San Antonio Spurs rookie Luka Samanic showed out in Summer League and has Spurs fans thinking they found another international gem. Will he live up to expectations in his rookie year?
With 19th pick of the 2019 NBA Draft, the San Antonio Spurs selected 19-year-old Croatian forward, Luka Samanic. The Gold medalist and FIBA U18 MVP is already on a hot start to an impressive career.
At the young age of 16, he won Most Valuable Player honors for leading his junior club from Zagreb to a victory over Virtus Roma. Shortly after, he signed a two-year contract with FC Barcelona, joining their Junior squad. Since then, success seems to have followed him wherever he’s gone.
After declining many D-1 offers, he stayed with FC Barcelona as his role expanded throughout the 2017-2018 season. In that season, the honors poured in for Luka. He earned the L’Hospitalet tournament MVP, as well as a spot on the All-Tournament Team after posting averages of 23.2, points, 14.8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2.8 blocks per game.
After departing from FC Barcelona, Samanic took a professional offer from a Slovenian Basketball Club, KK Olimpija. Nicknamed “The Dragon”, Samanic found himself in a unique role as not only the youngest player on the team but also as a very important role player who was quite efficient. His play helped lead Olimpija to be runner-up in the Slovenian League.
In his first and only season with Olimpija, through the Adriatic League, the Basketball Champions League and Slovenian 1st Division, Samanic posted these numbers on an average of 18.1 minutes per night: 8.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, and one assist on shooting splits of 54.0/32.7/72.6.
The hype around Luka Samanic came from not only his immense potential but also his fantastic performance in the scrimmage at the NBA Combine. The 6-foot-10 forward showed that he was one of the best prospects from this years draft class. He will need time to develop but it already looks like the San Antonio Spurs might have snagged another international gem.
Next: Luka's current status
At this moment, Luka Samanic is viewed as a very raw prospect with loads of talent. Turning 20 around the start of the new decade, Luka has more than enough time to progress in one of the best farm systems in the league. The Austin Spurs have helped produce several Spurs talents like Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, and Lonnie Walker IV.
Samanic’s play-style in my eyes is very similar to Lauri Markkanen. Markkanen, an excellent template for what a modern-day power forward should be. Coming into the league at age 20, Lauri came fresh out of the box like some Jordan 13’s and took the NBA by storm. Lauri and Luka have very similar body types, while Lauri is two inches taller, he is light on his feet, similar to Luka, and can stretch the floor.
While some in the NBA world initially thought Luka being drafted at #19 was a reach, his play in the 2019 Summer League showed potential that he could become a signature modern-day four in this league. Modern-day power forwards need both the awareness and ability to set solid screens, be a great roll man, and put the ball on the floor. Luka showed a lot of that in both Salt Lake City, and in Las Vegas.
Showing promise and proper execution of being able to flare for open threes, as well as roll to the basket, Luka showed that he can be a dynamic scorer. Additionally, Samanic displayed that he can excel as an off-ball catch and shoot scorer, and willingly showed aggressiveness off the dribble.
Defensively, he is very versatile in his ability to switch and guard multiple positions. Luka showed during the Summer League that he can be very active on defense. He had a couple of chase-down blocks, and even provide some rim protection. While his weight needs to get up to help both his post offense and post defense, at age 19 he’s very capable of packing on muscle.
Next: Rookie year expectations
Expectations for Luka Samanic’s Rookie Year
Firstly, I don’t expect out of this world play from the beginning from Samanic. He was drafted at 19, he has shown some flashes that his playstyle can be a great fit for this team, and he can ball quite a bit. But he’s got a ways to go.
If he has a rookie season that shows some growth on both ends of the floor and substantial muscle gain I’d be jumping for joy as a fan. He’s a 19-year-old kid with a great system backing him, and a combination of size and athleticism that is valued at a premium for the Spurs and this league.
There are two scenarios that I expect will happen with Samanic during his rookie season. The first is San Antonio keeps Luka as a part of their game-day rotation, playing him sparingly i.e. in garbage time. The other is he will be sent down to Austin to enjoy life at the H-E-B Center, and learn the ropes of NBA basketball in the G-League.
