With two first round picks at their disposal in the 2019 NBA Draft, which star players participating in March Madness could pique the interest of the San Antonio Spurs?
It’s one of the most glorious times of the year — March Madness. With the conclusion of conference championships and the passage of Selection Sunday, we now have our field of 68 teams that will vie for collegiate supremacy in the never-disappointing NCAA Tournament that will undoubtedly feature a ton of NBA Draft prospects.
The Spurs, accustomed to picking at the end of the first round most years, are in a rare position this offseason as they will enter the 2019 NBA Draft with not one, but two first round picks.
With two selections in this years’ upcoming draft, the Spurs could add further depth to an already-talented nucleus of young players.
While many fans across the country will be fixated on tracking the Duke Blue Devils and their generational freshman squad spearheaded by Zion Williamson, this article is dedicated to taking a look at some of the other big names in college basketball that could realistically end up sporting the Silver and Black.
Next: Markus Howard
Markus Howard is the most electric point guard in college basketball you’ve probably never heard of. Howard, the junior guard from Marquette, terrorized Big East opponents all season long leading the Golden Eagles to a 24-9 overall record while capturing Big East Player of the Year honors.
Howard and Marquette received a number five seed on Selection Sunday, earning a date with internet sensation and future top-five pick in this years’ draft Ja Morant and Murray State. This will be THE most exciting point guard matchup we see all of March, pitting the tournament’s two leading scorers (Howard – 25 PPG vs. Morant – 24.6 PPG) against each other, and fans are lucky enough to get this treat in the first round.
Howard’s gaudy scoring average, which marks the sixth-best mark in Division I, comes on 42.4 percent shooting overall, 40.8 percent from three-point range, and 89.2 percent from the free throw line. Howard’s proficiency from beyond the arc, canning approximately 3.5 three-pointers per game, will make any scout drool.
Offensively, there’s a lot to love about Howard’s game. He possesses great ball-handling skills and a keen eye for creating opportunities for his teammates. While he’s a willing passer, leading the Golden Eagles in assists with 4 per game, Howard is never to shy to call his own number when his team needs a bucket.
Howard has a silky smoothness to his game, highlighted by his crafty step-back jumper that would even impress James Harden and a nasty crossover that leaves defenders in the dust as he cruises to hoop for an easy layup.
Despite being undersized at 5′ 11″, Howard plays bigger than his stature by dictating pace and taking over games when he needs to. Howard has scored 30-plus points in nine contests this season, including a heroic 53-point overtime performance that elevated Marquette past Creighton.
Although San Antonio has used their last three first round picks to select guards (Lonnie Walker, Derrick White and Dejounte Murray), Howard’s scoring talent might be something the Spurs think twice about before passing on him.
However, with Murray on track to return to full strength next season, steady play from White despite battling nagging injuries all year, the emergence of Bryn Forbes as a consistent threat and Patty Mills still being in the rotation, it would be difficult to project a scenario where Howard could carve out meaningful minutes right away on this Spurs roster.
Next: Admiral Schofield/Grant Williams
Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams
So I decided to kill two birds with one stone here, but it certainly helps that Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield are among the best one-two punch frontcourt pairings in all of college hoops. Over his last two years at the helm, head coach Rick Barnes has taken the Tennessee Volunteers from pretender to contender status behind his two pillars in Williams and Schofield.
The Vols earned a number two seed in the South region and will take on Colgate as they hope to make a deep run in the tournament this year. If Williams and Schofield play the way they have all season, Tennessee could find themselves heading to Minneapolis to compete in the Final Four.
Williams, the 6’7″ forward, has been a focal part of UT’s offense since he stepped foot on campus, quickly becoming the Volunteers’ second-leading scorer as a freshman. His breakout season came during his sophomore campaign when he earned the status of the team’s leading scorer, capping the season as the SEC Player of the Year.
As a junior, in what many believe will be his final year in Knoxville, Williams leads the team in points (19 PPG) on 56.5 percent shooting, rebounds (7.6 RPG), ranks third in assists (3.1 ASG), and he repeated as the conference’s player of the year.
Schofield, the 6′ 6″ senior who serves as the yin to Williams’ yang, joined his teammate on the First Team All-SEC list. The Admiral averages 16.2 points per game, knocking down 41.1 percent of his attempts from downtown, and 6.1 rebounds.
Williams and Schofield fit together seamlessly — Grant operates in the mid-post area, while the Admiral circles arounds the perimeter, picking his spots where he can drain the trifecta. Recently, the duo combined to score 41 of Tennessee’s 82 points in the semifinals of the SEC tournament to lift the Volunteers past the Kentucky Wildcats.
