San Antonio Spurs Top 5 Preseason NCAA Prospects: Bigs
Jalen Duren will be yet another 18-year-old entrant in next year's draft and is a projected mid to high lottery pick. Put simply, he is a 6'11", 250-pound monster that commands the paint on both ends of the floor. At his age, he's already garnered comparisons to NBA Hall of Famer Chris Webber for his aggressive post moves, thunderous finishes at the rim, and big blocks.
Duren is very much a refreshing throwback to the days of more "traditional" bigs dominating near the rim. He's constantly a threat off lobs, has the soft touch required for tip-ins, jump hooks, and fadeaways, and is an elite rebounder. His jump shot also looks very good for someone of his size and he's developed an impressive midrange game.
For these reasons, while his ceiling is undeniably high, I am am unsure how he would fit next to Jakob Poeltl. His ceiling is undeniably higher on offense compared to Poeltl given his brute strength and athleticism, but that won't be accompanied by any highly-developed perimeter or shot creation skills that the Spurs are desperately in need of. He's worthy of a mention here because of his age, physical tools, and flashes of shooting touch, but I'll wait a little longer to make any bold statements about his game.
Contrary to Duren, Jabari Smith Jr. has more or less built a reputation up to this point as a more modern big with the skillset of an oversized wing. While I think it would have been acceptable to classify Smith as a wing, his length at 6'10" and decent frame to build upon should allow him to guard some 5s at the next level assuming he can put on more weight.
What Smith lacks in the physical department at this point, though, is more than made up for by his potential on the perimeter. He has strong fundamentals on defense on and off the ball and is one of the players on this list that could theoretically guard 1 through 5 if his strength training goes according to plan.
On offense, Smith can find ways to score on all three levels. He's a lights-out shooter that knocked down 41% of his threes in his senior year of high school on a high volume of shots. He's also just as capable of hitting some difficult midrange shots off the catch and the dribble in half-court settings, and he's a dangerous finisher in transition.
In my mind, Smith is a very good fit alongside the Spurs' current young core and should thrive in their uptempo offense while only improving the team's ceiling on defense. He could move up this list very quickly if his offense translates well to college ball and if he can show signs of shot creation.
For anyone that is already in the know about some of next year's draft prospects, it may seem bold to have Brandon Huntley-Hatfield as high on this list as he is, but I think he's a big-time sleeper candidate for the Spurs in 2022. Similar to Josh Primo, Huntley-Hatfield was slated to be a member of the class of 2022 (and was said to be a top ten prospect in that class) but reclassified to the class of 2021 to play for Rick Barnes and the Tennessee Volunteers early.
Of course, this makes him one of the younger 2022 draft prospects and he'll be 18 years old on draft night. With that in mind, the 6'10", 246-pound power forward has an NBA-ready body reminiscent of Julius Randle. He has advanced ball-handling skills for his size, is comfortable passing with both hands, and has a good jump shot despite looking a bit flat.
He isn't quite as big or strong as Duren and doesn't quite have the shooting repertoire of Smith, but he's young, has an impressively balanced list of skills on both ends of the floor, and generally has a very high ceiling. It would not surprise me in the least to see Huntley-Hatfield fly a bit under the radar and be selected a bit earlier than the consensus on mock drafts.
Seeing as Chet Holmgren will almost certainly be selected top three in next year's draft, there probably isn't much that needs to be said about him or his game, but it's worth briefly going over before the start of the season.
Chet Holmgren, plain and simply, is the "unicorn" of the 2022 draft. The 195-pound seven-footer is without a doubt the most physically gifted prospect in his class and, when also accounting for his 7'5" wingspan and perimeter skills, borders on unfair. Being that he'll be only 19 on draft night, he's a relatively easy sell without even going into much detail about his skillset.
At the very least, Holmgren will probably be an elite rim-runner, but his shooting, comfort with putting the ball on the floor, and ability to make plays for others places him on an entirely different stratosphere. The word "versatile" doesn't exactly do Holmgren justice in terms of what he could mean for a team if he pans out.
My reservations about him almost entirely lie in his durability (or lack thereof) due to his unbelievably skinny frame. I initially had similar concerns with Evan Mobley from the 2021 draft class, but I think I'm even more concerned with Holmgren due to his sheer willingness to take contact. Ultimately, I think there are a handful of other players that are on the same or a similar tier that don't have these concerns.
Paolo Banchero is the player that I believe (for now) deserves to be selected first overall in next year's draft. Now standing at roughly 6'11" and 235 pounds, he's essentially an even blend of what a traditional power forward and center would look like and possesses elite two-way potential to go with that physique.
Even considering that he'll only be 19 years old on draft night, Banchero may have the highest basketball IQ of any player in his class, is incredibly high-character, and makes it a point to be vocal on the court. He's multi-positional in every sense of the word and can do a bit of everything on the court, whether it be facilitating, shooting, rebounding, shot-blocking, etc.
At this point in his career, his shooting is likely what will need to progress the most, but his decision-making and flashes of shot/space creation will only aide him as he begins to work on his shot more. If he can show at Duke that he can knock down shots in more of an off-ball role, I will genuinely struggle to have any significant complaint about his game.
If that doesn't earn your vote, Banchero is a native of Seattle, Washington and would join the team already having that connection with Dejounte Murray. While the Spurs would surely have other enticing options on the table if they found themselves in a position to select Banchero next year, on multiple levels, he would be a near perfect fit for the organization.
Ultimately, it's still very early in the NBA season and it's impossible to tell where the Spurs will be selecting in next year's draft, making scouting that much more difficult. Furthermore, this list only includes players that will be playing in the NCAA, and there will be a number of other players entering the draft from both international leagues and the NBA G League (both of which we will be covering soon).
Regardless, Spurs fans ought to get excited about the upcoming college basketball season, as there's a good chance that we'll have the opportunity to watch the next young Spur make his case to earn a spot in the league.