Benefit of The Doubt
Yes, we are talking about Primo
The Spurs picked Josh Primo, pictured above against UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen making the same face that a lot of Spurs fans were making. Jalen Rose, co-hosting ABC’s coverage of the event started talking about the Pacers and what a smart pick it was for them to make.
Everyone was just a little off.
CBS Sports thinks the Spurs whiffed:
Typically, the Spurs get the benefit of the doubt owing to their impeccable record developing players. However, given the Kawhi-DeRozan activity, the Spurs have been burning through goodwill and having missed the last two playoffs and with Pop getting into his 70s1, the Spurs were criticized a little. Count me among those who think the Spurs still deserver a little benefit of the doubt.
Let us go through the last decade and figure out if the Spurs are to be trusted.
2011: Cory Joseph 29th pick in first round. Ádám Hanga 59th pick (2nd round). Cory Joseph has had a nice, long NBA career as a decent backup PG. Hanga has had a nice career in Europe in Spain. Grade: B
2012: Marcus Denton 59th pick. A flyer for a guy who has carved out a career overseas. Plays in China. Grade: C-
2013: Livio Jean-Charles 28th, Deshaun Thomas 58th. Both of these guys have overseas careers. Jean-Charles was always expected/hoped to be a contributor as the prototypical Spurs late round find. Both played for Austin and have enjoyed more success outside of the NBA. Grade: C+
2014: Kyle Anderson 30th, Jordan McRae 58th, Cory Jefferson 60th. Slo-mo was obviously a nice contributor for a long time. He has continued to be a big part of Memphis. McRae and Jefferson were traded and have played some NBA games but neither is as good as Anderson. Grade: B+
2015: Nikola Milutinov 26th, Cady Lalanne 55th. Nikola is still 26 years old but has not jumped over here. LaLanne is averaging 21 per game in the Korean league. Grade: C+
2016: Dejounte Murray 29th. Oh yeah the big-time contributor for the Spurs. He plays great defense and has developed his shooting touch to become something of a reliable catch-and-shoot guy along with a maturing mid-range game. Grade: A-
2017: Derrick White 29th, Jaron Blossomgame 59th. D-White has also become a big contributor for the Spurs although he is hurt a little too much. The squad loves his toughness and he is right in that Slo-Mo/DJ category of guys that are respected across the league and should be contributors here or elsewhere for at least 10 years. Blossomgame is in Germany after tooling around the G-League for a bit. Grade: B+
2018: Lonnie Walker IV 18th, Chimezie Metu 49th. Lonnie Walker is a baller and is still a bit incomplete as a player. In his third season he is at 11 points per and has shown his potential scoring as a slasher and a shooter. Lots to like. Metu has bounced up and down to and from the G-league but has shown some promising signs. Grade: A-/TBD
2019: Luka Šamanić 19th, Keldon Johnson 29th, Quinndary Weatherspoon 49th. When people are thinking of whiffs they really are thinking of Luka here. He has shown some nice things after the Spurs parted ways with LaMarcus Aldridge, but nowhere near the Lonnie Walker development plan. Keldon Johnson has been ridiculous and is on Team USA in the Olympics. The Spurs got a definite good player in this draft and that is about all you can ask for. Weatherspoon does not look like he will be a long-term member of the Spurs. Grade: A/TBD
2020: Devin Vassell 11th, Tre Jones 41. Vassell showed a willingness to shoot the ball and some good defense. He is still a work in progress but everyone loves his athleticism and his development is going well. Tre Jones has not had a big chance to do much. Grade: B+/TBD
2021: Joshua Primo 12th, Joe Wieskamp 41st. So here we are. Put in context with everyone else here, I see that Primo has the athletic tools to look something like a Vassell or a Johnson, and the mental make up (something the Spurs really value) to develop in their program.
We can quibble and complain about the Spurs’s placing such a high value on basketball IQ and character — in the case of a Pau Gasol it was seemingly an overpay — but it has brought five titles to San Antonio. Maybe if they tweaked that here and there it would have brought seven. I do not know.
If we want to point to Šamanić and complain, consider that only maybe Matisse Thybulle would have been a clear “better” pick? Of the rest of the draft after, the Spurs got the best player in Johnson so I think the Spurs “won” that draft from that spot.
Vasell is about 25th in win shares/48 minutes among rookies. I wouldn’t trade him for like, a Immanuel Quickley right now (ahead of him in Box Plus/Minus) and looking at that draft there are not a lot of guys I would rather have instead.
What Is The Plan?
I thought the Spurs were going with the Turkish Alperen Sengun or Kai Jones. There were and are questions about each. Pop and company spent a lot of time around quality big guys in Dave and Tim and yes, even Aldridge and have an idea of what they want and can get. My suspicion is that the front office want a proven NBA big and not a project. That means someone in free agency or a trade.
It looks and sounds like DeRozan is going to test free-agency but that does not mean the Spurs will not get a little something for it. Considering the top squads — he wants to contend for a championship — are limited, the Spurs would likely do a sign-and-trade and that is the likely path to getting another big. The Spurs traded Kawhi and got DeRozan … but also Poeltl, who is the starting center.
Before Russell Westbrook was traded to the Lakers, there were rumors the Spurs would deal DDR for Kuzma and there have been other rumors that they were looking at Clippers assets as well.2
The situation is this: the Spurs need DeRozan to stay or go and swap his cap space for a guy who can do some of the same things: score and distribute. The Spurs roster does not have anyone that can reliably get 20-30 points per game and be the crunch time person. They also do not have the execution down to simply run their offense to get open shots for anyone late in the game, either. For all the criticism of Aldridge and DeRozan, they are two guys who can and have been the primary option in this league and get buckets.
Rudy Gay is perfectly fine as a bench scorer and the occasional bucket-getter in specific situations, but he is not the guy to close out games at the highest rate at this point in his career. Patty Mills has not been that kind of guy for the Spurs either.
The rest of the roster has potential but nothing there that says “big time scorer”. Keldon is a hustle guy right now. Lonnie does not have a full complement of moves just yet, Derrick White is oft-injured and Dejounte is not the shooter and will be driving into traffic.
If that cannot happen — meaning the Spurs have to let DeRozan walk and then just go with this current crop of guys — it means a lot of losing is in store as the current roster develops into something more.
This is perfectly fine. The Suns were bad but added talent and let it all cook until they felt they could compete with one acquisition. The Spurs are probably a season or two away from that scenario. Trading for a Ben Simmons — Morey wants a ridiculous package for him — would be nice but that likely means losing a Keldon or a Murray or both. John Collins is probably a target for GM Brian Wright. He would be leaving a really good Hawks team that probably peaked for a team where he would be the guy, but also have a little more losing/building and he may be done with that kind of thing after enjoying a nice playoff run.
From The Front Office
Brian Wright on the Spurs scouting of Primo:
Along with the crusty Team USA performance in the Olympics
Honestly, this feels more like someone just fired up the trade machine and started blogging.