Tari Eason's tools and hustle might be too good for Spurs to pass up

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San Antonio Spurs
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Eason has the core qualities of a star defender if he sheds some of his poor tendencies.

From a physical standpoint, Eason has a lot to offer whichever team drafts him. At the 2022 NBA Draft Combine, he was listed at 6-foot-8, 221 lbs with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and enormous 11-inch hands. The versatile forward is built with a unique contrast of strength and agility that he uses to match up against players at various positions. He’s a defensive stalwart who roams the floor with determination, shattering passing lanes and swatting ill-advised shots along the way.

Employing his unique tools and perpetual effort, Eason contests jumpers with conviction—even going as far as to deflect the shots of perimeter players hoping to sneak a shot past his reach. Having athleticism is one thing, but functionalizing it is a much more daunting process, and Eason is well on his way to breaking through that glass ceiling. With long, calculated strides, he puts that verticality to use by tracking opponents and extending his body to alter shots.

Hustle is the intangible ability to will one’s self to compete, and Eason has it in boatloads. The 21-year-old found himself in elite company as one of three high-major college basketball players to record a steal rate over 4.5% and block rate over 4% in the last 10 years.

The others, according to Sam Ferris of Draft Dummies, were Gary Payton II and Matisse Thybulle. Like a mountain cat stalking its prey at dusk, Eason surveys the court with anticipation and pounces at the ball for emphatic swats or strip-steals when his opponent least expects it.

With all of these traits in tow, Eason projects to be an impactful defensive player from early in his career. Guarding threes and fours should come as no problem in isolation scenarios, but coaches will need to be patient when instilling the nuances of team defense.

His intense focus on the matchup at hand can leave teammates exposed in help situations. In the same vein, the excitable forward might chase a highlight defensive play that leaves his primary matchup uncovered. There’s plenty to learn when it comes to NBA coverage, but what separates him from an average low-IQ defender is the ability to recover from his own miscues.

Of his issues, Eason’s high foul rate is among the most concerning; particularly when eyeing him as a prospect for San Antonio. The sixth man fouled out on six different occasions during the college season and was pulled from the lineup to prevent it even more often than that. Part of the core values emphasized by Spurs President Gregg Popovich are to win the free-throw margin and limit cheap fouls. If Eason were to land in San Antonio—or anywhere, for that matter—he needs to chip away at some of his risky tendencies.

Part of these concerns may be attributed to a lack of experience in a consistent basketball program through Eason’s growth to this point. He began his college career in turmoil playing for a Cincinnati team on the precipice of a major shakeup. He was one of six players to transfer out of the program in 2021 largely because of what The Athletic reported as a toxic culture.

LSU provided a stage to showcase his true potential, but the team that drafts Eason will offer the most crucial developmental path of his playing career to date. His offensive game has untapped potential that could make him a viable two-way threat. Let's look at the tools he's working with so far.