The San Antonio Spurs enter the 2021 NBA Draft with the 12th pick and the 41st pick. While there are whispers of the Spurs trying to move higher in the draft or add another pick, history tells us San Antonio is most likely to stand pat.
For this Big Board, I’ve ranked the top 60 prospects looking at the draft from the Spurs’ perspective. For the most part, I believe the franchise should approach the 2021 draft with the idea of drafting the best player available. It’s too early to label any of the young players as pieces that need to be built around. At this point in time, the Spurs just need to accumulate as much talent as possible. However, there are a few considerations that need to be taken into account.
First, San Antonio is known to value character in the draft, so that is factored into this ranking. Second, the ability to shoot a basketball isn’t quite a prerequisite — but it’s unquestionably important. Adding another non-shooter to the wouldn’t be catastrophic but it would make the spacing even more claustrophobic than it already is for this shooting-challenged squad. Third, due to the composition of the roster, a tilt away from small guards who project to be bench players and toward bigger players with upside is only logical.
While it’s difficult to ever guess what the Spurs will do on draft day, they haven’t made any truly shocking picks in recent years. Last year, they drafted Devin Vassell 11th (he was 10th on my Big Board) and Tre Jones 41st (he was 35th on my Big Board). The previous season, they picked Luka Samanic 19th (he was 18th on my Big Board) and Keldon Johnson 29th (he was 23rd on my Big Board).
Last season, I thought there were 23 players the Spurs could justifiably select with the 11th pick. This season, I think only the first 20 players on this Big Board should be in the running to be selected with their 12th overall selection. But, honestly, only the first 18 names have a compelling case.
1. Cade Cunningham
If the Spurs could pick any player in this draft, the clear choice would be Cade Cunningham. He’s a 6-foot-8 playmaker with all the markings of a franchise player. He has elite upside as a scorer, shooter, passer and defender.
2. Jalen Suggs
Arguably the most Spurs-like player in the draft, Jalen Suggs is the likeliest target if the Spurs decide to aggressively move into the top five. The 6-foot-4 guard has the tangibles and intangibles to be a foundational piece for a winning franchise. He’s a smart, aggressive and fearless creator who plays a winning brand of basketball.
3. Evan Mobley
Evan Mobley is a 7-foot big man who is oozing with talent and can impact the game in a myriad of ways. Extremely mobile, Mobley has a chance to become a top-tier defender both in and out of the paint. Offensively, he has an impressive toolset. He has really reliable hands, nimble feet and he reads defenses well. His ceiling as a scorer and passer is high.
4. Jalen Green
Although fourth on this Big Board, Jalen Green could very well be a top two draft pick — and deservedly so. He’s uber athletic and his potential as a high-volume scorer is enticing. At 6-foot-6, Green should quickly become a player capable of scoring 20 points per game. Even though he’s only 19, he could have the ability to be a team’s number on scoring option as a rookie.
5. Jonathan Kuminga
While Jonathan Kuminga appears to be sliding out of the top five for most NBA teams, his upside is too high for the Spurs to ignore. He’s an electric, fluid athlete at 6-foot-8 who moves with the coordination and power of a superstar. Basketball-wise, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. Right now he’s an inconsistent shooter and a poor defender. But if he lands in the right program and is willing to put in the work, Kuminga could become one of the best two or three players in this draft.
6. Franz Wagner
7. Moses Moody
The talent level drops quite a bit after the top five players. That said, either Franz Wagner or Moses Moody would be a strong pick for the Spurs at 12. Wagner is a 6-foot-9 do-it-all forward who plays great team defense, passes the ball well and processes the games at lightning speed. Moody is a 6-foot-6 wing with a 7-foot-1 wingspan who can shoot the ball, draw fouls and defend. Neither player has much star potential but both Wagner and Moody have clear paths to becoming high-end role players.
8. Scottie Barnes
Scottie Barnes has been one of the big winners of the pre-draft process and is now a virtual lock to be drafted in the top six. From San Antonio’s perspective, though, this is about as high as he can rise. Barnes is a big wing who brings defense, passing and effort to the table. He’s someone you want to add to a team with a superstar centerpiece and plenty of shooting. On the Spurs, his potentially severe offensive shortcomings — including a wonky jumper — would be magnified.