While Williams and Schofield present two unique styles of play, both players could experience significant success in San Antonio if given the opportunity.
Williams, a back-to-the-basket type player, already has a solid collection of head fakes and jab steps, but having the opportunity to learn from and play behind a mid-range savant in LaMarcus Aldridge would only help his game grow. Although slightly undersized at 6’7″, Williams’ offensive versatility and ability to hit the three-point shot could make him a matchup problem as a small-ball center.
Schofield, on the other hand, is also an interesting prospect. The Admiral is a bit of a hybrid, boasting a 6’6″, 241-pound frame with the ability to either bang in the post or knock down the long shot. A physical and gritty player who can rebound and shoot the ball at an efficient rate could be an intriguing fit on a roster that’s traditionally found ways to effectively incorporate positionless players.
With both Williams and Schofield being projected as late-first round picks, there is a legitimate possibility that one of these two could end up being selected by the Spurs.
Because of their upperclassmen status, it’s likely that they’ll slide in this draft despite their success at the collegiate level. But the Spurs have never shied away from taking older players in the past, further increasing the likelihood of a potential match.
Next: Rui Hachimura
Rui Hachimura, the Gonzaga product via Toyama, Japan, might one of the most intriguing players in the NCAA Tournament. Holding the number one seed in the West region, Hachimura will try to lead the Bulldogs to their second NCAA Championship game appearance in the last three years.
Hachimura, who played just 4.6 minutes per game as a freshman and didn’t even play in the 2017 Final Four when the ‘Zags were edged by the North Carolina Tar Heels in the championship game, has since stepped up his game considerably.
After only starting two games as a sophomore, Hachimura is now the undisputed leader of this Gonzaga frontline in his third year. Through 33 games, the 6’ 8″ forward leads the team averaging 20.1 points, nearly doubling his scoring output from a season ago (11.6), on 60.9 percent shooting along with 6.6 rebounds per game.
The Preseason All-American began his junior campaign with an impressive performance at the Maui Invitational where the Zags knocked off a top-ranked Duke team, culminating with Hachimura taking home MVP tournament honors.
Hachimura followed up this performance by leading the Bulldogs to a 29-2 regular season record, including going undefeated in the Western Coast Conference. The junior was named WCC’s Player of the Year and was also named to the conference’s First Team.
Hachimura, a multifaceted big man, would be a great fit in San Antonio. Although he does not shoot the three-ball at high rate (15-of-32, 46.9 percent), his willingness and ability to stretch the floor would allow him to play alongside Aldridge or lead the second unit.
Hachimura has a nose for the basketball, artfully positioning himself in the optimal spot to clean up on the defensive glass or finish an emphatic putback. Despite his size, he has solid handles and demonstrates confidence in his ability to grab a defensive rebound and initiate the offense or attack off the dribble-drive from the top of the key.
While his game could still use a bit of polishing and he’s not a great playmaker or distributor at this current stage, an opportunity with the Spurs would allow him to see some playing time while continuing to learn and develop behind other skilled bigs.
Next: Coby White
Don’t blink — if you do you might miss Coby White. A lightning bolt sporting a variety of quirky hairstyles, most notably his trademark afro, White is the fastest point guard you’re going to find in college hoops. The Goldsboro, North Carolina, native is hoping to lead the North Carolina Tar Heels back to the Final Four to claim their second NCAA championship in the last three seasons.
In just his first season in Chapel Hill, White has taken the bull by the horns and turned the Tar Heels into a legitimate championship contender. White and UNC earned a number one seed in the Midwest Region and will take on Iona in their first round matchup.
Although he was a highly-touted five-star recruit, most of the headlines surrounding an elite freshman on UNC’s campus were focused on Nassir Little, who was the MVP and Co-MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Game and Jordan Brand Classic.
However, it was White, not Little, that got the starting nod on this senior-laden roster and sapped some of the limelight away from Little, who many projected as a top-three pick in the NBA Draft coming into the season.
Head coach Roy Williams gave White the keys to the point guard position and he’s kicked this offense into high gear. The Tar Heels have always been a fast-paced team predicated on quick outlets and transition opportunities, but this team is operating at a historic rate and that’s due in large part to the steady play of White.
In fact, White looks like another speedy Tar Heel point guard: Ty Lawson.
“Coby White can push that basketball the way I like it to be pushed, probably better than anybody I’ve had since Ty,” Williams said. Lawson helped lead UNC to their fifth NCAA championship in 2009 and White looks to do the same with this squad.
Despite his freshman status, White has started every game of his young collegiate career. His coming out party came during one of the team’s lowest points of the season, an upset loss to the Texas Longhorns at the Las Vegas Invitational. White was the lone bright spot on an otherwise forgettable night as he dropped 33 points, including 7 three-pointers.
