Nikola Jovic is Worth a First Round Gamble

NBA Draft
NBA Draft / Arturo Holmes/GettyImages

The San Antonio Spurs have had more luck than anyone in the NBA when it comes to finding foreign talent. The Dallas Mavericks found great players in Dirk Nowitzki and Luka Doncic, but Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Tiago Splitter were all better values at their slots in the draft.

With three 1st round picks this summer, the Spurs might be able to make a splash with Serbian sensation Nikola Jovic.

Jovic has spent one and a half seasons playing in the Adriatic League and has found some success there already by the age of 18. Through 26 games, he's averaged 11.8 points and 4.5 rebounds. He also shoots 36.1% from deep, which is very good for a 6’10” forward.

It should be noted that Luka Doncic put up slightly better numbers for Real Madrid. It’s true that the Euro League is a step above the Adriatic League, but Doncic should have gone first overall instead of third, which is a big step up from the middle of the first round. 

Don’t get it twisted: Jovic is not nearly as good as Doncic, but he fills a position of need that would help the Spurs right away. He can handle the ball and find his way to the hoop, but he can also knock down the outside shot after being hit with a solid pass, perhaps by Dejounte Murray, who is fourth in the league in assists. Despite being underweight for his size, he plays with speed and strength that might be unmatched by his draft class. 

He is not the perfect athlete or rebounder you would want down low, but that can be taught and there will, of course, be normal development as he adjusts to the NBA’s physicality. In the meantime, he is one of the smartest players in the draft class and moves very well without the ball in his hands, which is a skill that usually takes some time to learn. 

He is not the perfect prospect. He does have his flaws. He tends to lose his man when he is defending off-ball. Luckily, many of his flaws can be improved during a season of NBA basketball. He also needs to add weight and strength, but a summer of NBA conditioning should do that in no time. He’ll only be 19 when the 2022-23 season starts, so he is still at the perfect age to add weight and muscle. 

With Zach Collins and Jock Landale still on the roster next season, I suspect that Jovic would actually break into the starting five several times in his rookie year. He is not a center and can easily fit next to Jakob Poeltl, and his ceiling is significantly higher than where Landale and Collins are.

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The Spurs should use their earliest pick to take the best player available, but in terms of fit, there is no one better to take with the pick from either Toronto or Boston.