In the 2019 draft, the San Antonio Spurs selected Luka Samanic with the 19th pick in the first round. During the blowout loss to the Brooklyn Nets last night, he finally made his NBA debut. Playing the entire fourth quarter, he totaled three assists and two rebounds while going 0-for-4 from the field and 0-for-2 on three-pointers.
A 6-foot-10 power forward with a diverse skill-set, Samanic certainly has plenty of potential. That said, his selection in the draft was viewed by some pundits as a reach by the Spurs due to his uneven play in Europe.
Samanic hasn’t shed the label that he’s an inconsistent player but he has had some positive moments while playing with the Austin Spurs. In 32 games in the G League, the Croatian is averaging 15.3 points and 7.7 rebounds in 28.3 minutes per game. He is currently connecting on 31.5% of his three-pointers on a relatively high volume.
As a three-point shooter, Samanic has struggled with consistency even prior to joining the Spurs. He shot just 33.8% from three-point range in Europe last season in a total of 50 games. In the previous season, Samanic hit only 28.2% of his threes in 26 games.
What to Expect from Luka Samanic
Though Samanic projects as a stretch four in the NBA, he could develop into a more well-rounded offensive player. A lot of those skills hinge on his three-point shooting, however, making it a pivotal skill that could dramatically impact his ceiling as a player.
If Samanic develops into a consistent shooter from deep, he would not only be able space the floor, but he could also effectively attack close-outs due to his above average agility for his size. In Austin, he has already demonstrated a quick first step that he uses to take defenders off the dribble.
Samanic, as long as he’s shooting it straight, could also be a dangerous threat as a pick-and-pop option. Due to his quick release, it would be difficult for defenders to challenge his shot.
For a player of his size, Samanic displays impressive ball-handling ability. However, he does struggle with turnovers, averaging 3.2 per game at the G League level. Still, he shows flashes of playmaking unusual for a power forward.
Samanic also has grab-and-go potential, showing the ability to grab a rebound off the defensive glass and push it up the court by himself.
Defensively, Samanic has the potential to develop into an effective player. He moves his feet well for his size and has shown promise defending out on the perimeter.
While his interior defense is a work in progress, it’s not a lost cause. Currently listed at 227 pounds, Samanic will need to continue to get stronger and add weight. Bulking up to 15 or 20 pounds should allow him to hold up in the post while maintaining his mobility.
While Samanic has an unimpressive wingspan in relation to his height, he’s definitely a good athlete. With a 38-inch vertical leap, he could learn to use his athleticism to challenge and alter shots at the rim once he adds the requisite bulk to battle in the paint.
Rebounding is another aspect of his game that shows promise. In Europe, Samanic averaged 9.4 rebounds per 36 minutes last season. In the G League, he averages 9.8 rebounds per 36 minutes, which is a strong number for a player who often plays away from the basket.
Barely 20 years old, Samanic already has advanced post-up moves. While he isn’t likely to become a dominant post player, he can capitalize on mismatches. If a team puts a smaller defender on him, he can effectively attack them in the post.
When Will Luka Samanic Crack the Spurs Rotation?
Though Samanic has only played in one NBA game, he could start seeing a lot more action soon. Once the Spurs are eliminated from postseason contention, the coaches may opt to put him in the rotation in an effort to accelerate his development.
It could be a while, however, until he becomes a mainstay in the rotation. The Spurs apparently view him as a long-term project, more so than their other recent first round picks. It’s likely that he will spend additional time in Austin next season. In fact, Samanic may not crack the rotation in San Antonio until his third season unless he makes a dramatic leap in the G League.
Going forward, Samanic fits well — in theory, at least — with the other young players on the Spurs. It’s not hard to envision a lineup consisting of Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker IV, Keldon Johnson, Jakob Poeltl and Samanic finding success, especially with how well Johnson is developing.
While he was a risky pick, a fully-realized version of Samanic would add a versatile offensive option, as well as playmaking, rebounding and athleticism. As the NBA continues to trend smaller, having a big man of his skill-set becomes all the more valuable.