The latter will most likely occur. Still, he could see NBA regular season action in about 15-20 games. There will be times where the game is already in hand or when the Spurs have already clinched a playoff spot where he should see the court if only to get the experience.
Through the Spurs development system, we’ve seen the maturation process on all levels. The stint in Austin for Samanic won’t be a very brief one. The Spurs last three first-round picks, average playing 24 NBA games their rookie season, and only Dejounte Murray started a game.
In Austin, the last three first-round draft picks for the Spurs have averaged playing 23 games in the G-League on 30.3 minutes a night. A large portion of Luka’s rookie year will be spent in Austin, as it should. It will be where he will have the easiest access to playing time and can start playing in the Spurs system.
In terms of in-game expectations, I expect Luka’s improvements to be shown in a variety of different ways. Most notably, I believe he can become a more consistent defender. Many draft outlets claim he is a very good defender when engaged. With the Spurs, it will be important that Luka is always engaged. Pop doesn’t play guys who slack off on that end of the floor. I think in Austin you’ll see his attention to detail on the defensive side of the court really mature.
I think this season Luka really begins to understand how to use his wingspan to his advantage defensively. Getting steals, contesting shots, playing passing lanes, and blocking shots among other things. Luka’s body type is an ideal one when talking about a potential two-way player. I expect Luka to show flashes that he can be a solid two-way player for this franchise in the future, starting in 2019.
I expect Luka’s offensive game to blossom once the G-League games begin. I really feel that you’re going to see him become a consistent offensive option for the Austin Spurs offense. With that experience, comes progression. There will be nights where Luka goes 8-21, then there will be others where Samanic goes 10-14. Finding consistency with his offensive game will be a priority for Luka’s rookie year. Learning his ideal shooting zones, making the extra play on both ends, learning to play team basketball are all areas I expect him to focus on.
Lastly, I expect him to improve his ability to finish at the rim. In Summer League, Luka blew a couple of easy baskets, both dunks, and layups that I’m sure in due time he’ll begin to finish. It could be finding a softer touch or improving his ability to finish through contact but he needs to be able to consistently finish at the rim.
Next: 2019-2020 Projections
I have two statistic expectations for Luka Samanic. The first is his G-League stats, that I believe he’ll put up on shooting splits of 44.7/34.1/80.0:
- 18.2 Points Per Game
- 6.0 Rebounds Per Game
- 3.4 Assists Per Game
- 1.5 Blocks Per Game
These numbers were calculated by not only projecting from both his professional career overseas as well as his Summer League play. Former Spurs 1st round draft picks G-League stats were also used in calculating these projections. I feel due to the heavy usage rate he should command and his high level of minutes played, Luka can stuff the stat sheet for the Austin Spurs.
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Now, let’s get down to the other statistic. That being, his NBA rookie season stats: I believe these stats will come in garbage time, or from when Coach Popovich feels that one of the starting five needs the night off. The projected shooting splits will be: 40.0/31.0/78.0
- 6.2 Points Per Game
- 2.8 Rebounds Per Game
- 2.0 Assists Per Game
- 0.5 Blocks Per Game
These numbers were taken from some recent 1st round draft picks at his position that are in back-up roles, but also factored in Luka will most likely the 3rd string forward for this team.
I expect Luka to play closer to 15 games than I do 20 games. I believe he can excel in this Spurs offense as a Davis Bertans style player, with a much more dynamic two-way style.
He may not be able to shoot 50% for a portion of the season from three in his rookie year, but his awareness in the open floor is quite high for such a young player. His impact at this stage of his career would most likely be felt most in terms of athleticism.
He moves very well for a power forward, that attribute leaped off the screen from the first moments of the Summer League. I can see a lot of transition three-point shots involving Dejounte pushing the ball up the floor and Luka splashing the three-ball in the corner.
Luka is going to cause some excitement for Spurs fans, as we’re sure to see some thunderous dunks or some beautiful pick & pop threes when he’s in Austin.
I truly believe Luka Samanic to become a solid player for this Spurs team in the coming years and I truly feel that, once again, the Spurs got it right.