Comprehensive Thoughts on the Spurs Two Lottery Picks in the 2024 NBA Draft

As someone who is trying to figure out what the San Antonio Spurs should do and will do in the 2024 NBA Draft, these are unnerving times. With Victor Wembanyama on board and two picks in the lottery at No. 4 and No. 8, the stakes are high. If San Antonio can hit a pair of home runs in the lottery, the reverberations could be felt for decades to come. 

Unfortunately, this draft is littered with flawed prospects. Hindsight may one day find that it’s not a bad draft but it’s certainly a very difficult one to grasp in the moment.

Zaccharie Risacher has to be the most perplexing prospect of them all. On one hand, I know the Spurs have spent a lot of time scouting and investigating him and I’ve heard nothing but positive remarks. If San Antonio had the top pick in the draft, Risacher is who I think the Spurs would select. Offensively, he’s a 6-foot-10 wing who can shoot from deep and attack in transition. Defensively, he’s attentive and it looks like he’ll be able to guard all the way out on the perimeter.

But there are enough worries regarding his candidacy that drafting Risacher will cause sleepless nights until he proves he’s not a bust hiding in plain sight. First of all, analytic models don’t like him. He grades out as a second round pick because he isn’t a playmaker on either side of the court. He’s not a ball-handler, passer or even a consistent driver. On D, there’s little tangible evidence that he’s better than average.

Secondly, his combine numbers only added to the nervousness. One scout I talked to said that his team found that the two players with most comparable measurements and athletic testing to Risacher were Steve Novak and Adam Morrison. Yes, Novak and Morrison, possibly the two least athletic perimeter players the NBA has seen in the last 30 years.

Third of all, while Risacher is regarded as a safe bet to be a better than average three-point shooter, his history paints a different picture. While he shot threes well this past season, he was previously a poor shooter from range. If he can’t shoot, his NBA career won’t last long. 

Finally, Risacher is billed as a prospect who proved his worth by being a valuable role player in the French league. That’s not exactly a well-traveled avenue for NBA prospects. Usually, top tier European prospects show star upside — even if their minutes are limited. Risacher played well in his relatively safe role but his high-end flashes were few and far between.

I see a good outcome for Risacher is him becoming a tall Danny Green. That might not sound like what you’re hoping for with the fourth overall selection in a draft — but I’d rate that as one of his better possible outcomes. 

Despite all the question marks, I’m pretty sure that Risacher will end up being No. 1 on my final Spurs Big Board. It’s definitely a hesitant No. 1 but I think he has a good enough chance to develop into a big wing who can start at small forward for the next 15 years. I trust his three-point shooting, I think he can be a good defender and I believe his team-first ways are a complementary fit next to Wembanyama. 

-I’ve been tempted to move Stephon Castle up to the top spot on the Spurs Big Board. Compared to Risacher, he’s a much better ball-handler and passer — it’s not even close. In fact, Castle would instantly be the team’s best Wembanyama passer and his ball-handling is good enough for him to possibly be the team’s next starting point guard.

Castle is clearly also a better defender than Risacher. Anyone Risacher can guard, Castle can guard him even better. Castle has also flashed more glimpses of stardom and isn’t necessarily destined to be a role player.

What keeps Castle behind Risacher is his shooting. While Risacher has shown some exciting shooting ability — specifically side-step and step-back three-pointers — Castle’s shooting is very difficult to believe in. Going back to the earliest available footage on him, teams that have scouted Castle know to play off of him and to go under screens. Castle doesn’t look comfortable shooting even if he’s wide open.

Off the dribble, Castle sometimes looks physically incapable of shooting. It’s like his form doesn’t allow him to shoot from certain angles and in certain situations.

Do the Spurs really want to travel down this path once again with a prospect who has to learn how to shoot? It’s exhausting just thinking about the gridlock caused by playing Castle next to Jeremy Sochan and/or Tre Jones.

In many ways, Castle would be the ultimate sidekick for Wembanyama. If Castle learns to shoot, he’s an absolutely perfect fit. But if he can’t shoot, I fear he’d eventually become more of a liability than an asset.

