Though we only got a brief glimpse of him in the NBA, San Antonio Spurs forward Luka Samanic put on a great show in the G-League this season.
Rumbling that the San Antonio Spurs would do everything in their power to take 6-foot-10 forward Luka Samanic from Croatia grew louder as the NBA Draft approached. San Antonio’s front office grew fond of the young man through multiple trips to the Alamo City as well as his performance in the 2019 NBA Draft Combine.
Once their pick arrived at No. 19, San Antonio selected the lengthy, versatile big man well ahead of his projection, passing by surefire players like Grant Williams, Brandon Clarke and Matisse Thybulle to take a swing on someone who could be great. Though we didn’t get to see much of him in the NBA during the 2019-20 season, that was to be expected.
Samanic is a project for the Spurs, meaning it’ll take time, effort and patience from the fans and the 20-year-old alike. There were questions regarding whether or not he’d come to the United States at all in his first year of NBA eligibility and the team deemed him ready to join the G-League club in Austin.
Through 33 games with the Austin Spurs, 32 of which he started, Samanic posted an impressive line of 15.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game on some slightly less impressive shooting stats. He shot 43.2 percent from the field and 31.1 percent from beyond the arc but still managed to put together 10 games shooting at least 40 percent from three-point land.
The shot isn’t going to come overnight, so it’s better that Samanic gets adjusted to NBA three-point range now. His body is much more filled out than it was on draft night, which is a good sign for his ability to compete as a backup in the NBA when the 2020-21 season rolls around.
It’d be easy to get up on a pedestal and talk about how much untapped, raw potential the endearingly nicknamed “Tall Luka” brings to the table, but he’s not just that anymore. Samanic’s progression throughout the season was evident in his decision-making, accuracy, shot selection and visible comfort level competing at the professional level in the States.
Samanic had a rough December stretch when he shot just 34.3 percent from the field and turned the ball over four times per game through nine outings. The grind of the NBA season took a toll on him as he got put in his place by some veteran G-Leaguers and two-way players. With that said, Luka bounced back with a strong January, improving his field goal percentage by an entire 12.9 percent including a 7 percent bump in his three-point shooting.
Though he only played five games in February, spending a decent portion of the month traveling with the Spurs on their Rodeo Road Trip, Samanic averaged 19.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists and a block per game with Austin. Samanic was methodical in his offensive decision-making and worked hard on defense to help limit his opponent on the other end. This was the greatest sign that we’ve seen from Samanic this year because it showed he’s capable of thriving with high-volume when his team needs him the most.
Luka was also somewhat of a road dog in his first G-League season, shooting almost five percent better from the floor and 2.5 percent better from three-point land in 15 games away from Austin. This is a good sign for the future because he’ll need to be prepared to step up in adverse situations once he’s prepared to make the leap from Austin to San Antonio.
Major concerns arise with Luka when it comes to keeping his head in the game for the entire time that he’s on the floor. Though his turnovers peaked in December and decreased with each passing month, it’s concerning that his average fouls per game increased. If he’s having this issue against G-League competition, then how is he going to limit them against legitimate NBA teams?
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I don’t know that Samanic is going to be ready for the next step of his NBA career just yet. I’m not comfortable saying he should b put in the rotation if/when the hiatus ends, or even by the start of next season. He still has quite a long way to go before fulfilling the potential that the team has seen in him.
In my personal opinion, they should’ve picked up Clarke or Thybulle, both of which were higher on my draft board going into it. It’s going to be hard for him to live up to where he was drafted in comparison with the players who were taken just after him. However, this isn’t to say it’s not possible. Between deep triples, high-flying dunks, acrobatic layups, blocks, post jumpers and dimes dropped, Samanic is a truly fun player to root for.
There’s really no telling what’s next for him, but after watching his first full season adapting to basketball in the U.S., I understand why the Spurs weren’t afraid to trade forward Davis Bertans. No, Samanic probably isn’t going to be as accurate of a three-point marksman as Bertans is, but I can envision the future that the front office did—one where Samanic does just about everything else better than his predecessor and becomes yet another draft-day steal from a methodical front office that puts together winning combinations.
The jury’s still out on Luka Samanic, but his rookie year was pretty damn impressive if you ask me.