The San Antonio Spurs will leave the 2023 NBA Draft proceedings with at least the rights to Victor Wembanyama — that we know. However, the Spurs will enter the draft with two other selections. In the second round, San Antonio will pick at 33 and at 44.
While the 2023 draft has some weak spots outside of Wembanyama at the top, it’s actually quite deep in toolsy, developmental projects. The projects will be available well into the second round of the draft. More than half of these players will never amount to anything but there’s a strong chance that one or two of them will blossom into useful contributors at the NBA level.
The French Connection
Rupert almost qualified as one of the free-fallers the Spurs could scoop up in the second round. When the draft process commenced, he was oftentimes penciled in as a lottery pick. Nowadays, Rupert is still regarded as a likely first round pick — but more likely in the 20s than in the teens.
If Rupert falls to the Spurs at 33, it’s going to be really difficult for the Spurs to not pick him. The native of France is 6-foot-6 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and an 8-foot-10 standing reach. He played last year for a winning NZ Breakers team in the NBL where he was instantly an impactful defender. His length and quick feet make him a terror out on the perimeter. His long arms are almost always in passing lanes and his lateral quickness allows him to defend all across the perimeter.
Offensively, Rupert isn’t nearly advanced. However, there are definitely glimmers of hope. Growing up, Rupert was a point guard — and you can still see that influence in his game. He can handle the ball well for a wing and his court vision is good for a relatively raw 19-year-old. For being so long, Rupert still manages to move with an enchanting amount of fluidity.
A make-or-break skill for Rupert will be shooting. His stroke is a bit robotic and he hit only 23.4% of his three-pointers during the NBL season. Against better opponents, Rupert was left unguarded on the perimeter — and he was rarely able to make the defense pay for the disrespect. Furthermore, while his ball-handling is useful in the open court, it’s still a bit too loose to be dependable in halfcourt sets.
All in all, Rupert looks like a project worth investing in with a second round pick. His defensive ceiling is extremely high. It also must be noted that he has the same agent as Wembanyama (Bouna Ndiaye). If Rupert can shoot it straight and tighten up his ball-handling a little bit more, he could be a really valuable cog.
Cissoko is another 19-year-old 6-foot-6 Frenchman who used to be a point guard until a late growth spurt turned him into a wing. Like Rupert, he has good court vision and is a very conscientious defender.
There are a number of differences between Cissoko and Rupert. Cissoko isn’t quite as long (6-foot-10 wingspan, 8-foot-8 standing reach) and his lateral quickness is a question mark. His feel for the game also isn’t as sharp as Rupert’s.
Conversely, Cissoko is actually much stronger than Rupert. He has a muscular frame and is blessed with a powerful leaping ability that he uses to bulldoze opponents. Out in transition, he’s almost impossible to stop when he gets a head of steam. He’s also a better shooter than Rupert right now. With the G League Ignite, Cissoko hit 31.4% of his three-pointers.
Like Rupert, whether Cissoko makes it will largely depend on if his shooting comes around and if he can evolve into a better ball-handler so he can use his physical gifts in the halfcourt. Cissoko probably has more offensive upside due to his strength but Rupert is unquestionably the better defensive prospect due to his elite length and lateral quickness.
If Rupert is off the board at 33 but Cissoko is still available, he’d certainly be in the mix. If the Spurs pick him at that spot, I’d be pleased with that outcome.
Wings in Development
Rupert and Cissoko aren’t the only developmental wings in this draft. Walsh is another one with a very similar build and outlook. Walsh is super long — even longer than Rupert. The 19-year-old is 6-foot-6 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and an 8-foot-11 standing reach. As a freshman at Arkansas, he averaged 7.1 points in 24.4 minutes per game, while shooting 51% from two-point range, 27.8% from three-point range and 71.2% at the line.
Defensively, Walsh is similar to Rupert. He has great lateral quickness and his effort level on that end is always at max volume. Walsh is quick enough and strong enough to likely guard every position on the court other than center. He has really good anticipation skills and can sniff out plays in their infancy.
