2023 Mock Draft 2.0: Spurs roll the dice, Hornets win Wembanyama sweepstakes
Many view this draft as having a consensus top three at this moment, with the second and third-best players being Scoot Henderson and Brandon Miller, so I won’t be surprised at all if Spurs fans believe this pick would be a no-brainer just as it was for Portland. But to be fully transparent, I do not share that belief, and I think the 3rd overall selection could be the most difficult pick to predict for the San Antonio Spurs were they to land at #3 overall in the lottery.
In this mock draft, I have the Spurs throwing fans, and perhaps even other front offices, a massive curveball and selecting Ausar Thompson. This selection is based on four principles that I think may hold true for the Spurs in this scenario: (1) the team believes they’ll be in a position for another top pick in the 2024 NBA Draft, (2) the team’s number-one priority with this selection is positional versatility, (3) the team views Ausar Thompson as having the best balance of risk versus reward at #3 overall, and (4) the team has a strong desire to continue building defensive infrastructure.
Could the Spurs go the more obvious route and select Miller in this scenario? Absolutely, but if Miller is then expected to develop into the Spurs’ primary offensive option, that would mean the team fully buys into Miller’s ability to develop as an athlete and ball-handler. And even then, I doubt Miller would ever have the defensive upside that both Thompson twins possess. In this way, I would see the Spurs selecting Miller as more of a floor-raiser for the team rather than a ceiling-raiser.
On the other hand, the Spurs could also be swayed by the tremendous upside of Ausar’s brother Amen at 3rd overall, but Amen’s success at the next level will likely be predicated on him having the ball in his hands very often. While that isn’t necessarily a bad thing if the Spurs are hyper-confident in Amen’s upside as a number-one option, I’m not quite sure the Spurs will be willing to gamble on him for reasons I’ll get into a bit later, particularly if his development means taking the ball out of other Spurs players’ hands and having to make tough roster decisions sooner rather than later.
If the Spurs believed at one point that Josh Primo could have developed into a primary ball-handler and are also comfortable enough in the present day to give Jeremy Sochan occasional minutes as the team’s primary ball-handler, you best believe that they’ll allow Ausar Thompson to experiment early in his career. But at the same time, we’ve seen during his time at Overtime Elite that he’s capable of playing away from the ball on offense and remaining effective, meaning that his development won’t necessarily hinge on him having the ball in his hands at all times.
While Ausar may not quite have the upside his brother does, he has underrated upside of his own when considering his combination of athleticism, ball-handling ability, playmaking, on- and off-ball defensive versatility, and even shooting potential. This pick would undeniably shock many onlookers, including seasoned analysts, but when considering the Spurs’ trust in their own development system and their confidence to go against the grain in the draft, this wouldn’t surprise me one bit.