9. James Bouknight
10. Jalen Johnson
On sheer talent and potential upside, James Bouknight and Jalen Johnson are captivating prospects. Bouknight is a shifty natural-born scorer who has authored jaw-dropping shooting displays during 1-on-0 workouts in recent weeks. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard could quickly develop into a lethal scoring threat. Johnson is a 6-foot-9 forward with fantastic body control, impressive court vision and a rare amount of explosiveness for his size.
Unfortunately, both Bouknight and Johnson have off-court issues that will likely cause the Spurs to remove them from consideration in this draft. Bouknight had a run in with the law as a college student, while Johnson quit during his freshman season at Duke after he got benched and also hopped around a lot during his high school career.
11. Josh Giddey
12. Alperen Sengun
Josh Giddey and Alperen Sengun have a lot of question marks as prospects but they are both talented enough to easily justify drafting at 12. Giddey is a 6-foot-8 playmaker with an advanced feel for the game, special court vision and a palpable amount of toughness. The 18-year-old Australian needs time to develop but could be something special down the line. Sengun is a historically productive 6-foot-10 big man who is beastly in the paint with burgeoning skills in almost every area.
The questions for Giddey revolve around whether he can shoot it straight enough and whether he’s a good enough athlete. For Sengun, he too has shooting-related question marks but the main thing that stops him from being a sure-fire top ten pick is his fit defensively in today’s NBA. Right now, it appears the native of Turkey could be too small to be a center and not fleet enough to defend modern power forwards. These questions could be enough for the Spurs to opt for a safer selection — but, then again, Giddey and Sengun have so much more upside than the rest of the field that they’ll be difficult to pass over.
13. Chris Duarte
14. Jared Butler
If the Spurs want a plug-and-play rookie who can help right away, Chris Duarte or Jared Butler would be able to do just that. Duarte is a very good basketball player in just about every phase of the game. He’s a 6-foot-6 wing who can really shoot the ball. Additionally, his passing, driving and defense all appear to be NBA-ready. Butler is a 6-foot-3 combo guard who’s a great shooter, a heady passer and an active defender.
The one problem with Duarte is that he’s a fossil compared to other prospects. You just don’t see 24-year-olds get taken in the lottery anymore. Then again, if the Spurs believe he can make a positive impact on Day 1, picking him instead of a low-floor/high-ceiling prospect could make enough sense to pull the trigger at 12. Butler is only 20 but he has a heart condition that caused the NBA to take a closer look before giving him the green light to commence his career. Though he was ultimately cleared to play in the league, the Spurs will obviously need to consult their medical staff before spending a lottery pick on him.
15. Corey Kispert
16. Trey Murphy III
Anyone who has watched the Spurs in recent years quickly realizes the team could use more shooters. Corey Kispert and Trey Murphy III are hired guns with just enough all-around talent to justify taking in the lottery. Kispert is a sturdy 6-foot-7 wing with a quick release who moves very well without the ball. He’s also a deceptively strong finisher at the rim. Murphy is a 6-foot-9 small forward who not only is a deadeye shooter (he slashed 50/40/90 at Virginia), he has genuine defensive potential.
Kispert is older (22) and a B-level athlete, so that has to be taken into consideration. Murphy is a good athlete but there aren’t many layers to his game. He’s someone who can knock down open shots and defend … and that’s about the extent of it.
17. Ziaire Williams
18. Keon Johnson
If the Spurs want to roll the dice, Ziaire Williams and Keon Johnson could be intriguing targets. Williams had a terrible freshman year but he was a big-time recruit out of high school. He’s 6-foot-10 with legitimate perimeter skills. It can’t be overstated how bad he was in college but he has the tools to be a valuable scorer and creator in the NBA if the team that drafts him gets lucky.
Johnson, on the other hand, is a shade under 6-foot-5 and doesn’t have much perimeter skill at all at this point. In fact, he’s basically a 6-foot-5, 185-pound power forward right now. But he’s such an awesome athlete that he could become something much more. He not only can jump out of the gym, he jumps with such brute strength that he’d be tough to stop if he learned how to play the game. As it is, he competes with vigor and is already a quality defender.
