At the recent NBA draft combine, one of the most discussed prospects was Caleb Houstan, a player who didn’t even attend the event. Regarded as a possible second round pick, Houstan’s curious decision to completely skip the combine sent the draft rumor mill into overdrive. Most NBA personnel at the combine were of the opinion that Houstan must have received a draft promise.
Initially, fingers were pointed at the Oklahoma City Thunder, owners of four picks in the 2022 NBA Draft: 2, 12, 30 and 34. However, through words and actions, the Thunder were able to convince most insiders that they didn’t make a promise to Houstan. With the Thunder out of the crosshairs, the most prominent Houstan rumors involved the San Antonio Spurs. Like Oklahoma City, San Antonio also has four picks (9, 20, 25 and 38).
Earlier today, Jonathan Givony of ESPN put that behind the scenes talk into print by sending Houstan to the Spurs in his latest mock draft. Givony has the San Antonio Spurs drafting Houstan with the 25th overall selection.
From Caleb Houstan’s Perspective, Would This Promise Make Sense?
Absolutely. Houstan was a highly-touted prospect coming out of high school but he really struggled as a freshman at Michigan. It was expected that he’d go back to school in hopes of improving his stock for next year’s draft. After Houstan declared for the 2022 draft, most pundits believed that he’d end up pulling out of the draft and going back to Michigan.
At the beginning of the draft process, Houstan was expected to be a late second round pick. If he did well at the combine, scouts projected that he possibly could move up to the top half of the second round. Thus, if the Spurs offered Houstan a draft promise with their 25th pick, it’d be a no-brainer for him to accept that promise and shut down all of his pre-draft workouts.
Do the Spurs Have a History of Making Draft Promises?
Yes, the Spurs have made draft promises in the past. Their most famous one involved Nicolas Batum in the 2008 draft. The Spurs promised Batum that he’d be their pick at 26. Since Batum was close friends with Tony Parker, he eagerly accepted and stopped working out for other teams. In fact, rival teams believe the Spurs were the source of a draft day rumor that Batum had failed a physical due to a heart defect.
Unfortunately, the Portland Trail Blazers caught wind of San Antonio’s promise and traded for the 25th pick and selected Batum. The Spurs ended up taking George Hill at 26 instead.
A more recent example took place in the 2019 draft. According to multiple sources, the Spurs made a draft promise to Jordan Poole at 29. Again, San Antonio’s promise became public knowledge throughout the league. Knowing of San Antonio’s interest in him, the Warriors scooped up Poole at 28. As it turned out, San Antonio’s consolation prize of Keldon Johnson at 29 has worked out well.
What Could the Spurs See in Caleb Houstan?
Houstan’s story is very similar to Joshua Primo’s story heading into the 2021 draft. Like Primo, Houstan is a Canadian who went to high school in the United States. Prior to college, both Primo and Houstan showed flashes of potential as playmakers with the ball in their hands. In college, they both saw their production dip after being relegated to spot-up shooting duty.
Primo caught San Antonio’s attention during a Basketball Without Borders event. It’s possible that Houstan caught San Antonio’s attention during the U19 World Cup that took place in July of 2021. On a stacked roster, he was Canada’s best player and authored numerous clutch plays to lead his team to a third place finish. In seven outings, Houstan averaged 17.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.3 steals in 31.7 minutes per game.
Houstan even outplayed teammate Bennedict Mathurin, who is a surefire lottery pick and someone who the Spurs may be targeting at 9. During that tournament, Mathurin averaged 16.1 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 28.2 minutes per game.
After that U19 World Cup performance, many scouts saw Houstan as a future top five pick in the NBA. Listed at 6-foot-8, Houstan looked like a sweet shooting small forward with an advanced feel for the game. He could handle the ball, make smart passes and was a timely help defender. However, Houstan’s one-and-done lottery hopes were dashed after an extremely underwhelming season at Michigan.
Would Caleb Houston Be a Good Pick at 25?
No, I couldn’t classify Houstan at 25 as a good pick. I had him 52 in the latest Spurs Big Board. I liked Houstan coming into the season but he was so bad at Michigan that it’s difficult to make the case that he should be picked at the top of the second round — much less the end of the first round.
As a freshman, Houstan averaged 10.1 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.4 assists, while shooting 38.4% from the field, 35.5% on three-pointers and 78.3% at the line. He hit only 42.6% of his two-pointers, averaged more turnovers than assists, and he tallied steals and blocks at an anemic level.
Houstan’s film is even less flattering than those numbers. He has slow feet, doesn’t explode off the ground and avoids contact in the paint. Due to his physical limitations, his one-on-one defense was really poor. He’s such a non-athlete that he has a steep uphill climb to carve out a career in the NBA.
Since the Spurs have four picks, I could understand using one of the picks on a draft promise. In theory, that could help them narrow their focus and also potentially lock down a prospect who could have helped himself throughout the pre-draft process. That said, I don’t think Houstan showed enough at Michigan to warrant a first round promise.
If the Spurs promised Houstan at 38 by dangling a three-year guaranteed deal, I’d be fine with that. The second round is always a crapshoot so drafting a 6-foot-8 prospect with a history of high-level production is as good of a bet as any.
Caleb Houstan Draft Promise: The Conclusion
My guess is that the Spurs didn’t promise Houstan at 25, despite what league insiders believe. It’s possible given San Antonio’s collection of draft picks and history of promises … but I think it’d be too much of a reach.
The similarities to Primo makes me wonder, though. The Spurs could bet that this teenager (Houstan turned 19 in January) will flourish once the ball is put back in his hands — the same bet they made with Primo. Additionally, Houstan’s shooting form is picture-perfect, so they may believe that his jumper will come around.
In high school, Houstan shot better than 40% from three-point range. But since then, he has struggled from deep. Even in the U19 World Cup, he hit only 19% of his three-pointers despite all of his other success.
We’ll have a better idea regarding Houstan’s future soon, as he has until June 1st at midnight to pull his name from the draft and return to Michigan for his sophomore season. If he keeps his name in the draft, expect to hear Houstan’s name connected to the Spurs all the way up until draft day.