The San Antonio Spurs have gotten lucky in the past couple of drafts with players of need falling to the end of the first round. With two first round picks in the 2019 draft could San Antonio strike gold again?
With draft season approaching, it’s time for the Spurs to look hard at addressing one of their biggest needs. Late in the fourth quarter under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, one of the lowest moments of the San Antonio Spurs season was taking place. Dennis Smith Jr. jumped a passing lane, tipped the ball away and took off.
With rookie center Mitchell Robinson sprinting behind him, DSJ tossed the ball off the glass and let the high-flying Robinson hammer it home. The play was the exclamation point of a 130-118 Spurs loss that broke an 18-game home losing streak for the Knicks.
The 2018-19 season has been one of ups and downs for the Spurs, but one thing has been made quite clear: the San Antonio front court is in serious need of a youth movement.
LaMarcus Aldridge has continued to be a consistent force as the veteran big man just made his 7th All-Star appearance and Davis Bertans has also played very well. However, outside of those two, the Spurs frontcourt has been underwhelming.
The talk around this year’s draft has largely been dominated by Duke’s trio of talented freshmen. But there are plenty of NBA-ready players outside of Durham. With two picks in the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft, the Spurs are set up well to select a young frontcourt player.
Given San Antonio’s strong track record of developing late round picks, I doubt they would have an issue with sending their pick to play in the G-League for the majority of their rookie year considering that’s the path they’ve taken with their last two first round picks. Knowing all of that, here are a few prospects for San Antonio Spurs fans to keep their eyes on as the college season approaches its close.
Next: Bol Bol
Unfortunately for Spurs fans, they won’t be able to see Bol Bol play any more this season. After undergoing surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left foot, it was announced that Bol would miss the rest of the year rehabilitating.
Before his season was abruptly cut short, Bol was doing everything he could to lock himself in as a top-10 pick. In his nine appearances (all starts) he averaged an impressive 21 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks per contest.
Offensively Bol has all the skills to succeed at the next level. He’s the latest in a series of highly-skilled big men who are comfortable creating for themselves off the dribble. Bol has also shown nice touch in the post. His length and soft touch have helped him develop a nice right-handed jump hook that is almost unblockable.
He’s also a very accurate shooter. While at Oregon, he was lighting up opponents from deep. Bol averaged almost three three-point attempts per game and was connecting on an eye-popping 52 percent of them. The sample size is small, but Bol’s shooting ability has always been one of the highlights of his game and should translate to the next level.
Defensively, Bol has the length to be an outstanding rim protector. Standing 7’3 with an absurd 7’8 wingspan, Bol will have no problem contesting shots at the rim. Not only does the 19-year-old block a healthy amount of shots, but he does so without fouling. He only averaged 1.7 fouls a game in college.
His high IQ allows him to read opposing offenses and anticipate angles in order to get the block without overreaching and getting himself into foul trouble. His weaknesses on defense comes primarily from his slim frame. Even in college he had trouble matching up against more physical players.
Just picture him trying to prevent someone like Jusuf Nurkic from backing him down….yeah, it probably won’t end well for Bol.
Adding muscle needs to be his number one priority once he turns pro. If he can do that, everything else should come along nicely. Even with his impressive shot blocking ability, he could be a defensive liability if he fails to add some muscle.
Bol would fit in excellently with San Antonio’s current frontcourt. His shooting ability would allow him to play alongside either Jakob Poeltl or Aldridge. He doesn’t have the lateral movement to stay with NBA stretch four’s quite yet, but that could come.
As a center you could surround him with shooters and slashers and allow the threat of his three-point shot to open up driving lanes.
Bol’s upside is as immense as the risk associated with drafting him due to the checkered history of drafting big men with foot injuries. NBA history is littered with promising talents who had their careers cut short because their feet couldn’t take the constant pounding. However, if doctors give the sign of approval San Antonio should take a risk on Bol if they have the chance.
Next: Kezie Okpala
Kezie Okpala is a rangy sophomore forward from Stanford University. Standing at 6’9 with a 7’2 wingspan, Okpala has the frame that NBA front offices gush over.
His freshman year was underwhelming. Okpala shot poorly and didn’t rebound at a rate a player of his size and athleticism should. However, he’s turned the corner in his sophomore season and now looks like an NBA-ready wing.
