Feb 6, 2020; Portland, Oregon, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward DeMar DeRozan (10) drives to the basket ahead of Portland Trail Blazers center Hassan Whiteside at Moda Center. (Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports)
When the San Antonio Spurs hit the NBA Draft, they need to be cognizant of picking players who pair well with DeMar DeRozan as well as the young core.
When crafting the ideal lineup around San Antonio Spurs star DeMar DeRozan, a few major components come to mind. First and foremost, you need to provide some firepower on the perimeter with surefire shooters. Floor spacing is absolutely essential, but you also need some defensive-minded impact players who can take the pressure off of DeMar.
For as much as star players are supposed to lead their team, it’s also the organization’s responsibility to put a team around them that can succeed. So far, the San Antonio Spurs and DeMar DeRozan have each failed to reach the heights they’re capable of. This was a major reason why I discussed the possibility of a trade for Pacers star Victor Oladipo in an article yesterday.
Trading isn’t the only way for the San Antonio Spurs to make good use out of what we can presume will be the final year of DeRozan’s contract. Though he hasn’t officially opted out, all signs point toward him taking his money and playing out this current deal in San Antonio. That may not have been the case six months ago, but in case you haven’t noticed, there’s some stuff going on out there that far transcends basketball.
If that’s the case, the San Antonio Spurs might want to pick someone who can play off of the strengths of their current star player. These are the NBA Draft prospects who fit the bill.
Next: Spurs Twitter's Favorite
Florida State swing Devin Vassell, a San Antonio Spurs NBA Draft prospect, lines up his 3-point shot on March 7, 2020.
1. Devin Vassell can play off of DeRozan and the San Antonio Spurs.
Before the rest of NBA Draft Twitter caught up, the San Antonio Spurs fans were clamoring for Florida State forward Devin Vassell to land in silver and black. A 6-foot-6 forward with a long reach and underrated athleticism, Vassell is an ideal player for the modern game. Not only can he defend multiple positions and drain 3-pointers at a commendable rate, but his shot creation truly began to come around before the NCAA season was abruptly finished.
Vassell was destined for a breakout performance in March Madness. Instead, he remains in the category of ‘role player with tremendous upside.’ That bodes well for his chances to fall to the San Antonio Spurs at pick No. 11 in this year’s NBA Draft.
Playing next to DeRozan, Vassell fills just about every criteria in the book. Not only is he a reliable shooter at 41.5 percent on 105 3-point attempts as a sophomore, but Vassell can pick up on defense where DeRozan faulters. Like DeRozan, Vassell can slide in at positions 2-through-4 pretty reliably — At least to this point in his progression.
That’s a valuable asset to have on defense, where Vassell truly makes his presence felt. Not only does Devin stick like glue to his matchup’s hip, but he’s great at surveying the court and making defensive plays when his teammates get caught up. Having this kind of high-IQ, high motor defender next to an offensive-minded player like DeRozan would bode well for the San Antonio Spurs’ chances of getting back into the postseason in 2021.
Next: The Human Torch
Vanderbilt forward Aaron Nesmith (24), a San Antonio Spurs NBA draft prospect, shoots the ball as Tennessee guard Admiral Schofield (5) defends at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tennessee on Tuesday, February 19, 2019.
2. Aaron Nesmith brings the San Antonio Spurs some shooting.
Nevermind the fact that he plays hard on every play and leaves it all on the court — I’m henceforth dubbing Vanderbilt forward Aaron Nesmith as The Human Torch for his unreal ability to rain fire from the 3-point line.
A 6-foot-6 forward, Nesmith has managed to take his most valuable trait and apply it to a broader skill set offensively. In his 14 games at Vanderbilt, Nesmith averaged 23 points per game on 51.2% from the field and 52.2% from 3-point range. How often do you see a player shoot better from three than he does from the field?
It’s not set in stone that Nesmith will be able to carry that volume into the NBA, but over the years, it’s become obvious that shooting is the most likely trait to translate. When you look at the Steph Curry sand Klay Thompsons of the world, everything else took time besides the trait they were known for most: The shooting. What can I say? Shooters shoot.
That’s exactly what the San Antonio Spurs would expect from Nesmith in his first year. Bringing Nesmith off the bench to complement DeMar DeRozan adds a layer of intrigue to the San Antonio Spurs that was not previously there. Most of the team’s shooting came from the point guard and shooting guard positions this past season. That one-dimensional approach isn’t going to cut it and Nesmith might be the answer to their shooting troubles.
