Is Gregg Popovich hiding Luka Samanic as a secret weapon?

San Antonio Spurs Luka Samanic Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
San Antonio Spurs Luka Samanic Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s been quite a whirlwind season for San Antonio Spurs prospect Luka Samanic. After getting just 48 total minutes in his rookie year, the 6-10 forward has appeared in 13 of the team’s 36 games this season.

After many Spurs fans prematurely labeled the 21-year-old a bust, Samanic took advantage of added playing time when COVID-19 took out several key players. From February 24th through March 4th, Luka’s minutes shot up from virtually none to 17.7 per game. He averaged 7.0 points and 5.6 rebounds per game on 35.3 percent shooting from downtown in that stretch.

Questions had been floating around about if Luka would ever be ready for the big stage, but this stretch answered those. Coming off a few dominant games in the G League bubble, Samanic showed poise, confidence, and energy when called up to San Antonio. His level of engagement was at a level we hadn’t seen before, and his play gave the Spurs their first hint of a 3-and-D big man possibly ever.

Still, since the return of the Spurs’ regular lineup, Samanic has been regulated back to the end of the bench, only getting 26 garbage-time minutes in the last five games. With the return of guys like Devin Vassell, Rudy Gay, and Derrick White, there aren’t any minutes left for Luka to continue to develop in legitimate NBA minutes. Can we expect that to continue all season?

What are Coach Pop’s true plans for Luka Samanic?

There’s no denying that Luka has a lot to offer this team. Given what he’s shown so far, he has the potential to be the Spurs’ first two-way big man, as Jakob Poeltl and Drew Eubanks lean much more heavily toward being more effective on defense than offense.

Despite his successful career in San Antonio, LaMarcus Aldridge hasn’t been able to stop many drives like this one in a couple of seasons now.

On top of flashes of lockdown defense, Samanic also buried 3-of-5 shots from deep in the Spurs’ blowout win over the New York Knicks.

Gregg Popovich isn’t blind, and he’s by no means incompetent. He knows what he has in Luka Samanic. He also knows that Rudy Gay is on the trading block while other bench guys like Vassell and Patty Mills are more trustworthy for the time being.

Related Story. Samanic's growth making Gay tradeable

Ideally, the Spurs can find a trade for Gay that would help invest in their future while also freeing up more minutes for Samanic and Vassell. He still has plenty to offer a contender, so it would be a win-win situation for both sides.

In any event, there’s a big chance this is Rudy’s last season in San Antonio, freeing up room for Luka to be the team’s eighth man. His time is certainly coming, but when that might happen will depend a lot on if San Antonio makes a trade in the next nine days.

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Coach Popovich has seen Luka’s ability to guard all positions effectively while also remaining active on offense. He has a secret weapon to unleash on the rest of the NBA — we just might have to be more patient to see it fully unlocked.