The biggest reason for Okpala’s rising stock has been his improved shooting ability. As a freshman, Okpala was shooting a paltry 39 percent from the floor on roughly 8 attempts per game. In his sophomore season those numbers have sharply risen to an impressive 46 percent on almost 13 attempts per game.
The increase in percentage comes from his refined shooting form that has allowed Okpala to stretch his game out and hit three-pointers at a consistent rate. Multi-positional wings are all the rage in the NBA right now, but versatile wings who hit threes are every NBA GM’s favorite asset. Okpala has increased his three-point percentage from 22 percent to a very respectable 38 percent.
That trend should continue if he ends up in San Antonio where he would have the opportunity to work with Spurs shooting guru Chip Engelland. Neither Qunicy Pondexter nor Dante Cunningham should be brought back next year. Neither of them have brought much to the table and San Antonio should look for younger options on the wing.
In Okpala, San Antonio would have a potential successor to Rudy Gay. During Gay’s time in San Antonio, he has been able to improve his three-point shooting which has opened up easier driving lanes. Okpala should try to similarly devleop his game.
Finally, Okapala seems to have the temperament and outlook of a Spur. According to The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie, Okpala regularly took multiple AP classes in high school. He elected to focus on his academics rather than join a high profile AAU team that would have caused him to miss class.
Okpala received scholarship offers from Darthmouth as well as Standford. Culture is an incredibly important part of the Spurs organization and Okpala seems like he would mesh well with the Spurs organizational values.
Next: Bruno Fernando
Bruno Fernando has been projected as a lottery pick, but that doesn’t mean he’s out of the Spurs reach. Lonnie Walker IV was projected as a lottery pick throughout last year’s draft process and still fell into San Antonio’s lap in the second half of the first round; Fernando could do the same. There is also a possibility that the Spurs miss the playoffs and find themselves in the lottery for the first time this century.
In either case, Spurs fans should keep their eyes on the Maryland product.
Fernando will come to the NBA with a grown man’s body. The 6’10, 240-pound big man will have absolutely no problem holding his own on the block. His frame and girth are assets in and of themselves.
Combine them with Fernando’s mobility and quick feet, and you have a big man who flows well between assignments on defense and has no problem setting screens and fighting for rebounds on offense. He doubled his offensive rebounding rate from his freshman year to now and has been averaging a double-double all season long.
On offense, Fernando is an energy guy.
It’s unlikely that he will ever have many plays called for him, but he doesn’t need them. Like Clint Capela and Steven Adams, Fernando can get his buckets just by hunting down offensive rebounds and getting put-backs, or finishing in pick and roll.
He doesn’t have a ton of post moves in his bag, but that will come with time. Especially if he is able to learn from frequent Spurs practice attendee Tim Duncan.
Fernando currently doesn’t have much of a mid-range or three-point shot. That can be seen a knock on his game. As the three-point renaissance continues, NBA teams are putting an emphasis on having shooters at every position. Fernando isn’t there yet, but even if he never develops a long range game he can still be an effective player.
However, his lack of an outside shot does present some challenges given the current makeup of San Antonio’s frontcourt. Fernando’s lack of shooting would make it difficult for him to play alongside Poeltl or Aldridge.
That being said, he is shooting nearly 77% from the free-throw line and has nice enough form that it’s not hard to imagine him stretching out his offensive game as his career progresses.
Fernando seems to be one of the safest picks in this year’s draft. Even if he never develops an outside shot, Fernando projects as a strong rebounder and shot blocker who can finish at the rim or clean up after teammates. Players like that will always have a spot in the league.
Next: Jontay Porter
Sadly Jontay Porter never had a chance to show off his game in his sophomore year. In a devastating blow for both Porter and Missouri, he tore both his ACL and MCL before the season even started. Even though he didn’t play a single second during his sophomore season, Porter is still projected as mid-to-late first round pick.
On paper it doesn’t really make sense that a guy who averaged 9.9 points and 6.8 rebounds would be a first round pick. But Porter’s game is so perfectly suited for today’s NBA that he’s still viewed as such.
He’s not being drafted for the player that he is right now, but because of the player he can become. A 6’11 big man who can protect the rim, hit three’s, and passes well is the ideal modern big.
In a late-season game against Vanderbilt last season, Porter showed off his full repertoire and why he absolutely deserves to be a first round pick. He was connecting from all over the floor, chasing down rebounds, whipping well timed on- handed passes to cutting teammates, and protecting his own basket. He really showed off the full package.