Offensively, Walsh is … not good. Like Rupert and Cissoko, he needs to improve his three-point shooting to make it. However, he also isn’t a good ball-handler, struggles with footwork, doesn’t read the court well and doesn’t finish well at the rim. You can make the case that he has an even higher defensive ceiling than Rupert but Walsh is far away from being competent on the offensive end.
Walsh at 44 would be a very strong pick. I wouldn’t mind him at 33 but he’s unlikely to be my top pick on the board.
Phillips is another 19-year-old wing with a similar build as the previous three prospects. He’s 6-foot-7 with a nearly 7-foot wingspan and a standing reach of 8-foot-6. To say Phillips is athletic would be an understatement. He had a 43-inch maximum vertical leap at the combine, which was the highest mark of the year. He also had the highest standing vertical leap at 36 inches.
Defensively, Phillips already looks legit. He moves his feet well and plays a fundamental brand of defense. He’s big enough to engulf small guards and can handle his own against bigger wings.
Offensively, Phillips looked painfully overmatched as a freshman at Tennessee — which was surprising because he was a five star recruit out of high school. He didn’t finish well at the basket, his passing was rote, his ball-handling was basic and he hit only 23.9% of his three-pointers. When the going got tough for Tennessee, Phillips was sent to the bench due to his offensive shortcomings.
The good news for Phillips on offense is he found a way to get to the free throw line at a high rate. He also nailed 82.2% of his free throws, which suggests that Phillips may eventually learn to shoot from the perimeter in the NBA.
Overall, it’s difficult to find much separation when scouting Rupert, Cissoko, Walsh and Phillips. The foursome are all basically the same level of prospect. I’d probably prefer Rupert of the four — but it’s close. For the Spurs, their preference would likely come down to which of the four they believe is willing to put in the most work as a professional.
The Offensive Projects
Lewis is the same size as the four wings discussed above. He’s 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot wingspan and an 8-foot-8 standing reach. However, Lewis is a much different type of prospect because his strengths all reside on the offensive end of the court.
As a sophomore at Pepperdine, the 20-year-old averaged 17.1 points per game on 52.6% shooting from two-point range, 34.8% shooting from three-point range and 78.7% shooting from the charity stripe. At Pepperdine, he utilized his combination of sublime size and supreme athleticism to light up defenses without breaking a sweat. He can easily get to his smooth-looking jumper. When he has a lane to the rim, Lewis isn’t bashful about finishing with authority. While he needs to sharpen his tools on the offensive end, he clearly has the ability to blossom into an electric scorer in the NBA at some point down the line.
Lewis’ downsides begin on the defensive end. He doesn’t put in much effort on that end and can usually be found doing nothing or unwisely gambling. Lewis also has a weak body, which negatively impacts him on both ends. He got pushed around on defense and struggled to score through contact on offense.
Offensively, Lewis also had a negative assist-to-turnover ratio and his scoring rate and overall efficiency plummeted as the season progressed. Some scouts believe his overall effort dried up when Lewis started seeing himself as a lock to be a first round pick in the 2023 draft.
If the Spurs want an offensive-minded wing at 33, Lewis could be the best option. However, there are some negatives in his scouting profile that San Antonio would have to overlook.
Jackson qualifies as another offensive project. The youngest player in the draft at only 18 and a half years old, Jackson was asked to carry the offensive load for South Carolina last season. The five star recruit held up reasonably well considering his age, averaging 15.4 points in 32 minutes per game.
At 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot wingspan and an 8-foot-10 standing reach, Jackson has really advanced skills when it comes to creating his own shots. He’s a fluid athlete with a cunning offensive mind who innately knows how to get open in isolation sets. The form on his jumper looks fine, which provides hope he can eventually be a knockdown shooter.
Every other aspect of Jackson’s game needs work. He’s so slow-footed as a defender that he can’t guard mobile perimeter players. However, he’s also a poor rebounder — so, yeah, that’s not the best combination.
