With the 12th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, it’s difficult — as it always is — to get a read on what the San Antonio Spurs plan to do. The Spurs have been connected in one way or another to just about every prospect in their draft range — whether it be a confirmed workout or speculation from a plugged-in draft pundit.
The Spurs are as tight-lipped as ever this year so getting any inside information regarding who they prefer is an impossible task. But by juggling clues from their draft history, how players fit on the roster now and going forward, and the likelihood a prospect will still be available, I’ve arrived at the ten players who I think are most likely to be picked by the Spurs with their first round pick and I put them in order from most likely to least likely.
1. Corey Kispert
Corey Kispert is far from the most exciting player on the board. The 22-year-old is a known quantity at this point in his basketball career and his upside is limited. That said, he’s such a strong fit on the Spurs that it’s going to be difficult for San Antonio to pass on him. Add in the fact that it appears that Kispert will more likely than not be available at number 12 and I believe he is the odds-on favorite to be drafted by the Silver and Black in the first round.
The main reason why he’s such a no-brainer of a fit is his shooting ability. Kispert shot 52.9% from the floor, 44.0% from three-point range and 87.8% from the charity stripe while averaging 18.6 points per game for Gonzaga. That level of marksmanship will get him on the court in San Antonio early and often.
But it’s more than just the fact that Kispert is a shooter — it’s how he gets his shots. He’s a shooter that generates looks with smart, relentless movement. The Spurs have lacked movement shooters in recent years and with Patty Mills a free agent, that need could become even more urgent than it already is if Mills leaves. If his translation to the NBA goes well, Kispert could have a ton of plays drawn up for him as a rookie — just like other movement shooters in recent years such as Mills and Marco Belinelli.
Beyond his shooting, Kispert has other attributes that will appeal to the Spurs. He’s a solidly built 6-foot-7 wing who weighed right around 225 pounds at the combine. While he struggles a bit to move his feet laterally, he’s actually a quality athlete when it comes to running and jumping. He’s quicker, more explosive and stronger than your typical shooting specialist.
Given Kispert’s build, it’s not out of the question that he could play as a combo forward, especially with the NBA getting smaller and smaller. That versatility added to his shooting stroke makes him a fit no matter how free agency pans out for the Spurs.
That said, there are definitely some risks with picking Kispert in the lottery. The recent history of drafting 22-year-old and older prospects in the lottery is unsightly, to put it kindly. That aforementioned lack of lateral dexterity will limit him defensively and could even make him a permanent liability if it doesn’t improve. Shooting-wise, Kispert’s release point is lower than preferred and he tends to start hesitating if he hits a cold spell.
Those negatives are enough to stop me from calling him a safe pick, as there are multiple ways he could end up being a disappointment. But if the Spurs are confident in his tools, Kispert is regarded as an extremely high character prospect who works tirelessly and is completely team-centric, so he’s exactly the type of guy San Antonio wants to draft. That total package would be really tempting at 12.
2. Kai Jones
As stated in my 2021 Spurs Big Board, I think drafting Kai Jones would be extremely risky. This is a player who looks like a jaw-dropping phenom if you just watch his highlights — but who has never played quality basketball at any level.
Even though Jones averaged fewer than 23 minutes per game last season at Texas, even his per-minute numbers were weak. He’s a callus away from being a seven-footer, yet his rebounding rate and shot-blocking rate were pedestrian. He fouled a lot, had more than double as many turnovers as assists and routinely made poor decisions on both ends of the court.
So, why do I think the Spurs might draft Jones? First of all, there are rumblings that the Spurs have gone out of their way to scout him as much as possible the last two seasons. COVID-19 made scouting difficult but it helped that he was down the road in Austin. Secondly, by all accounts Jones is a good kid who is willing and eager to improve — characteristics the Spurs covet in draft picks. Finally, Jones is exactly the type of cutting edge big man talent RC Buford talked about when the team drafted Luka Samanic.
