maybe it’s DiVincenzo, Elie Okobo or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, but with such a deep class of talent, someone beyond the top 10 or first 14 picks will become a superstar and be part of the headliners of this group for years to come.