If you watched the way the San Antonio Spurs finished the season and read the extremely blunt interviews with coach Gregg Popovich in the aftermath of their playoff debacle, the off-season strategy to adding talent wasn't going to be a mystery.
The draft prospects they are targeting fit the mold of this off-season plan of getting bigger and more skilled up front and more defensive minded. The players the Spurs have talked to or worked out are some of the most intriguing bottom of the first round/second round prospects in this draft.
From USC big man Nikola Vucevic, to Charleston guard Andrew Goudelock who shot the lights out at the 2011 NBA Combine in Chicago. The Spurs' scouts are once again living up to their reputation as the league's best. Here is a rundown and brief summary of what players the Spurs worked out and what skills he can bring to the Spurs.
The Big Men
Justin Harper - PF, Richmond 6'9'', 230 lbs.
Keeping with the Spurs goal of getting bigger, Harper is the most skilled big man they have talked to. He is a physical specimen. Registering the lowest body fat percentage at the draft combine at 4%. His shooting is off the charts for a man at his position as he performed consistently the best in shooting drills for big men at the combine in Chicago. He was 18-25 in the spot up from the college three point line drill. Both the best at the camp.
When it came time to perform against NBA talent he shined. Clearly out playing both Morris twins from Kansas in the sweet 16. Both of whom are projected to be first round picks. This kid has every basketball skill you want in a player. He can dribble like a small forward and shoot like a guard. The knock on him is the level of competition he played against. Coming from Richmond there is a small sample size to look at when playing against high level players. I'm sure the Spurs are taking a good look at this kid. He has all-star potential and in most drafts is projected as a late first to 2nd round pick. So he will most likely be there.
Nikola Vucevic - PF/C, USC, 7'0", 260 lbs.
Gary Parrish of CBS sports was the first national writer to ''discover'' Nikola back in February and glowingly wrote of his abilities. I bet he's pretty proud of that now as the West Coast's secret is out and he's become one of the rising stars of the draft process. Of course the Spurs are the smartest kid in the class and have been scouting this kid for months.
Nikola went to the draft combine and measured out to be the biggest player there. Both height and weight wise. But with only 6% body fat. So we know he has a pretty good work ethic keeping himself in shape in between the end of the college season and draft time. Nikola can play both inside and outside. He has a solid mid-range game and can play with his back to the basket as well. His three-point shooting ability isn't exceptional, but it's a growing part of his game as he's improved his shooting percentagein every college season. Unlike Justin Harper andthe question marks surrounding him being able to play against high level competition, Nikola is a extremely safe pick as he proved it against some of the best players in the draft. He clearly outplayed the projected second overall pick - Derrick Williams - in their matchup in February, holding Williams to eight points and scoring 25 himself.
Nikola can come in right away and contribute. If the Spurs are lucky enough for a guy with his size and skill level to be available at pick 29 they would be very fortunate.
Jamie Skeen - PF, VCU, 6'8'', 240 lbs.
His break out into the public and a lot of scout's eyes were in the NCAA tournament where he helped lead VCU to the Final Four. He is a fantastic shooter for a player at his position, with range out to the NBA threepoint line. He also has a pretty good post game. He's not a good athlete, in fact he was the second worst athlete at the NBA combine using DraftExpress' Athletic Testing Composite Ranking. What Skeen will give a team is a solid bench big. He can come in and play the long fourandwon't get bullied in the post. He can develop into a super charged version of Matt Bonner. Which is why you can see the Spurs took a look at him. If the Spurs took him late in the second round he would be a good value.
Enes Kanter - C, Kentucky, 6'11'', 260 lbs.
A rich man's Nikola Vucevic. He has a nice post game and has range to 20 feet. He hasn't played basketball competitively in a year due to college eligibility issues. If he played this year at Kentucky he probably would be in the mix for the top pick in the draft due to the array of skills he showed while playing in Turkey and in international games. He is a very intelligent player and has an advanced skill set for a player his age -19.
Kanter has a very good post game with an array of moves he's been showing for years dating back to when he was beating up on American high school kids in international all-star games. But what really makes him special is his mid range game. Being 19 and in the NBA he'll be working on extending his range to the threepoint line. A big man with that skill set and potential is very rare. Kanter won't fall out of the top 10 so the Spurs could be considering a trade here or this is just another chat like they had with Derrick Favors last year.
Matt Howard - F, Butler, 6'8'', 230 lbs.
An undersized big even at the college level, Howard got it done with basketball IQ, toughness and hard work. That hard work paid off as he improved his three point shooting percentage every season at Butler. The Spurs are probably looking at Howard as a long four candidate. As that's his most transferable skill to the NBA. Given the options in this draft I'd be somewhat surprised if they selected Howard.
