Spurs' 5 biggest wildcard 2022 NBA Draft Selections with the 9th pick
Finally, let’s get into what will shamelessly be my favorite part of this discussion: wildcard picks. The Spurs already had a reputation for being a bit unpredictable in the draft, but if their selection of Josh Primo last offseason taught us anything, it’s that a team’s “consensus” top players in any given draft may look drastically different than what big boards and mock drafts may suggest. In other words, just about anything goes.
To form this group of players, I paid the closest attention to four things: the players’ outlier skills, the roles they played on their teams, signs of in-season improvement, and general upside. These are all factors that I believe contributed to the huge gap between Primo’s late-1st-round to early-2nd-round projection and his ultimate selection in the back end of the lottery.
Honorable Mention: Dominick Barlow
I don’t think we’ll quite see any sleeper prospect take as big of a leap into the lottery as Josh Primo did last season, but I think three prospects could come close: Michigan State’s Max Christie, Santa Clara’s Jalen Williams, and the Overtime Elite’s Dominick Barlow.
While Williams is projected to be selected the highest out of the three at this stage, Barlow’s combination of length (at roughly 6’10” with a 7’3” wingspan), upside as a defender and shooter, and overall athleticism strikes me as something the Spurs will actively target in the draft. While 9th overall definitely feels a bit too high with some more polished prospects being on the board, do not be surprised if Barlow sneaks into the 1st round.
Malaki Branham – 0 Votes
If the Spurs are looking for a bucket-getting shooting guard in the lottery, I see only three realistic possibilities. The first, who made his appearance in the previous group of players, is Johnny Davis. If the Spurs are willing to trade some of Davis’ defense for more high-level shooting, though, I think that Ohio State’s Malaki Branham could be in play at 9th overall. As a freshman, he was one of the most efficient scorers in the country, ending his season having recorded 53/42/83 shooting splits.
While Branham may be one of the less positionally versatile players to be featured here, I don’t think the Spurs would have many reservations about making room for one of the best shooters in his class. While defensive consistency would need to come along, being that Branham has a 6’10” wingspan with good functional strength, the chances are good that he can become at least adequate.
Leonard Miller – 0 Votes
Leonard Miller certainly puts the “wild” in “wildcard,” and selecting him 9th overall would be a massive swing for the fences, particularly after gambling on Josh Primo last year. If you watched Leonard play in NBA Combine scrimmages, then you’ll know he has a long way to go to catch up to the speed of the game at the pro level, but regardless, 6’10” forwards with his frame and guard skills don’t come around often.
To put it plainly, I see Leonard as the least likely selection out of this group of players at 9th overall. Similarly, but astronomically more so than Jalen Duren, much of Leonard’s upside is purely theoretical at this point. But if he can continue to adjust to his body, work on his jump shot, and generally get more quality playing time in the G League, he could be a mismatch nightmare in a few years. He’s currently most often mocked in the 2nd round, but like Dominick Barlow, I won’t be too surprised if a team takes a swing on him in the late teens to 20s.
Ousmane Dieng – 2 Votes
The New Zealand Breakers’ Ousmane Dieng received the second-most votes among Air Alamo writers for good reason. The recently-turned 19-year-old Frenchman had a rocky start to his first season in the NBL but began to turn things around later on in the season in a big way. On a struggling team, the 6’10” wing eventually proved himself to be one of the two best players on the floor among long-time professionals.
Dieng originally received inconsistent minutes due to his unpolished offense, but his versatile defense is what kept him on the floor. He’s already proven that he has strong fundamentals away from the ball, and as he continues to build muscle, there’s optimism that he’ll be able to defend at least four positions in the NBA.
As time went on though, his steadily improving jumper, finesse in the pick-and-roll, and high-level playmaking abilities shined brightly. Dieng very nearly received my vote in this group, and on paper, I think he fits Brian Wright’s ideal vision of positionless basketball to a T.
Air Alamo’s Prediction: Dyson Daniels – 5 Votes
Dyson Daniels has gotten so much traction lately that he debatably isn’t even a wildcard at this point, and I think he would have stacked up quite well if he had been pitted against the five “best” prospects in the previous group. Daniels’ appeal comes down to his combination of size (at roughly 6’8” in shoes), basketball IQ, and guard skills. While he isn’t the most explosive of athletes, he uses his quick feet and plus wingspan to be a suffocating perimeter defender, uses his methodical pace and craft to make plays for his teammates, and appears to have some upside as a shooter.
If you buy into Daniels’ jump shot as I do, then his fit with the Spurs’ current roster becomes much more realistic. Not only would he be able to play at the three with Dejounte Murray on the floor, but he could conceivably also play spot minutes as the Spurs’ backup point guard. That is the type of positional versatility that I think Brian Wright highly covets, so if he’s available at 9th overall, do not be surprised if the Spurs choose him over some of the draft’s most-desired bigs and forwards.
Roberto’s Prediction: Jaden Hardy – 1 Vote
There’s a chance you already think I’m clinically insane after including Leonard Miller on this list, so I’m going to lean into that here. If the Spurs were to make another unexpected, wildcard lottery selection in the upcoming draft, my bold prediction is that Jaden Hardy could be that pick.
Despite the Spurs’ deceivingly good offense this past season, if they are in need of anything on that end of the floor, it’s a consistent bucket-getter that can take some of the weight off Dejounte Murray’s shoulders in close-game situations. Again, this is the reason Johnny Davis and Malaki Branham made these lists as well.
While I think there’s a significant chance that the Spurs expect Josh Primo or even Devin Vassell to be that guy at some point soon, Hardy’s ceiling as a scorer is incredibly high and both Primo and Vassell have the requisite defense to play the three next to him in the Spurs’ backcourt.
My biggest reservations with Hardy coming into the season were his playmaking ability and defensive engagement, but his flashes in both of these areas were pleasantly surprising. The decision-making will certainly need to come along, but Hardy is talented enough to be special at the next level.
Even now, Hardy is very frequently mocked in the late teens into the 20s, but if you’re asking me, I’ll be shocked if he’s still available at that point. Analysts appear to be underestimating the skill level it takes for a 19-year-old to carry a G League team’s offense and particularly the Ignite’s offense given their incredibly poor spacing.
His improvements over the course of their season were palpable and I think he has a chance to go as high as 8th overall to the New Orleans Pelicans.