Skepticism is thoroughly warranted following the San Antonio Spurs’ selection of Joshua Primo at No. 12 in the 2021 NBA Draft. The youngest player in his class, Primo wasn’t on many people’s radar until the draft combine; and even then, most draft analysts predicted he’d fall into the 20s or beyond.
An 18-year-old Canadian who just completed his freshman season at Alabama, Primo was a reach at the back of the lottery. I’ll admit that I was blanketed with disappointment when Adam Silver announced the pick — Not because of anything to do with Primo himself, but with the fact that San Antonio Spurs GM Brian Wright selected a player who he seemingly could’ve traded back for.
There’s no going back now, and after shaking off the initial shock, I’ve come to realize that Primo fits the mold of a classic Spurs draft steal. As Wright mentioned in his post-draft press conference, Primo earned a starting role in the SEC as the equivalent of a high school senior. He re-classified to compete at a higher level and has spent his entire career playing above his age level.
Primo attended Huntington St. Joseph Prep, where other young pros like Keldon Johnson, Andrew Wiggins, and Miles Brides worked on their skills before him. At Alabama, he quickly earned a starting role on a team led by upperclassmen and made the right reads for his team. He sacrificed his own personal numbers to contribute to a winning product while steadily gaining confidence and improving his skills.
That approach fits gracefully in an organization that he knows will be patient with him and allow him to grow into the player they collaboratively believe he can be.
“I always wanted to be a Spur,” Primo said in his post-draft press conference. “I told my agent when I first got into this process, that’s where I want to be.”
It’s not very often that players outwardly choose the San Antonio Spurs. That takes a certain level of maturity, self-awareness, and dedication that most players couldn’t bring to the table. Primo is doing it at 18 years old when most other players his age would rather embrace their youth at college before stepping into the big leagues.
Wright picked the correct player at the wrong draft position. Trusted NBA reporters like Kevin O’Connor noted that Atlanta was willing to trade No. 20 and Cam Reddish to jump into the back of the lottery, and the New York Knicks would’ve done something similar with picks 19 and 21, where the Spurs would have addressed a position of need by picking Kai Jones.
However, what’s done is done and now we look to the future. It’s unlikely that Primo spends significant minutes actually playing for the San Antonio Spurs this upcoming year. In fact, it’s more likely that Primo spends his year with the Austin Spurs than with San Antonio. In years past, Spurs fans have expressed discontent with their draft picks heading to Austin, but it makes perfect sense in this situation. Unless he blows the coaching staff away, Primo will work in the G League and build on a successful college season before scratching the surface of the Spurs’ rotation.
Even then, Primo has a lot of unique skills that appear to be translatable to the next level. Unlike many of the Spurs’ past draft prospects, Primo comes equipped with a gorgeous jump shot that should instantly translate to the next level. He shot 41.4% on 70 3-point attempts in conference play while ascending to the challenge and using lateral quickness to pester his defensive assignment.
He continuously stresses that he brings energy to his team, and shows it through his play. Primo’s not looking to be the star player — He’d rather set his teammate up for the best available shot or position himself as a release valve for a downhill attacker like Dejounte Murray or Keldon Johnson.
More importantly, Primo carries himself like a professional and he’s only just getting started. A young man who presents himself to be wise beyond his years, Primo knows that he’s just beginning his professional development. He wants to put the work in now to serve a more crucial role later but understands that San Antonio needs shooting and he’s got it.
Question the process all you want — The decision to pair Primo with the San Antonio Spurs culture is one that will pay dividends by the time his career truly takes off. He’ll be roughly 22 by the time his rookie deal ends, allowing four full seasons of professional and personal development under the watch of the Spurs’ staffers.
My first reaction was that the San Antonio Spurs botched this pick. There were more valuable and more NBA-ready players available who would fill a position of need. However, after hours of game tape and interviews, I’m all aboard the Primo hype train. He matches more of a Luka Samanic timeline than a Derrick White timeline, but if everyone’s bought into the culture and a team-first, unselfish style of play, then age won’t matter.
Don’t count the kid out just yet. He’s only just getting started.