Three bigs for the San Antonio Spurs to consider in the 2020 NBA Draft

MEMPHIS, TN - DECEMBER 28: NBA Draft prospect Precious Achiuwa #55 of the Memphis Tigers dunks the ball against the New Orleans Privateers during a game on December 28, 2019 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis defeated New Orleans 97-55. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)
MEMPHIS, TN - DECEMBER 28: NBA Draft prospect Precious Achiuwa #55 of the Memphis Tigers dunks the ball against the New Orleans Privateers during a game on December 28, 2019 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis defeated New Orleans 97-55. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JUNE 20: Luka Samanic reacts after being drafted with the 19th overall pick by the San Antonio Spurs during the 2019 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center on June 20, 2019. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JUNE 20: Luka Samanic reacts after being drafted with the 19th overall pick by the San Antonio Spurs during the 2019 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center on June 20, 2019. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

It’s been noted that the San Antonio Spurs are scouting big men from the 2020 NBA Draft class — These are three that make the most sense for them.

This is going to be the most influential NBA Draft since the late-90s for the San Antonio Spurs. The 11th overall selection is their highest in quite some time and a front office that’s undergone some restricting in recent seasons will be put to the test. An interesting wrinkle was added when The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie published his most recent NBA Mock Draft.

When going over the Spurs’ options at No. 11, Vecenie noted that the San Antonio Spurs are supposedly interested in evaluating the big man talent in this draft. He went on to name four prospects including two we’ll discuss later on: Memphis’ Precious Achiuwa and Maryland’s Jalen Smith.

Considering the Spurs are such a guard-heavy group, adding a big man to the young core isn’t such a bad idea. There’s still no confirmation regarding the future of center Jakob Poeltl with the organization, the backup bigs are limited in their skill sets and the No. 19 pick in 2019, Luka Samanic, has a long way to go before putting all of the pieces together. Putting another piece in the mix, especially one that they believe in sets a foundational core in place for the future.

There are obvious big men choices who aren’t likely to slip down to the Spurs at 11. Unless they move up, there’s not much of a chance to James Wiseman or Onyeka Okongwu to land in silver and black. Much easier than moving up is moving back in the NBA Draft, which could bode well for San Antonio if one of these players is still on the board in the middle-to-late first round.

Here are three players for the Spurs to strongly consider in their evaluations.

Next: 1. Precious Achiuwa

CINCINNATI, OH – FEBRUARY 13: NBA Draft prospect Precious Achiuwa #55 of the Memphis Tigers dribbles the ball up court against the Cincinnati Bearcats during a game at Fifth Third Arena. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH – FEBRUARY 13: NBA Draft prospect Precious Achiuwa #55 of the Memphis Tigers dribbles the ball up court against the Cincinnati Bearcats during a game at Fifth Third Arena. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

1. Precious Achiuwa brings a breath of fresh air to the San Antonio Spurs.

One of the more divisive players of the 2020 NBA Draft class, Memphis big man Precious Achiuwa adds a layer of energy that the San Antonio Spurs haven’t seen from their frontcourt very often. Most of their big men, particularly Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge as the two stars from the last 10 years, are very resigned. They play at their own pace, keep things calm and play to their fundamental strengths.

Adding a big man like Achiuwa injects this Spurs lineup with energy in the frontcourt. Even someone like Poeltl, who plays with a lot of heart, doesn’t electrify his team unless he swats a shot into the third row. Achiuwa can give San Antonio’s young core a great hustle player with a ton of athleticism to make dynamic players on either end of the floor.

Though Achiuwa is listed at 6-foot-9, he makes up for his lack of height with tremendous energy, physicality, leaping ability and a 7-foot-2 wingspan. Having a big who can keep up on the perimeter while remaining a solid rim protector is a commodity for any team looking to jumpstart its lineup. He wears his heart on his sleeve when playing near the basket, using his body and motor to out-hustle opponents on the glass and blockade their shots at the rim.

Of the three players on this list, Achiuwa is the most likely to go in the lottery. There are some concerns about his shooting stroke translating to the NBA and a turnover-prone style, but learning from Spurs coaches and teammates should help him considerably. With all of his modern skills, including an underrated ball-handling talent, Achiuwa could hit his ceiling with the San Antonio Spurs.

