The Only 7 Players the Spurs Would Trade Up to Pick in the First Round

Rumblings persist that the San Antonio Spurs may be looking to trade up to acquire a second first round pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. With the top pick, the Spurs will of course draft Victor Wembanyama. They also have the 33rd and 44th overall picks in the second round. 

Who will San Antonio target if they trade for another first rounder? After discussions with team sources and various scouts around the league, I’ve narrowed it down to seven players. 

Anthony Black

On paper, Black is a very good fit next to Wembanyama. At nearly 6-foot-6 without shoes, he’s huge for a point guard. He uses his height well to pass over the defense and locate passing lanes other point guards would never see. While height and passing are strengths for Black, his primary strength is his basketball IQ. He’s a brilliant player who processes the game at the speed of light. Black can read and react to plays before defenses even have time to make a decision. 

Defensively, Black is also really, really good. He uses his length well and it’s where his athleticism really shines. He moves his feet well and he has a surprising amount of burst. Black’s grit and toughness on that end should make him a plus defender on Day 1.

The question mark with him is his shooting. Black’s mechanics are unsightly; it’s like he’s fighting himself when he’s loading up a jumper. He hit only about 30% of his three-pointers and 70% of his free throws, which are rather pedestrian numbers for a perimeter prospect that will be drafted in the lottery.

To obtain Black, the Spurs will likely need to trade for a pick somewhere between 6 and 8. Doing so would be expensive. San Antonio would need to dangle assets like Keldon Johnson and future first round picks to get it done. 

Kobe Bufkin

Bufkin is a rock-solid combo guard prospect with outstanding fundamentals. Even though he’s just a shade over 6-foot-4 without shoes, he has a long, wiry frame that allows him to finish at an extremely high rate in the paint. Bufkin also shot well from the perimeter and from the free throw line. His shooting stroke is pristine and he gets it off quickly. Add in his low-mistake nature and it appears as if he’ll be a very efficient offensive player.

At 19, Bufkin is coming off a successful sophomore season at Michigan. His growth after a rocky freshman campaign was phenomenal. While mostly a shooting guard in college, his recent rate of growth gives him a high ceiling as a lead playmaker. In fact, if Bufkin keeps making strides as a ball-handler and passer, his ultimate position may be point guard.

What would it take for the Spurs to get Bufkin? When the draft process began, Bufkin was regarded as a late first round pick. In the last few weeks, he has made a run up draft boards and is now knocking on the door of the top ten. 

For the Spurs to land Bufkin, my guess is they’d have to trade for a pick somewhere between 10 and 14. That will be expensive — but not as expensive as trading for Black. 

Cason Wallace

Wallace’s main selling point is his defense. Though he’s only 6-foot-3, he has a 6-foot-9 wingspan and an 8-foot-5 standing reach. Add in an insatiable motor, elite lateral quickness and top-notch anticipation and Wallace’s potential on defense begins to come into focus. 

Offensively, it’s difficult to know just exactly what the 19-year-old is capable of doing on a basketball floor. He played his freshman season at Kentucky in a system that routinely hinders guard play. The good news is he showed evidence of being a shotmaker from the perimeter. Wallace also flashed playmaking upside, as he posted more than two assists for every turnover despite not getting many pick-and-roll opportunities.

While Wallace could sneak into the lottery, the Spurs would likely look to trade for him only if he falls to the 15-to-20 range. His unknown offensive capabilities make him a bit of a gamble but his defense would make him playable from his earliest days in the league. 

Jalen Hood-Schifino

Though Hood-Schifino’s statistics weren’t pretty as a freshman at Indiana, he has enough tools to make an NBA scout stay up at night dreaming about he could become down the road. Hood-Schifino is a silky smooth pick-and-roll maestro with enviable size at approximately 6-foot-5. When he’s rolling right, his ball-handling and court vision are majestic tools in his arsenal. 

Hood-Schifino is also a strong defender who appears to have the ability to defend any perimeter position in the NBA. He’s technical sound on that end and is equally as proficient at defending on the ball as he is defending off the ball. 