For all of Jones’ faults, he’s 6-foot-11-plus with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and he moves like a gazelle. The flashes he has shown in terms of defending out on the court are inarguably exciting. He also hit 38.2% of his three-point attempts and you can find tape of him exhibiting real ball-handling ability.
I mean, I get the hype. You see this imposing big man pump fake a three-pointer, take one giant yet graceful Euro-step and lay it in … and it’s difficult to keep your jaw off of the floor. But, man, is he a gamble. Samanic was a similar high-risk, high-reward selection — but he was picked 19th and there was actual evidence of him knowing how to play basketball, including at a scrimmage during the combine where he was the best player on the floor. Jones would be an even more death-defying leap of faith. But if the Spurs focus on that possibly sky-high outcome, he could very well be their selection.
3. Ziaire Williams
The Spurs are no strangers to look past a poor freshman season to take a player with a history of being a top-tier prospect. Dejounte Murray wasn’t good as a freshman, neither was Cory Joseph. Heck, Samanic wasn’t even good in the Slovenian league before San Antonio picked him in the first round. If the Spurs do similar squinting when it comes to Ziaire Williams, he could be the next player in that vein that the Spurs select.
To cut to the chase, Williams was horrendous during his 20 games at Stanford. As the season went along, he got worse and worse. He finished the season shooting 37.4% from the field and 29.1% from three-point territory while averaging 10.7 points in 27.9 minutes per game. For a recruit who was ranked sixth in the nation coming out of high school, the season couldn’t have gone much worse.
But when you start peeling away the layers of what went wrong at Stanford, Williams’ struggles look more understandable. He basically had to stay out on the road the entire season due to rigid COVID-19 restrictions at Stanford and he also dealt with a death in the family. His practice time was limited and the talent around him was mediocre.
When you look at the film, most of it is ugly. But, like Jones, there are glimpses of magic. Williams is 6-foot-10 with advanced ball-handling skills and an ability to create. His passing as a freshman was a plus, despite the general despair. His footwork getting to his jumper is smooth. Any flaws in his shooting routine appear to be fixable. Williams really had a hard time against any type of physicality, but the 19-year-old still has plenty of time to add muscle to his 188-pound frame.
The quickest way to go from the treadmill to the top of the heap in today’s NBA is to find a big wing initiator who can create for himself and others. Williams has a chance — not a good chance but a chance, nonetheless — to become just that. If the Spurs want to rear back and take a home run swing at 12, going with Williams is a possibility.
4. Moses Moody
There’s a lot to like about Moses Moody. Bearing arms that stretch for days, he’s 6-foot-6 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan to go along with big hands. As a freshman at Arkansas, he flashed a silky shooting stroke, a talent for drawing fouls and an applaudable amount of determination on the defensive end. He was also a low-mistake player who paid attention to the small details in his job description. As the cherry on top, he’s regarded as a beloved teammate who comes from a great family.
When it comes to checking boxes, Moody has Spurs pick written all over him. He’s mature for his age and his approach to the game is beyond reproach. Adding him to the stable of youngsters as another 3-and-D prospect with potential upside, he makes a lot of sense.
What could cause the Spurs to pass on Moody? The most valid concern is he’s too much like Devin Vassell. Admittedly, having Vassell and Moody might be too much overlap. Vassell is the better defensive prospect and Moody is the better offensive prospect — but they’re cut from the same cloth. Having them compete against each other could be harmful to both of their careers.
“We have too many long-armed defenders who can space the court with shooting,” said no NBA coach ever. Especially these days, that’s the exact type of player you want to fill your roster with — so fears of duplication could very well be overblown.
I’m somewhat confident that the Spurs would pick Moody if he’s still on the board. Unfortunately, he very well could be off the board, as he could go as high as No. 7 to the Golden State Warriors.
