The San Antonio Spurs were among the first teams in the NBA to use an affiliate team, and the Austin Spurs have since become a key part of their player-development strategy. After all, San Antonio's two best players, Dejounte Murray and Keldon Johnson, were both former 29th overall picks, and each honed their skills playing there.
In fact, the Spurs have sent 13 draft picks to the NBA G League since 2015, with the exception being Devin Vassell, the team's first lottery pick since Tim Duncan. However, despite never playing for the Austin Spurs, Vassell has exceeded expectations and was promoted to the starting lineup in just his second season.
That raises questions about whether San Antonio should continue to rely on the Austin Spurs as a development tool. Obviously, Austin can be useful for developing undrafted players or second round picks, but maybe less so for first rounders.
Speaking of first-round picks, the Spurs will have three in the 2022 NBA Draft, but it's unclear whether they'll use each selection. Still, it's all but certain that whoever gets chosen by San Antonio will spend at least some time with the Austin Spurs. That said, that may have less to do with their NBA readiness and more to do with the team's roster.
Is the Spurs' lottery pick destined for Austin?
Although San Antonio only won 34 games this season, they remained competitive due in large part to their depth. San Antonio has typically had deep teams, including this season where they had a rotation full of capable NBA players, many of whom could be better next season. As a result, it's been difficult for Spurs rookies to crack the rotation.
Murray, Johnson, and Josh Primo didn't until later on in their rookie seasons, unlike Kawhi Leonard and Vassell, who were able to immediately contribute. On the other hand, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker, and Luka Samanic each saw limited minutes in their first season, and whoever the Spurs select in the draft may also struggle to find playing time.
That's where the Austin Spurs come into play. Assigning young players to Austin makes sense if they don't receive enough playing time with the Spurs. Instead of playing sporadically in the NBA, prospects can log significant minutes and continue to improve their skills. In fact, the Spurs often use the NBA G League almost like an additional season of college basketball for many of their draft picks, of course, with the supervision of their coaching staff.
While many Spurs fans would probably prefer to see the team's first-round picks get immediate minutes, most of the players sent to Austin actually improved. Moreover, those players often emerged as key contributors following their time in the NBA G League, quicker than they might've otherwise.
Overall, San Antonio's use of the Austin Spurs to develop their draft picks appears to be the right decision, even if it requires patience on the part of fans. It has been key in helping the team's two best players expand their games and could also help whoever they select in the 2022 NBA Draft.