San Antonio Spurs 2019 NBA Draft Grades and Analysis
By Andrew Ites
San Antonio Spurs fans probably aren’t thrilled with what they ended up with on draft night, but this organization’s draft record speaks for itself.
With three picks in the top 50 of this year’s draft, San Antonio Spurs fans have spent months fantasizing about an epic draft haul that could change the franchise or a trade for a veteran that can help the team win right away.
This class was thought of as a two or three player draft depending on who you ask, but most analysts thought there was some value to be had outside of the lottery and into the second round where the level of talent really evens out.
College stars like Nassir Little, Bol Bol, and Jontay Porter were on the board when the Spurs were on the clock at 19, 29, and 49, but the front office threw us a curveball with two of the three picks.
Many mock drafts had the Spurs selecting Luka Samanic with the 29th overall pick, but the front office decided to get their guy at number 19 to avoid the risk of losing him before they were on the clock again.
Then with their second pick of the first round, San Antonio selected a prospect many mock drafts had them selecting at number 19 in Keldon Johnson.
The Spurs rounded out their night by picking an experienced guard with a reputation as a fierce defender in Quinndary Weatherspoon.
There was a lack of big names in the Spurs’ 2019 draft class, but San Antonio came away with two high-upside 19-year-olds and a second round pick who has a good shot at becoming a rotational player in this league.
Like many things the Spurs do, tonight wasn’t sexy, but it seems like the front office got exactly who they were targeting.
Read on for further analysis and a letter grade on each of the three selections:
Next: 19th Overall Pick - Luka Samanic
19th Overall Pick – Luka Samanic
Despite having some big names on the board at pick number 19 with Nassir Little, Brandon Clarke, and Bol Bol still available, the Spurs pulled a Spurs move and selected a prospect without much fanfare in Luka Samanic.
The 6’11” Croatian forward scored just under 8 points per game last season with Union Olimpija of the Adriatic League while grabbing 4.7 rebounds in 18.4 minutes per contest.
Nearly every major draft analyst viewed Samanic as a reach at number 19 as he came in at 29 on ESPN’s draft board, 39th in Kevin O’Connor’s rankings, and 29th on Kevin Pelton’s board.
Samanic put in an outstanding performance at the NBA Combine which helped him climb up team’s draft boards throughout the last month,
There’s no doubt that Samanic has potential with his above-average ball-handling and movement skills for a 19-year-old that’s nearly seven feet tall. However, he’s totally unproven at this point in his career and will need some work to develop into an NBA rotational player.
San Antonio has shown a tendency to keep their first round picks in the G League in each of the past three years, and that trend should continue this season with a player as raw as Samanic.
According to Jake Fischer, R.C. Buford scouted Samanic in person more than any other NBA executive and Buford must’ve been impressed with the Croatian prospect when he sat down for dinner with Samanic and Gregg Popovich during the draft process.
Samanic’s offensive statistics weren’t outstanding in Europe with an effective field goal percentage of 52.3% while scoring 0.956 points per possession, which was in the 62nd percentile according to Synergy stats on NBA.com.
However, his 0.515 points allowed per isolation on defense ranked in the 89th percentile and the Spurs desperately need some help on that end of the floor. Samanic takes great pride in his defense as he told Hoops Hype, “I want to guard the best player on the team, it’s my mission before the game. I think I can switch onto any player on the court.”
San Antonio came into the draft with needs on the wing and at the big man position, and they hope they have found a hybrid big/wing in Luka Samanic.
While I believe in Buford and Pop’s draft record, it’s hard to get excited about selecting Samanic when there were so many other promising prospects on the board.
Next: 29th Overall Pick - Keldon Johnson
29th Overall Pick – Keldon Johnson
After selecting a versatile big man with the 19th overall pick, the Spurs addressed their need on the wing by scooping up Kentucky’s Keldon Johnson at pick number 29.
ESPN’s draft tracker named Johnson as the “best fit” among the prospects available for San Antonio at pick 29 as he came in at number 21 on their big board.
However, the draft community was split on him as he ranked 37th on Kevin O’Connor’s big board and was 39th in Kevin Pelton’s rankings.
The Oak Hill Academy product scored 13.5 points per game for Kentucky last season while grabbing 5.9 rebounds in 30.7 minutes.
Johnson scored the rock fairly efficiently with a true shooting percentage of 55.8%, but he wasn’t much of a playmaker averaging just 1.6 assists per game.
Keldon stepped up against the toughest competition as he scored over 20 points in games against Duke, North Carolina and Auburn while shooting 57.9% from the field combined over those three contests.
According to NBA.com, Johnson ranked in the 79th percentile scoring 0.986 points per possession including 1.184 points per catch-and-shoot jump shot in the half court (79th percentile), which should help the Spurs’ spacing.
His defensive stats were solid as well as he allowed just 0.618 points per one-on-one possession.
Johnson doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective as he ranked in the 81st percentile in spot up scoring, which should come in handy on a Spurs roster that already features a ton of ball-handlers.
It’s hard to justify taking Keldon Johnson over Bol Bol from a talent standpoint, but the concerns regarding Bol’s foot injury and his dedication to the game scared off every single team in the first round so it’s hard to blame the Spurs for passing up on him here.
Johnson has a solid skill set already and has plenty of room to grow at just 19 years old. The Spurs hit a solid drive down the fairway with this pick.
Next: 49th Overall Pick - Quinndary Weatherspoon
49th Overall Pick – Quinndary Weatherspoon
The Spurs rounded out their draft by selecting another defensive guard to go along with Derrick White and Dejounte Murray.
The former Mississippi State guard ranked 57th on ESPN’s draft board after his four year career with the Bulldogs.
Guard wasn’t a position of need for San Antonio in this draft, so this means that the front office thought Weatherspoon was the best prospect left on the board.
Weatherspoon scored in double-digits in all four seasons at Mississippi State culminating in a senior year where he scored 18.5 points per game with 4.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists.
The 6’4″ guard shot nearly 40% from downtown on 4.1 attempts per game and finished the year with a trong true shooting percentage of 62.2%. He also excelled on the defensive end of the floor with at least 1.4 steals per games in all four years of his college career.
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Weatherspoon ranked in the 70th percentile scoring 1.141 points per possession in transition and was in the 68th percentile scoring at the rim in the half court with 1.22 points per shot.
A good comp for Weatherspoon would be Derrick White. They’re almost exactly the same size, came into the NBA after a long college career and are both known for their defense.
Experienced guards who fell in the draft have had a lot of success lately with White, Fred Van Vleet, Malcolm Brogdon, Jalen Brunson, and Monte Morris being the prime examples.
Chris Vernon tweeted that a few evaluators he talked to tabbed Weatherspoon as a deep sleeper in this draft class.
It will obviously be tough for Weatherspoon to enter the Spurs’ backcourt rotation anytime soon with young guards like White, Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker, and Bryn Forbes already on the roster, but Weatherspoon is certainly the type of player this front office has liked to draft over the past few years.
ESPN’s Draft Tracker had Jontay Porter as the “best fit” among the remaining prospects, and that’s who I would’ve selected if I were in R.C. Buford’s position.
Porter has a scary medical history, but his upside makes him difficult to pass up at this point in the draft and center is still a position wher the Spurs could use an upgrade.
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Weatherspoon has the potential to be a solid rotational player in this league, and he gives the franchise some insurance in case the Lonnie Walker pick doesn’t pan out.