19. Usman Garuba
20. Kai Jones
Usman Garuba is the best defender in the draft. His instincts are amazing and he’s as technically sound on that end as I’ve ever seen from a big man prospect. He can guard from beyond the three-point line to under the basket without skipping a beat. Unfortunately, the 6-foot-8 Spaniard is so robotic offensively that I struggle to picture how he’d survive in the NBA. He’s an improving shooter but, as it stands, he has a lot of work to do to even be good enough to be a fifth option. On these Spurs, he’d be a highly questionable way to use a lottery pick.
Kai Jones would be an even iffier selection. If you watch the right highlight reel, the 6-foot-11 big man may look part Giannis Antetokounmpo and part David Robinson. But if you do any sort of deeper dive, you see that Jones needs a whole lot of work. His feel for the game is non-existent and he does nothing at an NBA level other than run and jump. There’s a chance that Jones is a diamond in the rough who could blossom into a game-breaking, futuristic center — but he’d be an extremely risky pick.
21. Cameron Thomas
22. Tre Mann
Cameron Thomas and Tre Mann are exciting offensive prospects. Thomas has been scoring savant at every stop in his basketball life. He’s the all-time leading scorer at Oak Hill Academy, the high school program with notable alumni including Keldon Johnson, Stephen Jackson, Rod Strickland, Carmelo Anthony and Jerry Stackhouse. As a freshman, he poured in 23 points per game at LSU. That said, Thomas is undersized for a shooting guard and does nothing else but score. His passing and defense are comically poor.
Mann is an imaginative ball-handler whose special skill is creating scoring opportunities for himself. In a league that is increasingly offense oriented, Mann’s ability to go one-on-one and make something out of nothing could hold a lot of value.
23. Quentin Grimes
24. Bones Hyland
In the scrimmages at the draft combine, Quentin Grimes and Bones Hyland were the two standouts. Grimes is a high-volume three-point shooter who plays with an ample amount of ruggedness. At 6-foot-5, he’s short for a wing but he may be able to compensate with grit. Hyland has unlimited range and can connect off the catch and off the dribble. He’s small (6-foot-4 and 170 pounds soaking wet) but he’s so fearless that he can finish around the rim efficiently.
25. Joshua Primo
26. Jaden Springer
Today, neither Joshua Primo nor Jaden Springer are much to write home about. But both players show enough promise that they could be worth a gamble. Primo, 18, is the youngest player in the draft. The 6-foot-5 guard is a high-character kid who has shown flashes as a shooter and playmaker. Springer, also 18 but an inch shorter than Primo, is a really good athlete, a competitive defender and has exhibited significant touch on offense.
27. Isaiah Jackson
28. Miles McBride
29. Davion Mitchell
Isaiah Jackson, Miles McBride and Davion Mitchell are likely to be drafted in the first round. Jackson and Mitchell could even be drafted in the lottery. While I see the appeal, none of these three players make much sense for the Spurs. Jackson is a rim-running center who can block shots and rebound at a high rate but there’s not much depth to his game beyond that. McBride is skilled across the board but at 6-foot-2 without standout talents, he’s likely a backup point guard. Similarly, Mitchell is a bulldog defender who can help early in his career — but will probably ultimately top out as a backup point guard.
30. Josh Christopher
31. B.J. Boston
Josh Christopher and B.J. Boston both had very difficult freshman seasons. But based on what they showed in high school and a few sporadic glimpses in college, they could still pan out as valuable scoring wings.
32. Isaiah Todd
33. JT Thor
Isaiah Todd played in the G League last season and, at 6-foot-10, his shooting stroke was sweet enough to catch the attention of a shooting-starved franchise. JT Thor is a raw 6-foot-9 athlete who could theoretically grow into a defensive stopper and a competent offensive participant.
34. David Johnson
35. Sharife Cooper
David Johnson is 6-foot-5 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan. He’s a good defender who can pass and hit open shots. He could develop into a jumbo point guard down the line. Speaking of point guards, Sharife Cooper could be the best passer in the draft. He’s also a plus playmaker and ball-handler. Sadly, the 6-foot-1 lead guard is a poor shooter and defender — and there’s not much hope that he’ll improve in either area.