5. Franz Wagner
While Wagner was ahead of Moody on my Big Board, I think he’s actually less likely to be drafted by the Spurs. Firstly, he might be even more likely to be gone when it comes time for the Spurs to make their selection. But, also, I’m not 100% convinced that he’s a player the Spurs will prioritize in this draft.
Wagner is a 6-foot-9 forward who does a little bit of everything. Defensively, he’s rock solid. He should be a good individual defender and an even better team defender. He’s always a step ahead on defense, which allows him to rack up rebounds, steals and blocks in bunches. Offensively, he has good touch, makes smart decisions, passes it well and is simply one of those guys who can apply grease when an offense gets creaky.
But … is he really a lottery talent? He did well in Germany and at Michigan due to his advanced basketball IQ and his guile. When those advantages diminish in the NBA, does he have the athleticism, fortitude and toughness to continue to thrive? I think he does — but that’s a valid question. The Spurs could very well want a better prospect in the lottery than a guy who at best is still a role player.
6. Alperen Sengun
Alperen Sengun, or Alberto Seguin as he’ll be known to any native San Antonian, is another enigma. The national media is convinced he’s exactly the type of player the Spurs would target … but I’m far from sold on that notion. In fact, the 6-foot-10 big man is closer to what the Spurs have been actively trying to go away from.
What makes him so appealing is clear. Sengun was dominant in the Turkish basketball league this season — and the word “dominant” doesn’t even do justice to what he accomplished. At 18 years old, he averaged 19.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.3 assists in 28.3 minutes per game while shooting 64.6% from the floor and 81.2% from the foul line. That production was enough for him to coast to the league MVP award and leap into lottery discussions.
Watching him play, Sengun is a beast in the low block. He’s not only as strong as an ox, he has masterful footwork in the low post. When he gets doubled, he has the wherewithal to hit the open teammate. His ability to anticipate where rebounds are headed is special, as are his spectacular hands that catch anything in his airspace.
But — and this is an even bigger but than Wagner’s … Sengun did a vast majority of his damage via post-ups and post-ups are disappearing in the NBA. To begin last season, the Spurs went as far as to erase all the plays in their playbook that involved LaMarcus Aldridge posting up — and Aldridge is one of the most productive post-up threats of his generation.
What happens to Sengun in a world where he’s no longer a post-up player? That’s worrisome. The hope is that Sengun is so young (he just turned 19 a couple days ago) and so productive that he’ll figure it out. He’ll remain a stout offensive rebounder who will finish almost all of his touches in the paint. He can run the floor, drive the ball a little bit and his free throw percentage hints at him becoming a shooter at some point, even if he’s a career 20% three-point shooter overseas.
After Sengun adjusts offensively and learns how to be uber productive without post-ups (personally, I’m moderately confident he’ll get there), his next task is even more difficult: how to survive on defense. He’s undersized for a center and doesn’t have the vertical pop to be a rim defender. While a good athlete for his size in a lot of facets, he has slow feet — and that will hinder him when defending forwards out on the perimeter.
If you pick Sengun, you do so hoping that he becomes such an overwhelming offensive force that you can live with his porous defense. I can somewhat buy into that … but I really question whether the Spurs can. Maybe San Antonio picks him because his production is too much to ignore — but I’ll believe it when I see it.
7. Keon Johnson
The Spurs have a reputation of drafting smart, down to earth players who are fundamentally sound — but that rep isn’t totally deserved. There have been numerous times where the Spurs just pick a supreme athlete and hope the chips fall in an advantageous manner. See Luka Samanic, Lonnie Walker IV and even Livio Jean-Charles as examples. Dejounte Murray might be considered another example.
If the Spurs want an athlete, Keon Johnson would be their man. He set a combine record by posting a 48-inch vertical — and that combine athleticism translates completely to real life. He not only jumps high, he jumps with a violent amount of force and power. He’s also quick on his feet and has a strong body despite being only 6-foot-5 and 185 pounds.
