The San Antonio Spurs selected Luka Samanic with the 19th pick of the 2019 NBA Draft, overlooking his struggles to produce in Europe and instead focusing on his myriad of tools. After the rookie’s run through summer league, those tools remain extremely intriguing — even if Samanic’s overall play was inconsistent.
While it was exciting to see Samanic’s known tools translate to the summer league setting, it was even more exciting to see a new tool come into focus: his passing. He averaged 3.9 assists per 36 minutes, far and away the highest mark for any forward or big man on the team. To compare, Samanic’s assist rate was more than three times higher than the rate posted by Lonnie Walker IV and more than six times higher than Keldon Johnson’s rate.
While it’s too early to anoint Samanic as the future hub of an NBA offensive attack — a la Nikola Jokic — it’s safe to say the 6-foot-11 power forward has enough court vision and passing skill to eventually use it as a weapon and enhance any offensive system.
Stationary Perimeter Passes
Due to his three-point range, defenders will be forced to play up on Samanic. This gives him passing lanes and the Croatian has the court vision to deliver.
In this first clip, Samanic sees the defender trying to front Drew Eubanks, so he delivers a one-handed pass around the defense. He adds backspin to the pass in order to have it perfectly bounce back to Eubanks as he goes in for the powerful finish.
Here, Samanic sees Johnson cut backdoor and delivers the pass early. The pass leads Johnson to an easy layup.
In the NBA, due to the abundant athleticism and speed, players usually have less than a second to notice a passing lane, decide whether a pass should be attempted and then deliver. A lot of players are fine passers but only if they have a lot of time to do the mental calculations. Samanic, though, appears to be the kind of player that has a natural feel who can make nearly instantaneous passes.
The next video shows Samanic making a quick shovel pass to Thomas Robinson in close quarters. After that in the following video, you see the big man feel the double-team and instantly hit the open man, Jeff Ledbetter, for a three-pointer.
Passing Off The Bounce
Now we’re getting to the type of passes that could really make Samanic valuable. Back in the olden days of the mid-2010s, stretch fours only needed to be able to shoot. But nowadays, stretch fours need to have all-around skills to truly be a threat — and the following passes are evidence of Samanic’s burgeoning skills.
First, there’s Samanic taking two dribbles before hitting Ben Moore on a backdoor baseline drive.
Next, in a faux pick-and-roll set, Samanic draws two defenders with a pair of dribbles and then passes to Eubanks for a dunk.
In this play, Samanic drives past a hard-closing defender, only needs one dribble to penetrate deep into the lane and then drops off a pass as Eubanks’ defender rotates over.
Samanic’s final form in the NBA if he reaches his ceiling is a grab-and-go playmaker who can grab rebounds, quickly go up the court on his own and make high-efficiency reads with the basketball.
Here is Samanic battling for a board, advancing the rock, noticing the double-team and finally hitting Ledbetter for a three-pointer.
In a similar play, Samanic grabs the rebound and heads up the court. Once Quinndary Weatherspoon is set behind the three-point line, Samanic hits the discombobulated defense with a pass to the open man.
And in our final clip, we have Samanic advancing the ball, spinning away from the double-team and then finding the open man by passing back to where the double-team was coming from. Darius Morris cashes in the open three-pointer.
Luka Samanic Passing Ability: What The Future Holds
While coaching the Spurs summer league team in Vegas, Becky Hammon talked about Samanic’s grab-and-go playmaking potential: “When he really helps us is when he rebounds on the defensive end and he can bring it. Now you have a lot of options coming down the floor at a pretty good pace. Fives are not used to guarding guys bringing the ball up the court.”
Samanic must get a lot stronger. He needs to refine his ball-handling. His three-point shooting needs to become more consistent. He needs to adopt a more even-keeled mental approach to the game. But at 19, his future is bright if he’s willing to put in the work with San Antonio’s player-development staff. Samanic is oozing with tools, with plus passing now one of the most exciting in his arsenal.