Offensively, Jackson had more than three times as many turnovers as assists. Yes, you read that right. Jackson doesn’t like to pass and he’s a bad passer when he’s forced to give it up. He also fired a gaggle of bad shots, as evidenced by his 38.4% field goal percentage.
If we’re being honest, Jackson doesn’t look like a Spurs-esque prospect. He’s special when it comes to creating scoring opportunities for someone his size — but he doesn’t do anything else at a decent level. To make matters worse, there were some character red flags during his freshman season at South Carolina (complaining about coaches, social media rants, etc.). Then again, the Spurs have really valued youth in recent drafts (See: Primo, Joshua) so I can’t completely discount the possibility of the Spurs drafting Jackson.
The Big Projects
Clowney is an 18-year-old who will likely be a first round pick. However, there’s an outside chance he can be one of the free-fallers the Spurs will need to make a decision about.
Playing his freshman season at Alabama, Clowney averaged 9.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game along with 0.9 blocks and 0.8 steals. A big man who stretches to 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, he’s a really good finisher at the rim due to a mixture of athleticism and nimbleness. Intriguingly, Clowney doesn’t hesitate to launch three-pointers; he shot more than three triples per game. While he hit only 28.3% of his shots from deep, his form looks really workable for an 18-year-old big.
Defensively, Clowney is attentive. He’s a bit stiff in his movements and needs to add strength to his lower half, so right now he’ll have issues both in the paint and out on the perimeter. But looking at his long-term upside, Clowney projects to be a quality rim protector who will be able to switch off onto smaller players when that’s needed.
At the end of the day, I don’t think Clowney has a notably high ceiling. That said, a big who finishes well at the basket, shoots threes and can hold his own in a variety of defensive schemes has quite a bit of value. For as young as Clowney is right now, it appears as if he has a direct path to an NBA career — and there aren’t many second round picks you can say that about.
One thing that can’t be ignored, though, is the fact that Clowney was a freshman at Alabama. Like it or not, the Spurs are still trying to distance themselves from the Joshua Primo disaster. Primo played his only college season at Alabama. The same holds true for Brandon Miller, who is dealing with his own off-court issues. San Antonio may decide to avoid all Alabama players for the time being.
Nnaji didn’t touch a basketball until he was 12 years old but is now a possible first round pick at age 18. At 7-foot with a 7-foot-7 wingspan and a 9-foot-4 standing reach, he can run, jump, block shots and rebound. His best characteristic, though, is his explosiveness for someone his size — it jumps off the screen when you watch him play the sport.
When it comes to technical aspects of his game, there’s not much depth to what Nnaji does right now. He doesn’t shoot. He doesn’t dribble. He doesn’t defend out on the perimeter. He’s basically a gigantic blank slate.
From San Antonio’s perspective, I don’t necessarily love or hate the fit next to Wembanyama. Nnaji needs work with developmental coaches and in the G League before it can be understood what exactly he is as a basketball player. If the Spurs just want a big, long, athletic center to put next to Wembanyama who can dunk the ball when open, Nnaji already fits that bill.
Gueye is basically a greener, older and smaller version of Nnaji. A native of Senegal, Gueye only started playing the game at age 16. Now 20, he averaged 14.3 points and 8.4 rebounds at Washington State last season as a sophomore.
Gueye is 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and a 9-foot-3 standing reach. He’s really light on his feet for someone his size. If you watch the right highlight reel, he looks like he could become a mammoth wing. However, since he lacks feel and coordination for the game, Gueye will mostly likely have to be a big in the NBA.
The intriguing thing about Gueye is his jumper actually looks pretty good, all things considered. If he keeps improving as he learns more and more about the sport, it’s not impossible that he could turn into a legit shooter. He’s also an okay-ish passer who sees the floor better than expected.
Gueye is an interesting prospect the Spurs could gamble on. However, I’d be much happier with him at 44 than 33.