If the Spurs trade for Hood-Schifino, it’s because they see him as a point guard. Some scouts aren’t sure he’ll be able to play that position as a pro due to his turnover and shooting struggles at Indiana. But if he can learn to limit his miscues and fix his jumper, Hood-Schifino would be a big, talented point guard who could form a mean pick-and-roll pairing with Wembanyama.

Like Wallace, Hood-Schifino could be drafted in the lottery but if he slips a bit, San Antonio could make a move to acquire him. 

Keyonte George

I spoke to a scout recently who really liked the fit of George in San Antonio. His reasoning is that George is the perfect complement to Tre Jones. While Jones takes care of the ball and can be counted on to make the right decisions, he’s not a playmaker or an outside shooter. George, on the other hand, is very good at creating shoots — particularly perimeter shots for himself.

While I’m not especially sold on George’s fit with the Spurs, that scout’s opinion does make some sense. Jones’ weaknesses and George’s strengths overlap quite a bite. That said, George shot poorly from the field as a freshman at Baylor. He’s legitimately impressive at creating offense but he hit only 37.6% from the field and 33.8% from three-point land. He also had more turnovers than assists — not something you want to see from a 6-foot-3-ish guard.

If the Spurs buy his scoring upside, I could see them making a trade for George if he slips into the 20s. In theory, trading up from 33 to catch a free-falling George shouldn’t be too, too costly.

Bilal Coulibaly

What better way to ease Wembanyama’s transition to the NBA than to bring in his friend and teammate. Wembanyama and Coulibaly grew up playing together and they’re teammates on Metropolitans 92. While Wembanyama has been a phenom for years, Coulibaly really blossomed this year and is now one of the hottest names in the 2023 draft.

The traits that have draft evaluators salivating are Coulibaly’s age, measurables, athleticism and team-first mentality. He’s 18 years old and 6-foot-6 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan. He’s a coordinated, fluid athlete who can leave the ground in a hurry. As the games have gotten more meaningful for the Mets, Coulibaly’s level of play has increased — which shows quite a bit of maturity for a player so young.

On offense, he’s a low usage player at this stage of his career. He finishes in transition, shoots open threes and takes direct drives to the hoop. There’s evidence that he has a good feel for the game — but that evidence is sparse due to his lack of participation on that end.

Overall, since he’s so raw, I think Coulibaly could be anything from a valuable starter on a good team to a complete bust who in hindsight rode Wembanyama’s momentum to a first round selection. 

Trading for Coulibaly would be tricky. There’s talk he could go in the lottery but I doubt the Spurs would trade for a pick that high to draft him. But if Coulibaly begins to slip in the draft and Wembanyama has told the team he’d like to play with Coulibaly, wouldn’t it be wise to use some of their draft capital to acquire him? I think it might.

Jarace Walker

Recently, I placed Walker at No. 4 on the Spurs Big Board 2.0. Since then, I’ve heard feedback from people in the know who insist that I put him too high. The argument is that Walker and Jeremy Sochan are too redundant and that Sochan is the superior prospect. It’s difficult to make a counter argument, especially because the Spurs would need to give up an arm and a leg to trade up to draft Walker somewhere in the top ten. 

All of that said, I still wouldn’t be shocked to see the Spurs move up to get Walker. He’s a multi-positional defender who plays a winning brand of basketball. He’s big and strong at about 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds and he has a high basketball IQ. Walker flashes skills on both ends and should be ready to play right away. Add it all together and that sounds like the type of player you want next to Wembanyama.  

The Rest of the Field

Sure, it’d be awesome to get Scoot Henderson to play next to Victor Wembanyama — but that’d be way too costly. The only other two players I could even halfway imagine the Spurs trading up to acquire are Amen Thompson and Ausar Thompson. In a world where other NBA teams are scared off by these twins from the Overtime Elite, it’s possible the Spurs could trade up to get one of them. But I think that’d take Amen dropping out of the top ten or Ausar dropping out of the top 15 — and both of those scenarios are extremely unlikely.