After the San Antonio Spurs pick Victor Wembanyama with the first overall selection in the 2023 NBA Draft, the Spurs will have two second round picks at 33 and 44. The 33rd pick is San Antonio’s own, while the 44th pick was acquired from the Toronto Raptors in the Jakob Poeltl trade.
While the Spurs have a reputation of finding hidden gems in the draft, one strategy they’ve utilized in recent years has been picking the player who has unexpectedly dropped right into their laps. Though that may sound like a simplistic strategy, it’s not as straightforward as it sounds. For example, many times scooping up a free-faller entails picking a player who didn’t come in for a pre-draft workout or even conduct an interview.
Recent examples of free-fallers picked by the Spurs include Dejounte Murray at 29 in 2016, Keldon Johnson at 29 in 2019, Tre Jones at 41 in 2020 and Malaki Branham at 20 last year. Many pundits had Murray, Johnson and Branham going in the lottery, while Jones was expected to go 10 to 15 picks earlier.
Which players in the 2023 draft could drop to the Spurs at 33? I believe there are 16 players who are all but guaranteed to be picked before the Spurs make their selection at 33: Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson, Brandon Miller, Amen Thompson, Ausar Thompson, Cam Whitmore, Jarace Walker, Anthony Black, Taylor Hendricks, Gradey Dick, Kobe Bufkin, Jalen Hood-Schifino, Cason Wallace, Jordan Hawkins, Bilal Coulibaly and Dereck Lively II.
Using HoopsHype’s aggregate mock draft, here’s a look at the top ranked prospects outside of those 16 players.
Earlier in the draft process, George was considered a lottery pick. In recent weeks, he has been slipping into the later parts of the first round. In fact, in Sam Vecenie’s mock draft on The Athletic, George went 27th.
The freshman guard out of Baylor was listed as one of the seven players I thought the Spurs could potentially trade up for in the first round. Thus, he’d be a no-brainer at 33, right? Probably.
Value-wise, getting George at 33 would be great. He’s a shifty guard prospect with a natural-born ability to create his own shots. At 6-foot-4, George could theoretically form an intriguing two-headed monster along with Tre Jones at point guard. Jones would be the steady hand who limits turnovers, attacks the rim and gets everyone involved, while George would be the perimeter flamethrower who takes advantage of a sagging defense.
That said, I wouldn’t quite classify George as an automatic pick at 33. The main knock against him is he didn’t seem to be in shape at Baylor and that led to his highly inefficient play as a freshman. If George doesn’t look like he’s in shape and ready to take the next step in his development as a point guard, he’s unlikely to make it in the league. To pick him, the Spurs would have to have some level of confidence that he’s trending the right direction as a prospect.
Nick Smith Jr.
Coming out of high school, Smith was regarded as a top three prospect in his class. Unfortunately, he had a very rocky season at Arkansas. The 6-foot-4 combo guard averaged 12.5 points as a freshman but shot only 39.7% on two-pointers and 33.8% on three-pointers. None of his other statistics were notable, as he wasn’t much of a playmaker or defender.
Smith was slowed in Arkansas by injuries — and that’s why his stock is still strong. Once he gets healthy, the hope is that he becomes the potent scoring guard with impeccable touch that he was in high school.
If he’s available at 33, the Spurs would undoubtedly be tempted. A year ago, he was thought to be a star in the making. As long as San Antonio buys the injury excuse for Smith’s freshman struggles, I think they pick him. However, much like the hypothetical decision about drafting George, it’s not an automatic.
Miller had a very productive season as Scoot Henderson’s teammate on the G League Ignite. In 38 games, the 6-foot-10 ball of energy averaged 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. He also exhibited a semblance of touch by hitting 30.4% of his three-pointers and 79.2% of his free throws.
While Henderson’s stock has remained sky-high, Miller’s hype train seems to be running out of gas as the draft approaches. The latest ESPN mock draft has him going 26th. A few weeks ago, some mock drafts had him in the lottery.
When looking at his tape, it’s obvious that Miller is still painfully raw. The 19-year-old doesn’t have a consistent shooting stroke and he can struggle in complicated schemes.
That said, I don’t think the Spurs could pass on Miller at 33. Sure, he has his rough edges, but he’s a multi-talented big man prospect who produced healthy numbers against grown-ups in the G League. Miller is an impressive athlete who moves well enough to eventually be able to operate out on the perimeter. If he pans out, he’s exactly the type of player you want to surround Wembanyama with as his career unfolds.