All of the big men the Spurs worked out have one thing in common. They can all shoot the ball well for players at their position. The Spurs front office looked at their roster and saw that with Antonio McDyess retiring, they only have one guy - Tim Duncan - who can defend the post and has a mid-range game. Playing two bigs at the same time that have no outside game will bunch everything up and allow post defenders to collapse on wing players driving the lane thus taking away a huge part of the Spurs' offense which is guard dominated. The front office knows this and is bringing in players to offset this. They want to avoid offensive stagnation with Tiago Splitter and DeJuan Blair playing together.
The Spurs also looked at two guards who are under the radar but both bring NBA level skill's to any team.
David Lighty - G/F, Ohio St., 6'5'', 220 lbs.
Lighty is an elite perimeter defender. Their interview with Lighty showsthe Spurs are truly recommited to defense. He can defend threepositions and shutdown some of the best players in college basketball this year. In Ohio St.'s matchup with Michigan Statethis year, he destroyed Durrell Summers. Durrell Summers was the best player on Michigan St.'s 2010 Final Four run after Kalin Lucas went down. He willed them to the Final Four with his exceptional shooting. Summers was one of the best twoguards in college basketball entering last season. Lighty's physical play made Summers passive and tentative and held him scoreless for the game. Jared Sullinger got all the publicity this year on the Buckeyes team but Lighty was the lynch pin of the defense. He developed a pretty good outside game this year as he hit over 40% from three point land. He sounds like an ideal defensive specialist that a championship team needs. If the Spurs lucked out and had Lighty fall to them in the second round he could challenge Richard Jefferson for his starting spot.
Andrew Goudelock - G, Charleston, 6'3'', 200 lbs.
A deadly shooter and a great athlete. At the draft combine he was the best shooter in the spot up NBA three pointer drill hitting 19-25 attempts. He also was perfect in the 15-18 foot jump shots on the move drill going 21-21. According to Draft Express' Athletic Testing Composite Ranking he was the third best athlete at the combine. George Hill comparisons are apt as both players came from obscure schools and are good shooters and athletes. Being a guard and given his skill set he really doesn't have a place on the Spurs unless the Spurs are considering trading Tony Parker and have a hole to fill.
With the Spurs direction clearly mapped out we know what type of player they are targeting and probably won't stray from that unless someone falls to them they couldn't pass up on. The Spurs know they need another big man with an outside game like McDyess in order to run their offense to a high level of efficiency.
They also know they need to have a renewed commitment to defense in order to compete at an elite level and that's where the interest in a guy like Lighty comes in. It will be interesting watching the draft and off season play out and see if they Spurs can rearrange the roster to achieve this objective.
it sounds like alot of people are hatin' on Blair. the criticism is noted and it's all certinly valid, but getting rid of Da'Juan would be a mistake. he's had some double doubles this past year. he's a ferocious rebounder and, yeah he's undersized but he's also a wide bodied space eater in the paint. like Malik Rose or Kurt Thomas without a consistant jumpshot YET. we'll probabaly have Hill for a long time too. he's a long, athletic 1 or 2, an exceptional defender and Pop loves him. besides, with guys like Anderson, De Colo, Green and Butler, let's not be hasty.
Spurs have no business drafting anybody under 6'11". Look at Dallas they finally get it. They saw how we and others won in the past and got their trophies. Big men. They'll have to man up and sort out the wing man situation another way. I do not waste draft picks on wing men. I trade for them. (Hill/Blair for a SF) If only Portland would take Blair and Hill for N. Batum and A. Johnson. I would do it in a heart beat. And then we can draft a young big that you want in the draft and get a another big in free agency with the MLE. We would be set. And you wouldn't have to trade Tony to do this. The mony is good on the trade but as far as MLE I don't know where we stand in regards to Dyess.
Tiago has more offensive game than Blair and if you haven't seen this yet from what little time he played this season then I don't have any idea why your writing this blog?
uh i also read on hoopsworld that they have Lucas Nogueira going to the spurs at 29 for three out of the four ppl they had do a mock draft. i looked him up on draft express and he seems to be athletic and long enough to help us out, especially defensively. hes 7 ft tall, has a 7'6 wingspan, 18, raw, but athletic; now imagine duncan forcing a post to this guy for help... i think hes a perfect fit personally. any skills he doesnt already have duncan and splitter can mentor. draft express mentioned that there might be a language barrier to overcome but with the splitter already on the team i think the brazilians can figure our system out.