White has not taken his foot off the gas pedal since that trip. The 6′ 5″ guard led the Tar Heels to an undefeated road record in Atlantic Coast Conference play and a share of the ACC regular season championship. White was named to the ACC’s All-Freshman team, racking up the second most votes, only trailing Zion Williamson.
White is the second-leading scorer for UNC (16.3 points) and leads the team in assists (4.2 per game), while also chipping in 3.4 rebounds per contest. The freshman is also converting a team-best 81.4 percent from the free throw line and 36 percent from behind the arc.
White’s game is as exciting as they come. He’s got blazing speed which allows him to spark the fast break by pushing the pace and getting to the rim or forcing the defense to collapse, and that opens up passing lanes for cutting teammates. His 6′ 5″ frame allows him to shoot over smaller guards and White is swift and agile enough to make bigger defenders dance if they get switched on to him.
One of White’s greatest characteristics is his poise. Like all freshman, he’s struggled with turnovers, unforced errors, and poor shot selection at times, but for the most part he’s handled being the conductor of one of the best teams in the country with a level of confidence and tact rarely exhibited by most teenage prospects.
I know I’ve mentioned the bevy of guards the San Antonio Spurs already possess, but Coby White is one of the few guards in this draft class I would make an exception for. What excites me the most about that potential selection is the pairing of Coby White with Dejounte Murray, two guards that love to get out in transition and speed up the game.
Coby White is already a far better shooter than Murray, which makes the prospect of this tandem and the combination of their complementary skill sets very intriguing. The addition of another big guard who can stroke the three-point shot and facilitate the offense could be an enticing experiment for the Spurs front office to dabble with.
Next: Talen Horton-Tucker
Last but not least, Iowa State’s Talen Horton-Tucker rounds out the list of prospects to keep an eye on in this years’ NCAA Tournament. The Chicago native joined a loaded Cyclone roster as the freshman helped ISU capture a number six seed in the Midwest region as they face the Ohio State Buckeyes in the first round.
This year, the Big 12 Conference was ripe with parity, a conference whose path to the regular season championship had gone through Kansas for the last 14 seasons. Iowa State played a major role in dethroning the Jayhawks, routing KU in the regular season and eventually knocking off Kansas to win the Big 12 Tournament.
Horton-Tucker pieced together an impressive freshman season, scoring the third-most points on Iowa State (12.2 points) and leading all Big 12 freshmen in scoring, while also contributing 5 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game.
The biggest thing that stands out right away are Horton-Tucker’s percentages, which are mediocre at best. The 6′ 4″ freshman guard is shooting just 41.1 percent overall, 31.4 percent from three-point range and 62.5 percent from the charity stripe.
However, Horton-Tucker is only a freshman, which explains the peaks and valleys during his first year in Ames. The guard posted a handful of games where he was lights out, tallying six 20-plus point outings on the season, but also had several unremarkable performances, including a matchup against Oklahoma State where he dropped a goose egg in the box score.
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This is not to say that Horton-Tucker isn’t talented — many scouts and analysts project him being a first round pick and potentially a lottery pick if he decides to declare. Horton-Tucker has a lot of great qualities and attributes, but right now he is not a plug-and-play type of player. Currently, his skill set is very raw and it would do him a great service to spend some time developing in the G-League before finding his niche within the league.
Although his percentages have been streaky, Horton-Tucker is a shooter by trade, recording three games this season where he’s knocked down five or more three-pointers. However, Horton-Tucker is not just a one-trick pony. He has the ability to put the ball on the floor and drive to the basket whenever he wants to. Further, despite being undersized as a shooting guard at 6′ 4″, Horton-Tucker is second on the team with 5 rebounds per game.
While many like his game, it’s unclear how exactly it will translate at the next level. He’s not enough of a consistent threat from downtown to keep defenders honest yet, and although he has a stout, 233-pound frame, I’m not sure how well he projects as being a three-and-D player at his size.
Keeping everything in mind, the Spurs might view Horton-Tucker as a malleable prospect with an interesting array of skills that they believe they could shape into positionless, two-way player.
With two first round picks available, San Antonio could elect to take a player such as Horton-Tucker, who’s more of a project at this time, with one pick and then a more pro-ready player with the other.
Two first round picks is a rarity for the San Antonio Spurs, affording this franchise a flexibility they’ve usually never had. The Spurs’ innovative front office has always found new and creative ways to identify talent late in the first round of the draft. Time to see if they can strike gold twice.
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Here are some other prospects the Spurs may take a hard look at this year: