In the 2021 NBA Draft, the San Antonio Spurs made an initially bewildering pick and selected Alabama freshman Josh Primo 12th overall. Fans were confused, but after seeing him play, it made some sense why the Spurs reached so far.
In a vacuum, Primo is nowhere near the top five of his draft class. In terms of minutes played, total points, rebounds, and assists, he hovers around the 24th mark. He spent a chunk of time in Austin and did not receive the minutes that are usually expected from such a high pick.
Of course, it should be noted that Primo is currently the youngest player in the league and will even be younger still than some of this season’s top prospects, including Keegan Murray and Jaden Ivey. The Spurs were very clearly not drafting for instant impact. They were drafting based on potential, and shamelessly so.
In terms of purely backcourt players, Bones Hyland or Chris Duarte may have been the better pick, but again, the Spurs were not looking for the best player -- they were looking for the player with the highest ceiling. Primo was the 15th-youngest player ever when he began his NBA career. Of the 14 players younger than him, Tracy McGrady and Kobe Bryant are the only Hall of Famers, and Andrew Bynum, Jermaine O’Neal, and Darko Milicic are all fun players to compare to Primo.
In terms of points, Primo scored the third-most in his rookie season behind Bryant and McGrady. His rebounding is the same, behind O’Neal and McGrady. He is first in assists and is one of the better defenders on the list. None of them really broke out until their third or fourth year.
Of course, there is always bust potential. Milicic, Yaroslav Korolev, and Andris Biedriņš were all busts, so it goes either way.
The question you have to ask yourself is are you ok with the risk? The Spurs are in a good spot moving forward, and that’s even if you exclude Primo. They have an All-Star point guard and a solid supporting cast, money to spend, and a draft pick to boost the roster.
If Primo fizzles out like Darko Milicic, the 2000s Pistons were still really good without him. If Primo ends up being the next Kobe or McGrady, then the Spurs are in excellent shape. If he is more of a Bynum fringe All-Star, that’s still a good player, and if he ends up being not worth the risk, the future is still bright without him.
Sometimes teams have to roll the dice. The Spurs played it very safe with Tim Duncan and David Robinson and won because of it, but they stayed great because they risked it for Kawhi Leonard.
Sometimes it doesn’t work, like with Luka Samanic, but the teams that play it safe are the teams that are always in the lottery like Portland, Sacramento, Detroit, and Orlando.
They aren’t at the bottom because their risky picks didn’t work out, they stay at the bottom because they never make the hard choices. The Spurs did, and so far, it looks like the move will pay off.