The San Antonio Spurs have had a busy off-season thus far, including drafting Joshua Primo, signing multiple free agents, and even making a few trades. That said, with all of the off-season activity, it's easy to forget about a young player already on the roster with plenty of potential in Luka Samanic.
At 6’11", he projects as a stretch four who can shoot, drive, pass, and post-up on mismatches, making him a very interesting young prospect. The talent is definitely there, however, despite his unique skill set, he didn't appear close to putting it all together when we were able to see him play this past season.
He'll be entering a pivotal 3rd season, a time where many former first-round picks begin to take on a larger role after two years of development, and seeing some level of improvement in his game will be very important in determining his future with the team.
That said, I believe that time may be running out for Samanic, and the Spurs' off-season moves seem to call into question whether they believe that he can improve. It's also telling that San Antonio's first move in free agency was to agree to a deal with Doug McDermott, a sharpshooting power forward.
The Spurs were also reportedly interested in signing power forwards John Collins or Lauri Markkanen, but their price tags may have been an issue for the team. However, they ultimately used much of their remaining cap space on a sign-and-trade that sent DeMar DeRozan to the Bulls for a package that included Thaddeus Young.
While those moves could be seen as the Spurs simply looking for deals that could give them draft capital, it isn't a coincidence that McDermott, Collins, Markkanen, and Young all play the same position as Samanic. It appears that San Antonio may be beginning to lose confidence in him, or at the very least, that they're preparing to go with a backup plan. If Samanic were farther along in his development, the Spurs might not have been so aggressive in looking to upgrade the position.
Samanic's future with the San Antonio Spurs is still uncertain
While Samanic's progression has been slow, I believe that his development may have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. With two G-League seasons in a row being shortened and last year's Summer-League being canceled, there have simply been fewer on-court opportunities for him to get better or show that he already has gotten better. Despite those setbacks, though, he displayed some improvement in limited minutes last season, particularly on the defensive end.
Instead of being able to continue to build upon his play, though, it may be more difficult for him to earn consistent minutes next season with McDermott and Young now on the team. McDermott provides the Spurs with some much-needed shooting and floor-spacing, and may even start next season. Young is a versatile player who does a bit of everything and defends multiple positions, and he'll likely be much more reliable than Samanic right out of the gate.
Considering that the Spurs are unlikely to willingly "tank," playing Samanic ahead of either player wouldn't give them the best chance of winning. Instead, the Spurs may continue to use him in a limited role next season, including having him play spot minutes, filling in when there's an injured player ahead of him, or playing garbage time.
That said, there is a possibility of the Spurs making a mid-season trade involving Young because of his large, expiring contract. Depending on the Spurs' record, by the trade deadline, they could look to send Young to a different team to allow Samanic to play more meaningful minutes. The Spurs may also be looking to trade Young for more draft capital in return.
Were Samanic to play well, it could not only help alleviate the team's concerns but also reinforce their belief in his potential. Were Samanic to fail to impress, however, all bets could be off in the front office. San Antonio could easily select another power forward in a big man-heavy 2022 NBA Draft to replace him and/or sign a veteran to compete with him for the role of backup power forward.
Either way, Samanic will still have plenty of chances to try and earn a spot in the rotation. However, he will need to be ready when called upon and will need to show enough improvement for the Spurs to justify keeping him around for much longer.
Samanic undoubtedly still has a chance to be a good player for the Spurs, though it's unclear whether or not he will actually remain a part of the Spurs' long-term plans. Fortunately, he still has the opportunity to live up to his potential and change the team's and fans' minds.