While the selection of Croation big man Luka Samanic was a surprise to many San Antonio Spurs fans, this move epitomizes the organization’s identity and culture.
Many, myself included, were shocked, if not a little bit angry, when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver approached the podium Thursday night to announce the 19th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. There were a bevy of highly-touted prospects, ranging from Nassir Little, Bol Bol, Brandon Clarke, Kevin Porter Jr. and more, still miraculously on the board by the time the San Antonio Spurs made the first of their two first round selections.
With all signs pointing to the Spurs pulling off a heist and snagging another elite prospect deep in the first round, there was a collective and visceral reaction of frustration when it was announced the Spurs would be selecting Luka Samanic, the long 6’11” forward from Croatia.
Much of the ire surrounding this pick stems from the gut feeling that this was a reach for a prospect that many believed would still be available 10 picks later when the Spurs were set to be on the clock again at pick number 29, where they would subsequently select Keldon Johnson, who ironically felt like a steal at that point in the draft.
However, the Spurs are notorious for not making splashy or sexy moves. Thursday night was just the latest installment of Coach Gregg Popovich, General Manager R.C. Buford, and the rest of the front office remaining steadfast in their beliefs and taking the player that best fits their team and organization.
It’s no secret the Spurs were infatuated with Samanic’s game. No more than a few days after San Antonio had been eliminated in a Game 7 against the Denver Nuggets, Buford was spotted in Europe scouting the 19-year-old, who spent the 2018-19 season playing for Petrol Ljubljana of the Slovenian League and ABA League.
Here were Buford’s initial thoughts after selecting Samanic:
Samanic did not post eye-popping numbers last season, putting up roughly 8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game while hitting 48 percent of his shots from the field and 34 percent from three-point range.
Although he’s not much of a physical specimen and will definitely need to work on bulking up and building strength, Samanic demonstrated a wide-ranging offensive skillset while playing abroad.
Samanic is a jitterbug handling the basketball, showcasing dribbling prowess and crossovers rarely seen with players his size. He can freeze opponents with head and pump fakes, allowing him to streak to the basket or step into a pull-up jumper.
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Stylistically, Samanic fits in seamlessly with San Antonio’s current collection of bigs, specifically LaMarcus Aldridge and Jakob Poeltl. The Croation has shown he possesses the ability to knock down the three-ball and as Samanic’s offensive proficiency improves his tandem sets with Aldridge and Poeltl will be deadly due to his floor-spacing skills, something the Spurs’ incumbent bigs don’t excel in.
Think of Samanic as Davis Bertans 2.0. Both have similar body types and styles of play, but with Luka’s handle, versatile offensive arsenal, and ability to switch across multiple positions on defense, Samanic has the opportunity to hit a ceiling Bertans has failed to reach during his career.
If we ignore the fact that this was the 19th pick in the draft, a marriage between Samanic and the Spurs seems like a match made in heaven. San Antonio has never shied away from tapping into the international talent pool and Samanic is just the latest example of what the Spurs hope is the start of a long and illustrious career in the Alamo City.
Over the last few seasons the Spurs have had to deal with seismic changes within the organization, ranging from the Kawhi Leonard trade to Tony Parker announcing his retirement, officially ending the Big 3 era.
This cultural upheaval has resulted in the ushering in of a youth movement in San Antonio. Aside from some of the elder statesmen in Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan, Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills, there’s a new era of Spurs basketball underway and San Antonio’s selections on draft night provide further evidence of their desire to go young.
As currently constructed, it’s hard to place the Spurs as one of the top-tier teams in the NBA, but they have a young nucleus of exciting players who have the potential to jumpstart a new wave of Spurs supremacy.
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San Antonio is playing for the future. If you’re a Spurs fan that’s probably not what you want to hear, considering Pop only has a few years left in the tank. However, this organization has rarely made any major mistakes over the last 20-plus years.
So have faith — the New School Spurs are on the way.