Though the San Antonio Spurs are historically great at drafting players, they missed out on a few key acquisitions in the 2019 NBA Draft.
Few organizations boast the consistency and execution of the San Antonio Spurs when it comes to drafting players. Since they’ve made the playoffs for 22 consecutive seasons, San Antonio’s scouting team has become adept at identifying underrated talent that they could acquire later in the NBA Draft.
The jury is still out on the group that the Spurs brought in with their three picks in the 2019 NBA Draft. With the 19th overall pick, San Antonio selected Croatian forward Luka Samanic, who’s a fine, young prospect who’s still largely unproven through his rookie season. Samanic logged just 12 minutes in one game against the Brooklyn Nets, which he highlighted here.
Samanic has a ton of potential to be a great player in this league, but some players who have proven themselves went shortly after him and the Spurs may have missed out.
They made up for it by taking former Kentucky Wildcat Keldon Johnson, a wing with the tenacity to play up against forwards or down against guards, at No. 29. He’s the rookie who made the greatest impact on his team thus far in the season, earning a role in the Spurs’ rotation during the last four games of the regular season leading up to this hiatus.
Lastly, San Antonio picked Mississippi State guard Quinndary Weatherspoon with the 49th overall pick and signed him to a two-way contract. The Spurs usually do a great job evaluating guards late in the draft, so we’ll wait and see what he can prove once he develops in the G League.
While this isn’t meant to be critical of the players who were drafted by San Antonio, it’s maybe putting them down by a degree of separation. However, it’s more of a criticism of the Spurs’ front office and scouting team for missing some valuable rookies from this draft class.
Next: The best defender of the class
Matisse Thybulle, No. 20 to the Philadelphia 76ers via BOS
Taken immediately after Samanic at No. 20 in the draft, Sixers rookie Matisse Thybulle is without a doubt the most talented defensive player to come through the draft process in quite some time. Standing at 6-foot-5 with an athletic build and a high basketball IQ, Thybulle is a four-year player from the University of Washington, the same program that brought Spurs point guard Dejounte Murray to the forefront of their attention.
Thybulle earned the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award twice, averaging 3.5 steals and 2.3 blocks per game in his senior campaign to solidify himself as a legitimate NBA prospect for his defensive prowess and high motor. Many critics wondered if his elite defensive play would translate to the NBA, which it very obviously has in his limited playing time.
Almost immediately, Thybulle earned a significant role for the Sixers coming off the bench as a three-and -D player who didn’t command much offensive attention but hit big shots when the team needs him. He’s only made 41 percent of his shots as a rookie but makes a respectable 35.2 percent of his three-point attempts as a player whose shot mechanics were criticized in the draft.
Playing 81 percent of his minutes at the two-guard, Thybulle can easily be plugged in as a small forward when needed, which would’ve filled a position of need for the Spurs in this draft. Furthermore, their defensive inefficiencies have been their downfall for the past two seasons, which is why drafting an elite defender would’ve made perfect sense.
The last time San Antonio banked on grooming a defensive phenom into a reliable two-way player, they ended up with an MVP candidate in Kawhi Leonard. I’m still left wondering why they wouldn’t bank on that once again.
As you can probably tell, Thybulle was very high up on my draft board. However, there was one other player that the Spurs missed on who I was even higher on coming out of this draft.
Next: 2019's most underrated prospect
Brandon Clarke, No. 21 to the Memphis Grizzlies via OKC
For some reason, many people slept on former Gonzaga Bulldog Brandon Clarke as a legitimate NBA player but he immediately proved his doubters wrong. Clarke went two picks after the Spurs selected Samanic and made an immediate impact for the retooling Grizzlies, winning the 2019 Summer League MVP while leading his team to a championship.
Now in his rookie season, Clarke is playing incredibly efficiently for a young team that’s grasping onto the eighth seed in the Western Conference. In his rookie campaign, Clarke is averaging 12 points, 5.8 rebounds and 0.8 blocks in just 21.7 minutes per game. He leads all rookies in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) and Win Shares (4.4) while remaining one of the most efficient players in the entire sport.
Clarke is shooting a sky-high 62.3 percent from the field and 40.4 percent from three-point land. This isn’t a fluke either—he has taken 52 threes and made 21 of them so there’s a decent bit of volume. As a 6-foot-8 power forward with the ability to play three positions, Clarke is one of the most exciting young prospects in the game who has surely proven that he can make a real impact on whatever team he plays for.
Maybe Samanic will end up being a better player than Thybulle, but I don’t feel confident about him being better than Clarke, who was selected just two picks later. There’s a chance that he proves me wrong and takes off once he’s groomed to play with the big dogs in the NBA instead of the G League, but Clarke has been transcendent despite being a rookie, so he’s well ahead of the curve at this point.
If there’s ever been a draft blunder from San Antonio’s front office, it was probably this one.
Next: Golden State does it again
Eric Paschall, No. 41 to the Golden State Warriors
The San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors are two parallel organizations by this point in time. Considered models of success in their day resulting in dynastic runs over extended periods of time, both of these organizations have left their marks on history by executing in the NBA Draft.
Most recently, the Warriors were praised for taking forward Draymond Green late in the second round of the NBA Draft back in 2012. They’ve done an excellent job of identifying which big men can fit the mold that their team has built for success, which is why they nabbed forward Eric Paschall at the 41st overall pick in this year’s draft.
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Early in the season, it seemed like Paschall was on track to be the 2020 Rookie of the Year. He came out of the gates hot in an expanded role for a team trying to regain its identity between the loss of Kevin Durant and the injury to Klay Thompson. However, Paschall slowed down as the season continued, hitting the fated “rookie wall” that so many young players face.
However, Paschall’s resume speaks for itself. He was selected to the 2020 Rising Stars Challenge for averaging 14 points per game on 49.7 percent shooting. He’s a skilled post scorer with a solid face-up game and the makings of a player who can hit threes once he gets better acclimated to NBA range. Paschall hit 77.4 percent of his free throws, which makes his lowly 28.7 percent three-point shooting a bit more acceptable.
Defensively, Paschall fights hard on every play and is working to become a legitimate rotation player of the highest degree. Don’t be surprised if we see him starting on a competitive playoff team once the Warriors get healthy again.
This wasn’t a total miss for the Spurs since he wasn’t in the range of their pick, but one has to wonder if he was on the team’s radar.