Tari Eason simultaneously addresses current-day needs and hopes for the future.
San Antonio remains in an untouchable tier of developmental programs with decades of accomplishment when tapping into prospects’ underlying abilities. None of that is possible without an outstanding work ethic from the players themselves, but the Spurs have a long history of bringing skills out of their young talent that couldn’t be fully realized under different circumstances.
Eason himself knows this and mentioned it when speaking with media members at the NBA Draft Combine. If the Spurs see those qualities of Kawhi Leonard and Dejounte Murray in Eason, they’ll lunge at the chance to pick him. Even if his final return isn’t that of an All-Star, or in the case of Kawhi, an MVP candidate, San Antonio’s coaching staff will guide him toward being an elite defender in a low-stakes role on offense.
As to where he'll be available in the draft, Eason is one of this class's more divisive prospects. Despite his stellar physical profile and distinctive effort level, multiple league sources have expressed that teams were unimpressed with his performance in tests of basketball IQ—especially compared with some of the other players in his draft range.
For that reason, Eason appears to be slipping from the mid-to-late lottery into the teens and in some cases, the 20s for many draft analysts. With respect to those sources, it’s also reasonable to wonder if some of this intel could be a diversion tactic by teams interested in selecting him. San Antonio generally blocks out the noise and picks their guy, and taking Eason at 9 wouldn’t be as much of a reach to the masses as taking Primo at 12.
If drafted by San Antonio, Eason would fill an immediate role as a lockdown defensive specialist and source of energy for a team full of hopeful young talent. His effort level would immediately mesh with the likes of Murray, Keldon Johnson, and Devin Vassell while making an excellent complement to starting center Jakob Poeltl, who plays a traditional center role with phenomenal rim protection, rebounding, screen-setting, and inside scoring.
Whereas Poeltl will spend his time filling the traditional center role focused on rim protection, rebounding, screen-setting, and inside scoring, Eason could roam free and switch onto the perimeter.
He’d theoretically space the floor out while taking on some of the more rangy defensive assignments that can be tough for Vassell and Johnson. Even if his scoring average doesn’t amount to much in the early stages of his development, Eason would certainly contribute through steals, blocks, rebounds, and hustle.
Though a team in San Antonio’s position must draft for talent over fit, Eason can address both sides while providing one of the most intriguing projects in recent Spurs history. If Tari Eason lands in silver and black next season, other franchises are going to think twice about having left him on the draft board leading up to that pick.