The San Antonio Spurs are one of the most successful franchises in NBA history. Recently, however, there have been reports about the possibility of an NBA expansion in the near future, potentially adding two more teams for the Spurs to compete against.
Considering the Charlotte Bobcats were the 30th and most recent NBA franchise to be added in 2004, this is the longest the league has gone without expansion in more than three decades. That said, there have been no official announcements from the NBA about further expansion. For now, fans are left to speculate about the potential for two new NBA teams and how a hypothetical expansion draft might affect their favorite team.
In an NBA expansion draft, new NBA teams are able to add players to their roster by selecting up to one player from the league's other teams. However, each team has the ability to protect eight players who are under contract for more than one season from being selected in the expansion draft.
Additionally, upcoming free agents aren't allowed to be selected. In the event of an expansion draft, San Antonio could protect just eight of their 18 players under contract. As a result, this scenario provides insight into which players are most valuable to the team going forward.
Which player would the San Antonio Spurs protect?
With just eight protections available to San Antonio, they would be wise to prioritize protecting their young core and key rotation players from potentially being selected. For that reason, the Spurs should protect Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Jakob Poeltl, Keldon Johnson, Doug McDermott, Devin Vassell, Luka Samanic, and Joshua Primo.
Among those eight, Murray, White, and Johnson are likely the Spurs' best players heading into next season and they can’t afford to lose any of them. As for Poeltl, he's emerged as a good starting center and a defensive anchor, thus making him a key part of the team going forward. McDermott is also a player worth protecting, given his shooting ability. As a career 40.7% 3-point shooter, he is among the NBA’s best shooters and could help the team in that regard.
Rounding out the eight protections are Samanic, Vassell, and Primo, each of whom were selected in the first round by the Spurs. While Samanic has yet to find consistent minutes since being drafted in 2019, he has a unique skill set that could ultimately prove valuable if he continues to improve.
Vassell was selected 11th overall in the 2020 draft and quickly emerged as a solid two-way rotation player. Furthermore, he has the chance to grow into a reliable scoring option and a great defender. Primo, who was San Antonio’s most recent draft selection, has yet to play in an NBA game and it could take some time before he becomes a rotation player. That said, he has the chance to develop into a sharpshooting two-way guard and a player that the Spurs would surely hate to lose.
Which players would be exposed?
Under the rules of an expansion draft, the Spurs would have six players eligible to be drafted while four players would be deemed ineligible. Among the ineligible are Thaddeus Young, Al Farouq-Aminu, Lonnie Walker IV, and Bryn Forbes. On the other hand, Drew Eubanks, Chandler Hutchinson, Trey Jones, Zack Collins, Joe Weiskamp, and Jock Landale would be eligible.
While San Antonio wouldn't be at risk of losing any of their young core or key rotation players, they’d likely lose Eubanks or Jones in an expansion draft. After all, Eubanks went from being undrafted in 2017 to a solid backup center that is still improving. That said, were Eubanks to be selected, they would still have several options at backup center including Young, Landale, and Collins (when healthy).
As for Jones, he’s shown the potential to be a solid backup point guard who can both create and defend. Therefore, he could be attractive to a new team that would be in desperate need of both, though San Antonio has plenty of guard depth and could replace him if need be.
Fortunately, in the event of an expansion draft, San Antonio wouldn’t be at risk of losing any key players. Most importantly, it would mean that the rebuild could continue on uninterrupted.