San Antonio Spurs: Looking Back At San Antonio’s Last Four Drafts
With the 2020 NBA Draft coming up tonight, we revisited the San Antonio Spurs’ draft selections from the last four years.
After months and months of waiting, the 2020 NBA Draft is finally here. Despite what some are calling a “weak” draft class, there’s expected to be plenty of drama and intrigue as we creep closer and closer to commissioner Adam Silver announcing the first pick. And for the first time since the San Antonio Spurs made a draft-night deal with the Indiana Pacers to select Kawhi Leonard, there are rumblings that the team is looking to make some big moves.
The Golden State Warriors, who hold the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft, have expressed interest in trading for LaMarcus Aldridge while DeMar DeRozan, who opted into his player option on Monday, is another trade chip the Spurs could use to move up in the draft.
Spurs management has rarely been this open about their intent to make the big changes that appear forthcoming. The 11th pick in the draft will be their highest selection since Tim Duncan and it looks like the Spurs could be swinging for the fences if they attempt to jump into the top five.
Why does all of this seem so strange?
Because for the better part of the last two decades the Spurs have set the standard by scouting, identifying and developing prospects at the back end of the draft and turning them into guys that make other teams say, “How did we miss that guy?”
Let’s take a look back at San Antonio’s last four drafts and how those selections have panned out.
San Antonio Spurs pick Dejounte Murray 29th in 2016.
Point guard Dejounte Murray was widely considered a lottery pick coming out of Washington, but miraculously, he fell all the way to No. 29, where the San Antonio Spurs scooped him up during the 2016 NBA Draft.
Murray posted a solid rookie season, but it wasn’t until his second year in the league, when Tony Parker handed him the keys to the starting point guard position, when Spurs fans truly caught a glimpse of his potential.
The second-year guard was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team, becoming the third guard and ninth player in Spurs history to be named to an All-Defensive Team. After that impressive season and the departure of Parker, Murray looked poised to continue building on that momentum.
Unfortunately, Dejounte tore his ACL during the preseason of the following year, sidelining him for the entirety of the 2018-19 season. Despite that setback, Murray bounced back this past season, posting career-highs in PTS (10.9), REB (5.8), AST (4.1) and STL (1.7).
While he still has plenty of room to grow offensively, the 24-year-old will always have his shifty feet, long arms and defensive prowess to fall back on as he continues to gain confidence as a shooter. We’ve seen plenty of spurts and flashes from Dejounte, but it’s just a matter of him putting it all together on a nightly basis.
Once again, while many of the other players from this draft class have struggled to succeed, the Spurs struck gold, finding a cornerstone player who they inked to a 4-year extension before the beginning of the 2019-20 season.
San Antonio Spurs pick Derrick White 29th in 2017.
Picking at 29 in back-to-back drafts, the Spurs found another gem in Derrick White. Unlike Dejounte, White was a fairly unknown prospect.
Most Spurs fans are familiar with White’s journey. With his only offer out of high school coming from Johnson & Wales, a school more known for their culinary program than basketball, White decided to play three years of Division II at the University of Colorado–Colorado Springs before transferring to Colorado for his senior year.
White played sparingly his first season, appearing in just 17 games, but really caught eyeballs after his rookie year when he dominated during Summer League. Derrick took the next leap, bumping his scoring average to about 10 PPG and showed some exciting flashes that had Spurs fans oozing about his ceiling.
Hands down, White’s “welcome to the league” moment came during their 2019 playoff series against the Nuggets when he exploded for 36 points and absolutely posterized Paul Millsap. However, he didn’t quite make the jump that most had hoped for heading into his third season in the Alamo City.
After starting 55 games during his second season, White was relegated to the bench last year with a healthy Murray back in the fold. It wasn’t until the season restart in Orlando that we got another glimpse of how dynamic of a two-way guard Derrick can be.