@joshmbp i agree, it sounds like this Nogueira kid has unlimited potential. first, you can't teach size, but he's got atheletic size, which is exponentially better...how's greg oden working out again? second, he's really green. the game and the system can be taught, and the teachers will be Pop and TD. third, there's the Brazillian thing. we all know about the repour Manu and Fab had, i don,t know that he's much of a passer or reciever, but Nogueira/Spillter may turn out to be another Manu/Fab connection. lastly,do i smell a potential second coming of the twin towers? this is probably a total pipe dream, but if Nogueria ends up as a Spur, and the stars alline just right Splitter/Nogueria may work the same kind of high/ low game we saw in the old days. another plus is, Splitter is a skilled interior big, like TD, and Nogueria loks to be an explosive, atheletic big like Five-0 from the 90's. i hope we give this youngster a chance!
@coachb @joshmbp the thing is the spurs are not in a position to be drafting projects, 3-4 years ago maybe. i mean drafting a raw 18 year old kid is a risk regardless and the spurs need help NOW. they already have projects stashed everywhere from england to Spain to hell Antarctica they dont need another one right now. they need someone who can come in and get some minutes. duncan doesnt have legs left to try to "mentor" someone. i mean its not like any of these kids are 18 yr old kobe, or KG, or parker for that mater. one could be a parker type find but those odds are hard to bet on. i dont like the idea of drafting him my self but im not pop. i would say draft him and maybe trade his rights along with someone else for a more established player who can impact now, or draft someone a bit more nba ready.
@JohnAbney @coachb @joshmbp It doesn't matter who we get it won't be enough to put on the court while Timmy's here. Timmy's gone after two more seasons. Can't band aid this thing with our coming draft picks to have a front court to compete with the elites next season so you might as well get a young draft pick that's good enough to develop by the time Timmy leaves. This way at least they'll (Splitter, Ryan Richards, the young pick, maybe a free agent) be ready to compete with the elites when Timmy is gone. Instead of having to rebuild after Timmy's gone I say do it now. Play the crap out of the young talent and let Timmy take a backseat and mentor role besides I don't see Timmy getting major minutes while young talent is on the bench. At this point Timmy is not the focus anymore he doesn't draw double or triple coverage like he did int he day. Move forward.
i cant see the spurs getting any where near kanter so here is crossed fingers and toes for Nikola Vucevic to make it to 29th. i could not care less for the little guys until the second round. i expect a trade for a wing would be a better bet, and if the spurs can some how get Nikola Vucevic then trading blair and/or bonner (maybe mcdyess's contract) for a solid win defender (raja bell?) would be great!
@JohnAbney ....by the way, you underestimate James Anderson and Danny Green as wing scorers/defenders.
the jury is still out on james anderson BUT danny green has been in the league 2 years and has a TOTAL of 28 games and 206 minutes. he either progresses real fast or he will never amount to more then a 10th man at best.
i would LOVE bruce bowen to join the team and coach those guys though, maybe he could come in as a bowen type defender then.
In the first round I would want the Spurs to take a big, especially in this order if they are available at the 29 spot: Singleton (can play PF, or at least guard the opposing team's PF), Nikola Vucevic, Jeremy Tyler (raw but with all the physical tools needed to succeed in the league; Duncan heir apparent?), JaJuan Johnson or Jamie Skeen; more importantly, all of these bigs can shoot a jump-shot and have height, unlike some players on our team (DB).
In the 2nd round we should either concentrate on either defense or on a point guard--you know, in case anything happens to that French guy we have. So, with our last pick we should draft either David Lighty (G-F), Iman Shumpert (PG-SG), or Jacob Pullen (PG) or Andrew Goudelock (PG).
@zvill22 Yea, Shumpert was one of the best athletes at the combine. He had the highest vertical in Chicago. And he benched 185 pounds 18 times which was best for the guards. He is a workout freak thats for sure. It didn't translate into basketball success in terms of winning games though. Shumpert wasn't a star playing on a mid major devoid of talent. He plays at a power conference school that routinely turns out nba players. Seems he doesnt know how to run an offense or play within one. Talented Ball stopping guards are fun to watch but aren't great at playing within a system that relies on ball movement like the Spurs have. I like most would like to see the Spurs go after Vucevic. But when you have a reputation for having a great eye for talent and you are rumored to put the stamp of approval on a player that could ruin your chances at getting him as a GM who overlooked him ahead of the Spurs in the draft might give him a second look. In any case the Spurs will most likely take a big man that can shoot in the 1st round. More then one of the players listed in this piece would be a good addition to the Spurs.
I'd like to get one of the bigs in the 1st round. Hopefully Vucevic. But i hope Lighty falls to us in the 2nd round. The Spurs need to get back to defense!
In a league where Michael Olawakandi goes number 1 overall in the draft but a player with the skills of Justin Harper is a 2nd round pick? How does that make sense? SMH. Where do they get these NBA gm's from? This isn't rocket science.
@Splitterfan21 I like Harper but he doesn't have a back to basketgame. If Vucevic is there at 29 I hope the SAS take him