With their first lottery selection since picking Tim Duncan in 1997, the San Antonio Spurs chose Florida State’s Devin Vassell 11th in the 2020 NBA Draft. The Silver and Black followed up that choice by going with Tre Jones from Duke with the 41st overall pick.
Why the Spurs Drafted Devin Vassell
On my first Big Board, I had Vassell 7th overall. On the final Big Board, I had him 10th. The only player ranked higher than him when it came San Antonio’s turn to pick was Tyrese Haliburton. Comparing Vassell to Haliburton, I think they have similar upside. Haliburton might have a slightly higher median outcome but Vassell is an easier fit on the current roster and he has a higher floor — so I didn’t have an issue with the pick at all. In fact, I really like the selection of Vassell.
What stands out the most is his help defense. Vassell is truly an elite help defender. No other player in the draft was really even close to him in this category. He reads offenses extremely fast, he communicates very well, he’s seemingly always in the right position, he makes difficult rotations look easy, and he has the length and the quick twitch reaction speed to take advantage of being in the right place.
On the ball, Vassell isn’t as otherworldly as he is off the ball but he’s still stout. He’s disciplined, rarely commits dumb fouls, understands angles well and is usually able to stay in front of his man. He also utilizes his quick hands to rack up steals and he consistently challenges shots really well.
Offensively, Vassell is mostly a work in progress. The good news is that he shot better than 40% from three-point range both years at Florida State. He has a high, slow release that Chip Engelland will probably look to tweak but I don’t see it being too much of an issue in the NBA. It’s not the prettiest looking shot but his release point being so high will probably work to his advantage, if anything.
But the most intriguing aspect of all is Vassell’s underrated upside potential on offense. Florida State shared the ball extremely well and played an unselfish brand of basketball. No player was ever really the focal point. (That’s why no scout really thought it was a big deal that Patrick Williams, who was selected fourth overall by the Chicago Bulls, averaged less than ten points per game. Florida State isn’t comparable to any other team, in this regard.) But if you watched enough tape on Vassell, you saw that there were glimpses of him being more than just a 3-and-D guy.
Sure, most likely Vassell ends up being a 3-and-D type player. But there was also evidence that he could create off the bounce at a surprisingly high level. He did almost none of that as a freshman and then suddenly started creating a lot more as a sophomore. Vassell was also a quickly improving passer and he saw the court better and better as his college career went along. In the paint, he hasn’t yet learned how to draw fouls but he’s a deceptively powerful finisher who doesn’t hesitate to dunk in traffic. His ability to handle the ball is also rudimentary at this point but that too showed signs of improving in his sophomore campaign.
If Vassell’s growth continues on the offensive end, there’s an avenue for him to become a high-quality starter in the NBA. It’s more likely that he ends up being a one-dimensional offensive player but there’s an exciting amount of hope that he’ll be more than a spot-up shooter.
Add together his great help defense, his strong individual defense, his three-point shooting that should translate and that chance that he’s more than meets the eye on offense and that makes him well worth the 11th pick in the draft.
Why the Spurs Picked Tre Jones
To say this draft was heavy on point guards is an understatement. By my count, about one-third of the players drafted will end up playing primarily at the point guard position.
Given that insane amount of depth at the position, it was always obvious that a handful of solid point guard prospects would drop to the second round. When it came San Antonio’s time to pick at 41, they decided to take one of those point guards by selecting Jones. I had Jones 35 on my Big Board so, like Vassell, this pick can’t exactly be classified as a surprise.
Jones was actually quite a bit different than other point guards in the draft, particularly those drafted in the second round. First of all, he’s not a combo guard at all. Even though he’s listed at 6-foot-3, he’s strictly a point guard. Secondly, Jones is a readymade product. You know exactly what he is — there’s no guesswork involved.
As I wrote, Jones was born to be a backup point guard. I’m confident that’s what his future has in store. While relegating Jones to a spot on the bench for his whole career might sound harsh, it’s really not. The vast majority of second round picks wash out of the league in a hurry. Getting a player in the second round who goes on to have a legitimate NBA career is a win — and I think Jones will have a legitimate NBA career. He has a relatively low ceiling, yes, but that’s why he slipped to the second round.
What will ultimately hold Jones back? He’s a poor finisher at this stage of his career. He’s not a proven three-point threat. While he can run an offense, he doesn’t have notable court vision and the timing of his passes is only adequate. He’ll unlikely be an above average athlete in the NBA.
That said, Jones is a tenacious defender who never quits on that end of the court. He was one of the best defenders in the ACC. Both team-wise and individually, he held up extremely well. In the NBA, he doesn’t have the physical tools to be a lockdown defender but he could clearly become one of the better defensive backup point guards in the league.
On the other side of the court, Jones understands how to run an offense. He gets his teams into their sets quickly. His ball-handling is a plus and he doesn’t make many mistakes. And while he’s not a gifted scorer, he has shown enough that it’s likely he won’t be too much of a liability in that department.
Furthermore, Jones is a natural-born leader and he has the type of character that you never have to worry about him failing to put in the work. Coach K consistently raved about his intangibles and tells anyone willing to listen that he believes Jones will have a successful NBA career. When the Spurs called Coach K, they were undoubtedly met with glowing feedback. (And don’t overlook the connection to David Robinson. His son, Justin, was on Duke and was reportedly close to Jones. That had to add another layer of confidence.)
All in all, Jones wasn’t a flashy pick but I really do think the Spurs landed an actual NBA player in the second round … and that’s not something that happens too often.