The biggest question mark surrounding Porter is his knee. Thanks to advances in modern medicine a torn ACL and MCL aren’t the career-altering injuries they once were, but they’re still difficult to come back from, especially for a big man. A lot will be riding on the health of Porter’s knee.
Porter’s shot is also a little bit of an issue, although he has been accurate in a relatively slow sample size. He was able to knock down 36 percent of his three-point attempts last season, but his release is low and slow. Porter’s height will help him avoid being blocked too often, but in the NBA where every player is faster and longer it could be an issue. Improving his release will go a long way in making him a more effective shooter.
Porter would mesh well with all of San Antonio’s current frontcourt players. He could be paired with either Poeltl or Aldridge and his shooting ability would still provide San Antonio with enough space to run a modern offense.
You could also throw Porter out there as a stretch five and play him with either Rudy Gay or Davis Bertans at the four. Those lineups would be very intriguing. Having shooters at every position would really open up driving lanes for DeMar DeRozan and the rest of the Spurs guards.
Porter has risk associated with him that’s for certain. But the upside of a 6’11 big man with an offensive game perfectly suited to the current NBA is too much to pass up. This is one player the Spurs should definitely take a chance on with their first first round pick.
Next: Charles Bassey
Charles Bassey is a super athletic shot-blocking and rebounding monster from the University of Western Kentucky.
One of the first things you notice about him is his nonstop energy. In his lone season for the Hilltoppers, he has made a living chasing down offensive boards and cashing in on second chance points. At 6’11 and an imposing 245 pounds, Bassey has NBA size and he knows it. He’s routinely bullied his way to the rim against smaller competition.
On offense, Bassey is cut from a similar cloth as Bruno Fernando. Both use their physicality and size to impose their will on smaller completion and get high-percentage looks. But both of them need to significantly expand their offensive tool boxes as well.
Bassey has been able to get good looks simply by backing smaller players down and going over them with a little hook shot. However, at the next level he will need to develop a wider arsenal of post moves if he wants to continue scoring at his current rate.
Similar to Fernando, Bassey does have a solid shooting form. Knocking down 79 percent of his free throws is evidence of this. Bassey has just never had to develop an outside shot since he’s always been able to get the looks he’s wanted by using his size to his advantage.
Defensively is where Bassey really shows some potential.
He’s averaging 2.3 blocks and 0.9 steals per game this season. Bassey moves well on defense and is routinely in position to at least alter an opponent’s shot if he cannot block it.
Fouling can be a big issue for young big men as they adjust to the speed and physicality of the NBA, but that doesn’t seem like it will be an issue for Bassey. He plays within his own limits and seems to have a good understanding of when to fully extend for a block and when to hold back to avoid the foul.
More from Air Alamo
- Spurs show remarkable poise against Bulls, unlike many fans
- Devin Vassell is the latest in the Spurs’ collection of silent assassins
- San Antonio Spurs: 5 Players to avoid in any LaMarcus Aldridge deal
- Is Gregg Popovich hiding Luka Samanic as a secret weapon?
- San Antonio Spurs News: More DeRozan trade talk from Chris Haynes
He’s only averaging 2.7 personal fouls per game at the college level. That number will go up as he adjusts to the speed of the NBA, but he doesn’t appear to be prone to fouling out.
Bassey’s fit with San Antonio does present some challenges.
He would be nearly impossible to play alongside Poeltl and maybe even Aldridge. His assist-to-turnover ratio (.7 assists to 3 turnovers per game) is not great either.
Bassey would be better off as the lone center with four shooters spread around him. In that scenario he could maximize his size and length as a screener and rim runner. Having Dejounte Murray or Derrick White running pick and roll with Bassey could result in some seriously thundering dunks.
Bassey projects to be a DeAndre Jordan-type player. A very solid post player with some offensive limitations. He’s only 18 years old so Bassey is a work in progress that San Antonio should absolutely try to acquire with their later first round pick.
When you look around the league, you can find a number of teams with multiple promising young big men. Young, promising talent is one thing that the San Antonio Spurs just don’t have a lot of right now. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.
Want your voice heard? Join the Air Alamo team!
With two first round picks in the 2019 NBA Draft, the Spurs are in prime position to select their frontcourt of the future. These players would all be great additions for the San Antonio Spurs as they look to the future.