Jul 2, 2019; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Keldon Johnson (3) is congratulated by teammates after beating the buzzer against the Memphis Grizzlies at Vivint Smart Home Arena. (Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports)
If one of these guys manages to slip through the cracks in the 2020 NBA Draft, the San Antonio Spurs must be prepared to go all-in.
Selecting the best available player is a strategy that teams have used since the start of the conventional NBA Draft. For as crucial as roster fit may be, swinging on the greater talent in that kind of scenario helps teams to find star players while elevating their overall competency level — an essential trait for teams picking in the lottery. This pertains to the San Antonio Spurs now more than ever.
We know the Spurs are guard-heavy with a clogged rotation in that area at this point in their group’s development, but this is the highest pick they’ve had in over 20 years and the team cannot afford to draft a player whose ceiling is as a role player. Instead, they’ll need to go star hunting, or at least seek out a talent they can develop into a top player at his position.
Allowing certain guys to pass them by to fill a more pertinent position may seem logical, but not when you take into account their lack of star power. We love what the young guys have shown, but none have made it clear that they’re on the path to being an All-Star quite yet. In limited playing time during his first-year, Keldon Johnson showed more than any Spurs rookie has in quite some time. However, we need to see a full season of his game before making that kind of judgment.
Therefore, San Antonio has to go for the best players on the board once their time comes in a few weeks. It’s wholly possible for these three rising talents to slip to No. 11 and they need to pull the trigger if this becomes the case.
Next: 1. A world-class floor general
Feb 8, 2020; Ames, Iowa, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Tyrese Haliburton (22) reacts during the second half against the Kansas State Wildcats at Hilton Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
1. yrese Haliburton is a must-draft for the San Antonio Spurs.
Though his name often gets overlooked in conversations about this year’s top prospects, there’s a strong case that Iowa State combo guard Tyrese Haliburton is the best guard in the class. The three guards ahead of him in most mock drafts and big boards — LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards and Killian Hayes — Each have question marks looming over them.
We don’t know if Ball has the ambition, shooting consistency, or defensive tools to compete at the next level. Edwards’ scoring may not translate as his output at Georgia may have been a result of his circumstances. Hayes needs to improve his 3-point consistency, volume scoring and perimeter defense to hit his ceiling. In contrast, Haliburton seems more ready than any of them on paper.
??? Tyrese Haliburton! pic.twitter.com/jHDEa7kRqh
— Iowa State Men’s Basketball (@CycloneMBB) November 27, 2018
A 6-foot-5 guard who just wrapped up his sophomore season, Haliburton is an exquisite passer who’s sure to excel once acclimated to head coach Gregg Popovich’s system. Few playmakers of this caliber have come out of the NBA Draft in recent years and the San Antonio Spurs cannot afford to let that slip them by. With DeMar DeRozan on the final year of his deal, their primary ball-handler will likely be gone soon and next, they’ll need their youth to prevail.
Haliburton has the mental edge, two-way effort and shooting ability to thrive in a Spurs offense that gets players to their comfort zone. He can create shots for himself and others from a live dribble and play off the ball as a spot-up shooter or secondary creator on the perimeter. Drafting him gives San Antonio a chance to go all-in on a mobile, playmaking young core that’s going to scorch opponents with an unselfish, high-octane offense and versatile defense for years to come.
Next: 2. Potentially the next great scorer
2. Killian Hayes, San Antonio Spurs are a match made in heaven.
The variance of belief in French point guard Killian Hayes remains high amongst NBA Draft experts. A skilled ball-handler with strong passing vision and the technique to make it work, Hayes could be one of the best passers in the game. Lefty guards always have a strong opportunity to throw off an opponent’s equilibrium and create solid looks at the basket or for jumpers.
Beyond the fact that San Antonio has a history of drafting and developing international talent, Hayes is a must-grab for the Spurs in particular. His offensive skillset compares with high-volume scorers and facilitators like their rival, James Harden. He’s even told reporters that he models part of his game after San Antonio Spurs legend Manu Ginobili.
Once DeRozan and Aldridge move on, they’ll need a player who can command a scoring load and Hayes could be that guy. Similarly, he could become a moderate starter with burst here and there like a former Spurs draftee, Goran Dragic. While Dragic managed to reach an All-Star game as a reserve, he’s never been the primary option for a playoff threat.
Regardless, Hayes is a strong pick for an organization that’s known for developing and grooming talent. They’ll push him harder than he’s ever been pushed to help him develop a killer instinct. He’ll probably be taken by pick No. 11, but on the off chance he slips, San Antonio will have no choice but to pick the lengthy teenager.
Next: 3. A longterm investment with unthinkable upside
3. Isaac Okoro has a lot to learn from the San Antonio Spurs.
Should he fall to No. 11, which is completely plausible given his limited scoring in college, Auburn forward Isaac Okoro is an obvious selection. It’d be nice to draft a player who’s assuredly going to make an impact in his rookie year, they don’t need to worry about the 2020-21 season as much as they need to prepare for what’s next after that.
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Immense cap space means the 2021-22 Spurs could look like a completely different team. Beyond the fact that their veterans are all unrestricted after then, it’s projected to be a turning point. Many of the young players won’t be so young anymore, ushering an era of San Antonio Spurs basketball that’s marked by those groomed in the harshest times in recent franchise history.
Okoro needs time to become the player they believe he can be, so this is probably the best time to bring him along. The assumption is that Aldridge will retire in the next few seasons and DeRozan will seek an opportunity to win elsewhere. San Antonio’s ancillary players will become go-to options and they’ll find new ways to compete for an NBA Playoff bid.
Like Kawhi Leonard before him, Okoro can grow within the system while being groomed for the future. For as tempted as they may be to pick a player who better fits the conventions of the current team, Okoro is a serious upside pick who can be a two-way star once he gets settled and comfortable with NBA pace. Beyond that, he can make an impact with his defense, rebounding, athleticism and occasional hot shooting streaks if given a shot.
However, Okoro would likely need more time to develop before cracking the rotation.