Credit to Aldridge and Lyles for their efforts of the season, but Nesmith is the volume shooter that San Antonio needs in its frontcourt.
Next: Bringing some competitive fire
Mar 7, 2020; Gainesville, Florida, USA; NBA Draft prospect Tyrese Maxey (3), a guard for the Kentucky Wildcats, drives to the basket against the Florida Gators during the second half at Exactech Arena. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
3. Tyrese Maxey adds a dog to the San Antonio Spurs.
Any team that wants to compete in the NBA needs a little bit of dog in them. For early Spurs teams, it was Avery Johnson who brought some nasty to the lineup. That torch was passed to Manu, who was joined by Bruce Bowen until Kawhi Leonard came around. These days, it’s looking like Keldon Johnson could be that guy, but we can’t confirm that just yet.
Plenty of dogs come from John Calipari’s program at Kentucky and the Spurs might be able to go back-to-back with picks from that program. Guard Tyrese Maxey isn’t a natural point guard or shooting guard but he brings all of the tools you need for a winning backcourt player.
Maxey is known to elevate his playing big moments under scrutiny and pressure. When the team’s back is against the wall, Maxey emerges and guides them toward victory. His jump shot is a work in progress, but he’s capable of creating his own shot or setting one up for his teammates when needed. He’s the type of player to make smart reads at each turn — Even if it means making a selfless play and sacrificing his own glory.
These are the types of players that need to be around DeMar DeRozan. A scoring machine in his own right, DeRozan isn’t always able to come up clutch when his team needs him. All too often, the former All-Star gets in his head and fails to rise to the occasion. This is something he seems to be breaking out of, especially since the Orlando restart. Even with that being the base, the San Antonio Spurs need a contingency plan for when that moment arises.
To begin his career, Maxey can be a fiery bench presence who leads in the second unit. Because of his potential as a defender, he would make a solid running me to veteran point guard Patty Mills. The San Antonio Spurs always appreciate young players who approach the game with the mentality of a vet. That’s why I could easily see them being enamored by Maxi.
Next: A link to the Spurs
Feb 29, 2020; College Park, Maryland, USA: Maryland Terrapins forward Jalen Smith (25), who talked to the San Antonio Spurs, reacts after scoring against the Michigan State Spartans at XFINITY Center. (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)
4. Jalen Smith makes sense with DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs.
We’ve talked more about Maryland big man Jalen Smith in the last two weeks then we did in all of the downtime we had this year. It was reported that Smith and the San Antonio Spurs have had conversations about a potential fit, causing a bit of an outroar from the fanbase.
A talented, gritty and defensive-minded player, Smith brings all of the qualities that San Antonio needs from a big. Not only is he a vicious rim protector who times his motions well and stuff shots near the rim, but he projects to be a strong shooter at the next level.
Jalen Smith on #Spurs: "They really develop their players and make sure that they are learning at the speed they want them. They have their style of play that is recognized around the whole league. It would be an honor to be drafted for the Spurs and to play for coach Popovich."
— Tom Orsborn (@tom_orsborn) September 28, 2020
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In terms of pairing with DeRozan, Smith is an ideal fit. A player who he’s received comparisons to, Toronto Raptors center Serge Ibaka, was one of the best teammates that DeRozan ever had. This is not just because they got along — Ibaka made a lot of sense next to DeRozan from a basketball perspective. Having a versatile big man who can roam the paint on defense, operate in the pick-and-roll and step out for jump shots makes sense for DeRozan‘s isolation-heavy playstyle.
Essentially, whoever adds Smith in the NBA Draft is aiming for a similar archetype of player. He doesn’t need to be a high-usage player that leads the team in scoring to make an impact. The ball doesn’t need to be in his hands to be effective, which is exactly what you need on a team lead by DeRozan. For better or for worse, DeRozan needs the ball in his hands to be effective and surrounding him with players who can play off the ball is a key to success.
Meanwhile, Smith makes a lot of sense as a fit with the Spurs‘ other young bigs. He can play power forward when he needs to or slide down as a small-ball center. Beyond that, Smith embodies the mentality of a San Antonio Spurs player. He puts his team first, plays with his heart on his sleeve and studies the game to be a better player.
if that doesn’t make sense for a San Antonio Spurs draft selection, then I don’t know what well.