36. Kessler Edwards
37. Joe Wieskamp
38. Ayo Dosunmu
Kessler Edwards has a funky shot and he’s a little bit stiff as an athlete but he was highly productive at the college level. At 6-foot-8, he has a chance to be an above average shooter and defender. Joe Wieskamp will be able to shoot it with precision. The 6-foot-7 sniper is a good athlete but he has yet to prove he has the toughness to compete at a high level. Ayo Dosunmu was a really good college basketball player and he’s reportedly an even better person — but the 6-foot-5 guard doesn’t have any skills that jump off the page.
39. Rokas Jokubaitis
40. Jason Preston
Two more draftable point guards, Rokas Jokubaitis is reminiscent of Beno Udrih as a draft prospect, while Jason Preston is similar to Derrick White (including the late growth spurt) but with subpar athleticism.
41. AJ Lawson
42. Aaron Wiggins
Heading into the draft process, it didn’t look like AJ Lawson or Aaron Wiggins would get drafted. However, both players have scratched and clawed their way through lower level camps and now have momentum as the draft approaches. Lawson is a very good athlete at 6-foot-7 and has shown some shooting upside. Wiggins, 6-foot-6, is decently athletic with good-enough shooting form.
43. Santi Aldama
44. Luka Garza
45. Filip Petrusev
Santi Aldama, Luka Garza and Filip Petrusev are perimeter oriented bigs who were dominant last season. Aldama destroyed the Patriot League and has potential as a scorer, rebounder and playmaker. He needs to get stronger but the talent is there. Garza was the national player of the year at Iowa. He’s a scoring machine with a feathery touch. Unfortunately, he’s a poor athlete who will have trouble surviving defensively. Petrusev played well at Gonzaga and then played even better in Serbia. Like Garza, athleticism concerns hurt his stock.
46. Neemias Queta
47. Day’Ron Sharpe
48. Jericho Sims
If the Spurs want an interior oriented center, Neemias Queta, Day’Ron Sharpe and Jericho Sims are worth considering. Queta is a seven-footer with a 7-foot-4 wingspan. He defends the rim really well and he’s highly productive on offense — both scoring-wise and passing-wise. Can he move his feet well enough to survive in today’s NBA? That’s the question. Day’Ron Sharpe plays hard, has a good feel for the game and can pass the ball but doesn’t have much scoring potential and probably won’t become a quality rim protector. Jericho Sims doesn’t have any basketball skills but he’s a huge human being who can run so fast and jump so high that it wouldn’t take much competence for him to carve out a professional career.
49. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl
50. Austin Reaves
51. Herb Jones
52. Aaron Henry
Other than when it comes to shooting the basketball, this foursome can really play. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl has limited length but he’s a smart big man who can do all the little things. Austin Reaves is a confident, creative scorer. Herb Jones is a really good defender and an attentive passer. Aaron Henry is also a really good defender and has deft touch when attacking the paint. If any of these guys acquired a jumper, they’d have a solid chance of sticking.
53. Greg Brown
54. Joel Ayayi
55. Vrenz Bleijenbergh
Greg Brown might be the best athlete in the draft this side of Keon Johnson but he’s so clueless about how to play the sport that he’ll need two or three years of training before he’s even ready to sniff an NBA court. Joel Ayayi was a forgotten cog in Gonzaga’s wheel but he could blossom when forced to venture out on his own. Vrenz Bleijenbergh is a self-proclaimed 6-foot-11 guard with enough perimeter potential to keep draft pundits up at night fantasizing about what he could possibly develop into.
56. Isaiah Livers
57. Aamir Simms
58. Moses Wright
These three seniors could be second round targets for the Spurs. Isaiah Livers is 6-foot-7, a good athlete and can shoot it straight. That’s enough to turn heads in the second round. Aamir Simms is a 6-foot-8 big man who can shoot, pass and bang in the paint. He’s long but is he mobile enough to defend at the NBA level? Moses Wright has continuously improved since high school but he’s a big who needs to get stronger and improve his fundamentals.
59. Juhann Begarin
60. Charles Bassey
Juhann Begarin, from Guadeloupe by way of France, and Charles Bassey, once a highly-touted high school hooper in San Antonio, are physical specimens with plus athleticism. They both need a lot of polishing and developmental work but their upside is tantalizing enough to get their name called during the 2021 NBA Draft.