Next: 2. Jalen Smith

PISCATAWAY, NJ – MARCH 03: NBA Draft prospect Jalen Smith #25 of the Maryland Terrapins blocks a shot by Jacob Young #42 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Rutgers Athletic Center. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
PISCATAWAY, NJ – MARCH 03: NBA Draft prospect Jalen Smith #25 of the Maryland Terrapins blocks a shot by Jacob Young #42 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Rutgers Athletic Center. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

2. Jalen Smith is a safe, versatile option for the San Antonio Spurs.

The possibility of the San Antonio Spurs moving back in the draft is real — Especially when taking a look at the projected draft range for Maryland big man Jalen Smith. An effective scorer both in the paint and as a jump-shooter, Smith has the makings of a fine modern big. His knack for playing near the rim both on and off the ball makes him a threat to score every time down the floor.

Plus, his jump shot is much improved from his freshman camping playing behind Atlanta Hawks center Bruno Fernando. Smith hit 36.8 percent of his 3-pointers as a sophomore to add to his double-double stat line of 15.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per contest. In many instances, Smith was asked to go get a bucket for himself, making the possibility of him playing in an unselfish offense style in San Antonio all the more intriguing. If this is what he could do when playing as the go-to guy, what’s his ceiling as a contributor to a grander picture?

With the No. 21 pick in SLAM's 2020 NBA mock draft, the Denver Nuggets select Jalen Smith: https://t.co/b3CyXVR92u pic.twitter.com/YvOfcHSdy6

— SLAM (@SLAMonline) April 14, 2020

The jury is still out on Smith as a defender. On one hand, his great athleticism and fantastic rim protection (2.4 blocks per game last season) make for a strong defensive combination. There’s a framework for him to be a wonderful weak-side shot-blocker and mobile on-ball defender. However, there are concerns about his fundamentals and defensive IQ in team sets that the San Antonio Spurs would need to fix if he were to fit with this team in the long run.

Perhaps trading back to gather assets in the NBA Draft is the Spurs’ best route if a prospect as versatile as Smith is available. Like Achiuwa, Smith has a motor that the San Antonio Spurs haven’t seen from a frontcourt player in quite some time.

Next: 3. Killian Tillie

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 10: Killian Tillie #33 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs smiles after putting on a championship hat. His skillset and mentality are primed for the San Antonio Spurs. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 10: Killian Tillie #33 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs smiles after putting on a championship hat. His skillset and mentality are primed for the San Antonio Spurs. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

3. Killian Tillie is wired for San Antonio Spurs basketball.

Whereas Smith and Achiuwa are players the San Antonio Spurs can snag in the first round, Gonzaga big man Killian Tillie shouldn’t cost too much NBA Draft capital. Projected to be a late second-rounder, Tillie is a 6-foot-10 center from Paris, France whose unusual talents would garner a flier from the San Antonio Spurs late.

Tillie is a flat-out shooter, hitting 44.4 percent of his threes in college including 40 percent on 90 attempts in his shortened senior campaign. This is a 6-foot-10 player who would have actions run for him to pull-up from deep despite playing the center position most of the time. Adding a shooter like that could pay dividends for the Spurs, even if he starts off in Austin.

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What’s more intriguing about Tillie is his sky-high basketball IQ. Few players have the poise and instinct to make the right play as often as Tillie does on either side of the ball. What he lacks in athleticism and size, he makes up for by making the right decision every time down the floor. Setting the French connection aside, there are a lot of similarities between Tillie and former Spurs power forward/center Boris Diaw.

When he arrived in San Antonio, Diaw was an underutilized jack of all trades whose passing and raw basketball intellect helped him thrive in the NBA. With the proper tutelage and effort, Diaw eventually became a key contributor to a championship team with a segment of fans and spectators suggesting he should’ve won Finals MVP in 2014. Again, Diaw wasn’t the greatest athlete, but like Tillie, he used his deceptive quickness and IQ to pester his assignments.

Tillie would certainly be more highly-touted if not for his injury history. He’s missed plenty of time due to various lower-body injuries to his knees, hips and ankles. However, Tillie is a revelation when healthy and played a definite part in this amazing four-year run by Gonzaga.

Spurs pick at 11 in post-lottery mock draft. Next

Taking Tillie at pick No. 41 in the 2020 NBA Draft would align with the Spurs’ values.

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