Rookie forward Luka Samanic has a lot to offer the San Antonio Spurs, but he should be brushing up on his NBA history in his downtime during the suspension.
What’s most exciting about San Antonio Spurs forward Luka Samanic, a Croatian rookie with a wide range of skills that extend far beyond what we imagine a 6-foot-10 forward doing. The rookie, who went No. 19 overall in the 2019 NBA Draft, spent the majority of his first NBA season playing for the Austin Spurs in the G-League.
There was discourse surrounding whether or not it made sense for Samanic to move to the United States instead of developing overseas, but the Spurs and Samanic agreed it made more sense for him to be groomed in Austin for a future in San Antonio. Now that there’s no more G-League season and the regular season is on hiatus, Samanic has plenty of time on his hands to learn about some of the NBA’s finest that came before him.
Breaking down game tape and learning from those who came before him could give Samanic the creativity to draw from some elite NBA players who had success with unorthodox play styles with similar builds to him.
It’d be too easy to say Samanic should be watching Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan because he absolutely should! However, he should also be looking at players with individual skills that stand out compared with his own.
Samanic is a face-up forward whose ball-handling abilities make him a menace from the four-spot. Few players combine that level of size and skill while maintaining the necessary strength and basketball IQ to make it work like a pro.
Before looking back at the past, let’s look at a current NBA player who Samanic should draw inspiration from.
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Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors
The one player who Spurs fans longed to acquire in that fated Kawhi Leonard trade, Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam is a force to be reckoned with for the defending champions. Standing at 6-foot-9 with a lengthy 7-foot-3 wingspan, Siakam is a menace on both ends of the floor as one of the best ball-handling bigs in the game today.
Every year of his career, Siakam has assumed a larger role for Toronto and earned a greater share of usage amongst his peers. This season, he’s up to 35.5 minutes and 18.9 shots per contest, making him the team’s leading shot taker and scorer while racking up 7.5 boards and 3.6 assists.
Siakam shot 21.6 percent from three-point land in his first two seasons, then rocketed up to 36.3 percent on four triples per game in the following two seasons. He’s now one of the most effective corner three-point shooters in the game and makes his presence felt in the paint by using his deceptive speed to attack the basket and finish through contact.
There’s a lot of potential for Samanic to learn from here. Overseas, his passing and playmaking were two underrated skills that the Spurs honed in on when they drafted him. He can learn from Siakam’s ability to draw defensive attention and turn that into buckets for his teammates. Furthermore, that ability to take opponents off the dribble and finish near the basket is something that will be crucial for Samanic’s career.
Defensively, Siakam plays hard and does everything in his power to get into passing lanes. He uses that quickness when hustling for loose balls, swatting shots and bumping bodies with his defensive assignment down low. If Samanic could learn a fraction of Siakam’s basketball IQ, footwork and tenacity, he’ll turn out great for the Spurs.
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Andrei Kirilenko, Utah Jazz (2003-11)
One of the most unique professionals to ever play, forward Andrei Kirilenko was a jack of all trades who paired amazing defensive instincts with an unselfish approach to the sport to create a 13-season-long career in the NBA. Listed at 6-foot-9, 220 lbs, Kirilenko and Samanic have very similar builds that should tell you about how Samanic could contribute as a pro.
Samanic doesn’t have a fraction of the natural defensive instinct that AK-47 had back in the day, but he does have a similar level of versatility as a scorer. Kirilenko only dipped below 46 percent from the field twice in the eight-year span we have highlighted. He made his only All-Star team in the 2003-04 season, averaging 16.5 points, 8.1 boards, 3.1 assists, 2.8 blocks and 1.9 steals.
What Samanic could learn from AK-47 the most is to do whatever his team needs from him. Utah needed him to bring that defensive flair and fight hard on every possession, which he did without hesitation. He was a moderate scorer who worked mostly from two-point range but shot the long-ball at a decent clip as time went on.
Kirilenko could show Samanic how a player of his size could impact the game on defense. By bulking up, maintaining a level head and staying smart, Samanic could rack up defensive stats and help the Spurs get back to a respectable defensive mindstate moving forward.
No one is expecting Samanic to turn into an All-World defender like Kirilenko was, but he can at least learn how to defend multiple positions and time his help defense to acquire blocks and steals.
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Lamar Odom, LA Clippers, Miami Heat and LA Lakers (1999-2011)
According to Basketball Reference’s listings, the only difference between Samanic and forward Lamar Odom‘s builds are seven pounds in favor of the Spurs rookie. They’re both crafty players who don’t fit the traditional mold of their positions but bring a lot to the table.
This is where some of that passing comes into play for Samanic. Odom averaged at least three assists in all but one of the seasons listed including years playing with extremely low usage next to Kobe Bryant in LA. He had extraordinary passing vision and a knack for operating in the pick-and-roll from the four-spot, putting defenders in awkward positions that caused mismatches.
Drawing from that ball-handling and passing IQ could help Samanic become an offensive force. He’s already got a nice, natural burst of athleticism that he can use when attacking the rack. Furthermore, Samanic is light on his feet and moves well for a player of his size, which Odom used to his advantage in boatloads through his 14-year career in the NBA.
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Odom also learned to become an adept spot-up shooter, providing some floor-spacing from his team and drawing defenders out to the perimeter to either open the lane for a drive or give his teammates space to move around. From anywhere on the floor, Odom was a threat to either score or create offense for his teammates, so defenders needed to be attached to him 24/7.
This is probably the best player for Samanic to watch because they’ve got so many overlapping qualities. Odom also learned to position himself nicely for rebounds, leading to an 8.9 board per game average during the highlighted stretch.
Though Odom never made an All-Star team, riding the border and falling short on multiple occasions, he did contribute to winning basketball and won two championships. Odom made sacrifices for his teams, coming off the bench and earning a Sixth Man of the Year award in 2011 for a stellar run with the Lakers.
He had personal woes that made it difficult to maintain a positive NBA career, but on the court, he’s the perfect man for Samanic to study to fulfill his potential.