Kris is the twin brother of Keegan Murray, the forward for the Sacramento Kings who was selected with the 4th overall pick last season. At Iowa, Kris filled in for the departed Keegan and stuffed the stat sheet by averaging 20.2 points, 7.9 pounds, 2.0 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.0 steals.
While Keegan was a surefire lottery pick, Kris is expected to be a mid to late first rounder. In fact, the latest mock draft at The Ringer has him going 27th.
Compared to Keegan, Kris is a similar build at 6-foot-8 and 220 pounds. However, Kris isn’t quite the prospect. He’s not as athletic as Keegan and his shooting percentages were lower at Iowa. While Keegan was a seamless fit as a three-and-D wing, Kris’ slower feet could limit him on both ends compared to his brother. He’ll also be 23 years old by the time training camp rolls around.
Do the Spurs scoop up a free-falling Murray at 33? I really think they would. Sure, he’s not as good as Keegan but Kris looks like he’ll be a solid bench player for a long time. He’s tall for a wing, can shoot it and he plays a mature brand of basketball. Fortifying Wembanyama with smart players should be a long-term goal — and this year’s Murray definitely qualifies.
Picking Murray would be very similar to when the Spurs picked Tre Jones. Yes, Tre’s older brother Tyus was a better prospect. Yes, Tre’s ceiling as a player is somewhat limited. But there are enough positives on his scouting profile that you can be very confident that he’ll at least be a strong bench player — and in the second round, that’s a great get.
Juwan’s son is a three-point sniper with impressive size at 6-foot-8. During his freshman campaign at Michigan, he averaged 14.2 points and launched 7.3 threes per game. He shot 36.8% from three-point range and 80% at the free throw line.
Howard doesn’t do much else other than shoot threes — but that’s not really much of a negative when it comes to 2020s NBA basketball. He’s big and he can shoot it straight even if he’s on the move. Those two traits give him a path to make nine figures as a professional basketball player.
As it stands, it looks like Howard will be drafted in the late teens. If his lackluster defense at Michigan and his iffy athleticism cause him to fall, my guess is the Spurs would probably pick him at 33. San Antonio doesn’t exactly need another underwhelming defender but getting one of the better shooting prospects with a second round pick would be difficult to pass up.
It’s impossible to avoid comparing Sensabaugh as a prospect to Malaki Branham. Both enter the draft after an impressive freshman season at Ohio State. Both are right around 6-foot-5. Both turned heads by their ability to score the ball — and do it quite efficiently.
Sensabaugh was actually a much better scorer at Ohio State than Branham. In only 24.5 minutes per game, he averaged 16.3 points and shot 48.2% from the field, 40.5% from three-point range and 83% from the free throw line.
How could someone who put up those gaudy numbers as a freshman possibly slip to the second round? First of all, Sensabaugh is a terrible defender. He’s not athletic and has slow reaction speed. Secondly, he doesn’t see the floor well. While Branham had a positive assist-to-turnover ratio, Sensabaugh was far in the red.
While those are legitimate flaws, I don’t think the Spurs could pass on Sensabaugh if he’s available at 33. He’s a historically effective scoring prospect — and that’s not hyperbole. San Antonio would put him on a diet and give him a workout plan to see if they could increase his athleticism and defensive potential. But even if he remains a subpar defender, his ability to score should make him a valuable microwave scorer off the bench.
Whitehead is another high school superstar who struggled as a freshman. He dealt with a foot injury at Duke that recently required him to get a second surgery.
While Whitehead lacked pop as an athlete in his short college career, there were some bright spots. He hit 42.9% of his three-pointers and 79.3% of his free throws. He also flashed an advanced feel for the game.
Before the season, Whitehead was expected to be a top ten pick. Today, it looks like he’ll be a late first round pick. ESPN’s most recent mock draft had him going 30th — the last pick of the first round.
Do the Spurs take Whitehead at 33? It’ll come down to the medical report. If San Antonio’s doctors believe he’ll fully recover after his second foot surgery, he’s an easy pick. Add back elite athleticism to the shooting he illustrated at Duke and you have a real player. If the docs are pessimistic about his recovery, the Spurs look elsewhere.