With season-ending injuries to Aldridge and Trey Lyles, the Spurs opted to use a small-ball lineup during their final eight games, allowing White to get starter’s minutes again. D-White was one of the hottest players in the Orlando Bubble, averaging 18.9 PPG and dishing out 5 APG while shooting an impressive 39.3 percent from downtown in seven games.
Much like Dejounte, I expect the Spurs to lock White into a contract extension during this offseason to keep this backcourt in San Antonio for the foreseeable future.
San Antonio Spurs pick Lonnie Walker IV 18th in 2018.
After a slightly down year by San Antonio’s standards, the Spurs landed one of their highest draft selections with the 18th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Coming out of Miami, Lonnie Walker IV was widely regarded as one of the most explosive athletes in this talent pool and was touted as a surefire lottery pick.
But, once again, the Spurs lucked up and Lonnie was there for the taking at 18. San Antonio was reportedly enamored with Walker heading into the draft and actually explored a potential trade with the Hornets to move up and select him at No. 11.
Walker followed a very similar trajectory as White during his first two seasons in the league. He appeared in just 17 games as a rookie, also lit it up during his second Summer League showing and entered his sophomore campaign with some lofty expectations from the Silver & Black contingent.
However, with a plethora of guards on the roster, Walker only got handed minutes in small chunks throughout the year. Up until the season restart in Orlando, Lonnie only saw 25+ minutes of action at total of four times. The first time came during December of last season, when Walker led a furious comeback against the Rockets, scoring 19 PTS in the 4th QTR to help secure an eventual OT victory.
Like White, Walker finally got his chance to shine during the restart, doubling his scoring output (11.3 PPG) and hitting 40 percent of his threes. Lonnie got the starting nod in all eight games and there was a noticeable difference in his level of confidence and comfort.
It will be interesting to see how things shake out during this free agency period. DeRozan opted into his player option, but all signs are pointing towards a split between the two parties. Should DeMar be on the move, Lonnie could see a significant uptick in playing time and more opportunities to show off his freakish bounce and flashy playmaking.
San Antonio Spurs pick Luka Samanic 19th, Keldon Johnson 29th in 2019.
Thanks to the Kawhi Leonard-DeRozan trade, San Antonio entered the 2019 NBA Draft equipped with not one, but two, first round picks with the 19th and 29th selections. Many Spurs fans, myself included, were a bit shocked when the front office decided to take a chance on Luka Samanic with the 19th pick, passing up on other prospects like Brandon Clarke, Matisse Thybulle and others.
However, that initial wave of frustration was eased with the selection of Kentucky’s Keldon Johnson at 29, which could be the steal of the draft when we look back in a few years.
Samanic spent the majority of his rookie season gaining experience with the Austin Spurs, averaging 15.2 PPG and 7.8 RPG in 32 G League games. The 20-year-old Croatian forward only played in three games for San Antonio, logging just a total of 48 minutes with most coming in the final two games of the season.
Luka definitely still has a ways to grow from a physical standpoint as well as improving his feel for the game. He’s raw, but Samanic should be attacking his weaknesses this offseason and finding areas where he can develop because he could see some real minutes next season depending on how things shake out during the offseason.
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On the other hand, Keldon was easily the most surprising but brightest spot for the Spurs last year. Despite missing the playoffs for the first time in 23 seasons, San Antonio’s restart was a fruitful one that allowed Johnson to formally introduce himself to the NBA.
The rookie from Kentucky played with passion, heart and intensity on both sides of the floor, energizing his teammates with his infectious personality. Over the eight games in Orlando, Keldon averaged 14.1 PPG and 5 RPG while connecting from distance at an insane 64.7 percent clip.
Sure, it’s a small sample size and there’s no way he stays that hot from three-point range, but if you’re a Spurs fan you’ve got to be excited by everything we’ve seen thus far. While it’s unlikely Johnson will see starter’s minutes next year, it will be intriguing to see how he can impact this team and what next steps he’ll take in his development during his second season.
The playoff streak might be over, but the Spurs have spent the last four years identifying and cultivating talented prospects that look to be the future cornerstones of the franchise.
Who will be the next player to join this youth movement?