San Antonio Spurs Draft

Spurs 2023 NBA Draft: top college returners to watch

Marcus Sasser - Houston v Oregon
Marcus Sasser - Houston v Oregon / David Becker/GettyImages
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Spurs early-season top five returners: guards

5. Nolan Hickman - Gonzaga

Nolan Hickman is by far the smallest guard on this list at only about 6'0", but if the buzz around Gonzaga is any indicator, it looks like he could be in for a big breakout season as the team's starting point guard. While the jumper wasn't falling consistently last season, Hickman has a lightning-quick release on his jumper with fluid mechanics. His defense (or lack thereof) will be something to monitor, but if Hickman's shooting comes around like I think it could, when factored in with his pick-and-roll playmaking, I think he could start to rise on draft boards.

4. Marcus Sasser - Houston

While he isn't necessarily my most anticipated college returner at this point, Marcus Sasser is unique in that the only thing likely keeping him from being drafted in 2022 was a toe injury that kept him out for the majority of the 2021-2022 season. In the 12 games he did play in his junior season, he averaged 17.7 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 2.2 steals per game on 44/44/74 shooting splits.

Despite being a bit undersized at roughly 6'1", Sasser is a harassing on-ball defender at the point of attack and is likely one of the best shot-creators on the other end of the floor. He has several moves and counter-moves that he can pull out of his bag in a variety of situations to score and they led to a lot of success when he did play. Sasser was also able to participate in last season's draft process and stood out against the competition in scrimmage games. If he can come even close to replicating those performances on a regular basis this season, he'll be a 1st round pick even as a senior.

3. Jayden Nunn - VCU

Jayden Nunn is a bit of a sleeper that's been picking up some serious steam over the past month or two for good reason. While he isn't quite the proven shooter as Marcus Sasser or our #1 returning guard, the flashes of shot creation he showed in his freshman season with VCU along with his length (standing at roughly 6'4") and defensive intensity make for a very potent combination.

Nunn had the lowest usage of any of VCU's regular starters (17.8%) of any of the team's regular starters, with most of the on-ball reps going to Memphis Grizzlies rookie Vince Williams, along with Ace Baldwin and KeShawn Curry. Nunn will have a big opportunity to show what he can do in his sophomore season with far more on-ball responsibility, however, and he has all of the skill and athletic tools necessary to make a huge jump.

2. Eric Gaines - UAB

Yet another former LSU Tiger has made the list in Eric Gaines, and similarly to Alex Fudge, it's largely in part due to his athletic tools and defense. His ability to get going from a standstill, even with the ball in his hands, allows him to put constant pressure on the rim. And as if his absurd speed isn't enough, he's one of the highest-flying guards in all of college basketball and can finish above the rim with ease despite only measuring at about 6'2".

Gaines has reportedly gained about 20 pounds in the offseason while maintaining that athleticism, has been working on his jumpshot, and appears to be an underrated passer. Gaines certainly has 1st round upside already and could begin to flirt with the very end of the lottery if his three-point shooting comes around and he keeps the turnovers to a minimum. Regardless, he and Jelly Walker will be a must-watch NCAA backcourt pairing.

1. Terquavion Smith - North Carolina State

Last, but far from least, comes NC State's Terquavion Smith, who already made serious waves as a high-caliber draft prospect in the 2022 NBA Draft. While many saw Smith as a late lottery to late 1st round prospect last year, deciding to return to school for one more season could do wonders for his draft stock. His calling card last year was his absurd perimeter shotmaking, having made 37% of his threes on 8 attempts per game, and with Dereon Seabron having moved on to the NBA, I expect Smith to have even more of the scoring load this season.

While Smith's ability to finish through traffic around the rim is still very much a work in progress and his defense left a bit to be desired, his shotmaking alone will likely make him a near-lottery pick if he's able to replicate it. If he can show more engagement on defense and that he's added some functional strength, he's going to be a serious problem.

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