With the 2021 NBA Draft right around the corner, San Antonio Spurs fans have become fixated on some high upside bigs that could help to address the team's needs in the frontcourt. A few names that have consistently been associated with the Spurs include Kai Jones, Alperen Sengun, Franz Wagner, and Usman Garuba.
This time around, I'm going to prepare fans for the possibility of being hit with a curveball. At this point, while the Spurs are loaded with guards, recent rumors have suggested that big changes could be coming to the roster soon. The credibility of those rumors is still up for debate, but I'm not going to completely rule out the possibility of the team trading one or more of their current guards.
If the Spurs are planning on offloading one of their shooting guards soon, James Bouknight could be a potential replacement that the Spurs will want to do their homework on.
James Bouknight can address the San Antonio Spurs' scoring and rebounding needs
I wasn't able to watch as much of Bouknight as I wanted to, as he only played 15 games this past season, to begin with, due to injury. That being said, he was on my radar early on in the NCAA season after a standout performance against an Evan Mobley-led USC team. In that game, nobody played particularly well, especially on offense, but Bouknight was likely the only reason UConn pulled out a win. He recorded 18 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal.
Bouknight immediately stood out as a player that has alpha attributes on the court and the ability to take over a game at a moment's notice. Standing at 6'5" with about a 6'8" wingspan, he has comparable measurements to Derrick White and some impressive athleticism to boot.
What is most appealing to me about Bouknight is his upside as a three-level scorer, as well as his underrated potential as a defender. When looking at his stats alone, his scoring potential may not immediately stick out, particularly when seeing that he only shot 29% from three this past season.
On defense, while he's shown some hyperawareness off the ball and instances of decent on-ball defense, Bouknight would need to work on becoming more consistent. His defensive potential plays into part of the reason as to why he could be a very good fit on the Spurs, though.
He made up for his lackluster outside shooting by finishing a very efficient 62.7% of his shots at the rim. In the midrange, he has a very effective floater package (despite being right-hand dominant) and a smooth stepback jumper. He's also shown to be a very good rebounder for his size and position, averaging 5.7 per game.
One of the biggest complaints about Bouknight's game up to this point is his consistency on both ends of the floor. He's a streaky shooter from outside, has a tendency to get tunnel vision and make bad decisions, and occasionally falls asleep on defense.
To his credit, though, a lot of responsibility was placed on him at UConn because of the lack of talent on the team. Teams knew coming into games that he was their primary scorer and treated him as the biggest threat, and understandably lost focus on defense at times.
One of his other biggest issues--his shooting--will likely not be as bad as his stats suggest. He was able to shoot 78% from the line on a very respectable 5.4 attempts per game. Furthermore, his mechanics are already quite good, and because he was seen as the primary scorer on UConn, was forced to take many tough shots. According to ESPN's Jonathan Givony (exemplified in the video above), Bouknight reportedly "shot the cover off the ball" at the recent NBA Combine.
By going to a team that emphasizes relentless hustle and good defense in the Spurs, he could quickly become a more consistent player. He'll also have the opportunity to improve his outside shooting with coach Chip Engelland. Finally, he'll have a lot of scoring pressure taken off of him given that he'll have quite a bit more help on the team compared to when he played at UConn.
Ultimately, if the Spurs choose to select another guard in the draft, Bouknight would not be a bad option at all. He's been compared to the likes of Zach Lavine and Donovan Mitchell for good reason, and if his scoring translates to the NBA, he could easily begin to fill a void that may be left by DeMar DeRozan soon. So, Spurs fans, if we hear Bouknight's name on draft night, I urge you to not be disappointed at the fact that he's another guard, and rather, be excited that he could turn into one of the Spurs' deadliest scorers.