Beyond his athleticism, he’s a conscientious defender who plays with a focus not seen in many 19-year-olds. Offensively, I like the elevation he gets on his jumper and his willingness to be a team player.
Why might Johnson slip out of the lottery? The main issue is he’s small for someone who only has rudimentary basketball skills. He will eventually have to be a shooting guard but right now he plays like a power forward.
8. Josh Giddey
Josh Giddey is similar to Sengun. While there are a lot of things to like about this Australian sensation, there are also a lot of things to be scared about.
The good: Giddey is a 6-foot-8 facilitator who has outstanding court vision. He finds open teammates before they’re even open. He also uses his height to find vertical passing lanes that smaller facilitators can’t even see. His height is also useful on defense where he’s already a strong rebounder who has the moxie to mix it up down low when need be.
The scary: Giddey is a subpar athlete. He’s not fast, not quick and doesn’t jump high. His shooting is also worrisome. He shot sub-30% from three and sub-70% from the line in the league down under. Moreover, his form is both slow and ugly.
The hope: Just 18 years old, Giddey has time to build upon his strengths and pave over his weaknesses. While he played point guard in Australia, he has the size to begin his career on the wing. His size also gives him multiple avenues to a successful NBA career. That said, he’ll either need to become a really good shooter or a much better athlete if he wants to stick in the Northern Hemisphere’s top basketball league.
Overall, I see Giddey as a worthwhile gamble as long as you go into the experiment knowing he’s going to be a work in progress for the better part of a decade.
9. Chris Duarte
Drafting a 24-year-old in the lottery would require chutzpah. Most franchises just wouldn’t do it; too old and it’d open the door to criticism too wide. But the Spurs have never been timid about bucking draft trends. For that reason, I wouldn’t be too blown away if San Antonio picks Chris Duarte at 12.
Sure, he’s a few weeks away from being wheeled into a nursing home but that’s just about the only downside to Duarte. If you ignore his prehistoric birth certificate, he looks like a marvelous prospect. A competitive 6-foot-6 perimeter player, he has a picture-perfect shooting stroke, enough athleticism to finish above the rim, innate passing instincts and can be relied upon to make heady decisions. He also brings that same fire to the defensive end. Add it up and Duarte is an extremely efficient player who appears to be ready to suit up and play in an NBA game beginning tomorrow. It’s even possible that he’s a starting level player right out of the chute.
He’s old but that’s primarily due to his circuitous path to becoming an NBA prospect. Duarte came to America from the Dominican Republic as a high schooler and then had to go the junior college route before ending up at Oregon. He’s one of those guys who has had to fight for every inch along the way in his basketball journey — and that tends to count for something to the Spurs.
Realistically, Duarte’s true range probably starts at around 14. But if the Spurs jump the gun to draft a 24-year-old no one thought they would draft, don’t be too surprised.
10. Jonathan Kuminga
Once upon a time, Jonathan Kuminga was regarded as a possible No. 1 overall pick. Not that long ago, he appeared to be a lock for the top five. But with each passing day, Kuminga’s stock seems to drop.
Teams are starting to wonder about his commitment to the game. When playing in the G League bubble, Kuminga was slow to pick up schemes and coaches had a difficult time keeping him tuned in. Some scouts are so worried with what they see that they believe his most likely role in the NBA is as a killer of coaches and general managers who succumb to the siren song of his potential.
Even if those worries are justified, I’d still like the Spurs to pick him if Kuminga plummets all the way to 12. Yeah, he might never amount to anything — but he has the body, athleticism and coordination of a star. He’s a 6-foot-8 wing who oozes talent from his pores. He flashes elite potential on both ends of the court. Besides, he’s only 18 years old so his immaturity shouldn’t be a deal-breaker.
I think it’s really unlikely that Kuminga falls to 12 … but if he does, I think it should be an easy selection for the Spurs.