R.C. Buford’s selections at the 2019 NBA Draft are preparing the San Antonio Spurs for the shifting tides of young talent entering the league.
The NBA is ushering in a fresh and unique class of talent and the San Antonio Spurs are walking away from the Barclays Center with some exciting pieces to build on. This team is welcoming a dynamic trio of rookies in Croatian forward Luka Samanic, SEC Freshman of the Year Keldon Johnson and First-Team All-SEC selection Quinndary Weatherspoon.
As a collective, the 2019 NBA draft class shows tremendous promise, harboring a mixture of sharpshooters, switchable defenders and staggering athletes. With their choices in this season’s draft, the Spurs showed their ability to navigate the trends of the league and conform them into their own system of operation.
While Samanic seemed to have been drafted much higher than he as anticipated to, general manager R.C. Buford has made it clear that he felt Samanic was the best talent available at that point in the draft. All signs prior to draft night indicated that the Spurs were highly interested in adding Samanic, as he was spotted in San Antonio working out for the team and was previously scouted by Buford personally overseas.
Off the bat, many pointed to sharpshooter Davis Bertans as a comp for the 19-year-old, but Samanic already has a much wider range of possibilities than Bertans ever showed. The 6-foot-10 forward enters the league confidently boasting his ability to guard positions 1-through-5 while serving as a shifty offensive threat with considerable shooting-range and a strong feel for competition.
The most coveted skills for a young power forward in the modern game are switchable defense, help with floor spacing and reliable playmaking – all of which Samanic has shown flashes of. Players like Draymond Green and Pascal Siakam proved the importance of a multifaceted skill set as opposed to players that rely solely on traditional aptitude for rebounding, help defense near the rim and interior scoring.
These are all areas where Samanic shows promise, but he has also shown the initiative to add layers to his game, which bodes well for San Antonio’s shift into the modern era with the Big Three in retirement.
Johnson, on the other hand, has shown intangible traits that make him an intriguing candidate to earn minutes as a rookie under Gregg Popovich. While he wasn’t the most coveted of Kentucky’s prospects amongst scouts, Johnson plays with heart and hustle that translate to winning plays, similarly to the previous No. 29 overall selections in Derrick White and Dejounte Murray. While slightly undersized for a small forward, Johnson plays with the physicality needed to slot between multiple positions.
"He will be the one that over-delivers. He is in SAN ANTONIO."@UKCoachCalipari says the @spurs are the best organization in the NBA and that fate intervened FOR Keldon Johnson to land there at No. 29. pic.twitter.com/ybnAE5e8dI
— Alex Walker (@AlexWalkerTV) June 21, 2019
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Handing Popovich this level of flexibility with his rotations should lead to some exciting strategies moving forward. The Spurs have shown flexibility with their positions this past season and will continue to do so with DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay and White all occupying different positions throughout each game. This effectively forces opposition to game plan differently and respond tactically.
Adding players like Samanic, Johnson and defensive specialist Weatherspoon gives Pop new chess moves to deploy, especially after earning their roles within the organization.
Historically, the Spurs develop their players through the G League before carving out significant roles in the regular season rotation, but Dejounte Murray and Derrick White both had big moments for the Spurs as rookies. These learning moments and sporadic opportunities translate to lessons for first-year players and Popovich won’t miss a beat in pinpointing his rookie’s strengths and weaknesses.
After years of the Spurs being labeled as old, their draft selections indicate that they’ve gotten with the times.