-At the other end of the spectrum is where you’ll find Reed Sheppard. It’s not hyperbolic to say that Sheppard is a top five shooting prospect of all-time. He hit better than half of his three-point attempts as a freshman at Kentucky and was almost equally as accurate when open or guarded. Any way you slice his stats, Sheppard grades out as an elite shooter.

While he doesn’t have a lot of experience playing point guard, I think it’s safe to say Sheppard could operate as a point guard on a team with Wembanyama. He can dribble okay-ish. He can read the court well and can pass the ball. At the end of the day, the accuracy and range on his jumper will be game-changing enough to camouflage any point guard related deficiencies. 

Defense is my worry with Sheppard. Yes, I know there are reasons to be optimistic about his defense. Sheppard is a great athlete. At Kentucky, his rates of steals, blocks and rebounds point to him being useful on the defensive end. But, when it comes down to it, Sheppard is shorter than 6-foot-2 barefoot, sports an abnormally stumpy standing reach and his lateral quickness is poor.

In the playoffs, teams will relentlessly target Sheppard over and over and over again. Maybe his elite anticipation skills on defense will allow him to survive — but, man, that’s a risky bet. 

The bottom line with these two is that I have Castle ahead of Sheppard because I think there’s a better chance that Castle will shoot than Sheppard will prove to be a switchable defender.  

-Part of me wonders if the Spurs are even considering Sheppard. This is a franchise that has almost never drafted for shooting. It’s also a franchise that has prioritized positional size. With San Antonio’s draft history in mind, Sheppard doesn’t fit the mold at all.

Personally, I’d be very intrigued with Sheppard if he’s still on the board at No. 4. His type of scheme-altering shooting could unlock opportunities for Wembanyama and others. Even if Sheppard’s defense never comes around, he could slide into a Patty Mills-esque super sub role. 

-It feels like a waste of brain power to spend much time pondering Alexandre Sarr. He will likely be gone before No. 4. If the Atlanta Hawks don’t pick him with the first pick, the Washington Wizards almost certainly pick him at two.

If Sarr is somehow still on the board at No. 4, he has a good chance of being San Antonio’s pick. The Spurs may prefer Risacher or Castle over Sarr — it’s difficult to say. But Sarr has the highest defensive ceiling in the class and he’s a seven-footer with perimeter skills on offense. Even if there are doubts elsewhere, it’d likely be best to just pick Sarr and sort the rest out later.

-I know that draft pundits have tried to say the Spurs could package No. 4 and No. 8 to move up in the draft but I really don’t like that idea. In a draft this flat, it makes no sense.

At No. 4, the Spurs are guaranteed at least one of Risacher, Castle, Sheppard or Sarr. I don’t see enough difference between any of those players to waste a valuable asset in order to move up. San Antonio should sit back and wait to see how it unfolds.

-With every passing day, it sounds more and more like the Spurs will be able to pick between at least two of Risacher, Castle, Sheppard and Sarr due to the rising stock of Donovan Clingan. The 7-foot-3 center out of UConn could very well go No. 1.

Clingan going in the top three would be great news for the Spurs. At this point, that looks like a 50/50 proposition.

-Could the Spurs pick Clingan? I don’t see that as a real possibility. The fit with Wembanyama just isn’t good enough and you don’t draft a backup center in the lottery in 2024.

However, as I previously reported, a well-connected Spurs source told me that the franchise would be comfortable drafting Clingan. I’m apparently not the only person this Spurs source is talking to about Clingan because ESPN’s draft guru Jonathan Givony later reported hearing the exact same thing. 

-Trudging beyond Risacher, Castle, Sheppard, Sarr and Castle, the next group of players that must be considered by the Spurs is the ragtag collection of toolsy yet underdeveloped wings: Cody Williams, Matas Buzelis, Tidjane Salaun and Ron Holland.

All four are young, have good size, boast a plethora of skills and have pathways to being very valuable starters. I’d say it’s a reasonably safe bet that one of the four players will become an All-Star level player. Which one? Hopefully the Spurs can figure that out. 

Williams is 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan. He’s longer than a day at the in-laws, he has great touch, and has exhibited promise as a ball-handler and defender. On the other hand, his body is underdeveloped, he’s a pathetic rebounder, his toughness is a question mark and he’s an unproven shooter.

Buzelis is an exciting run and jump athlete at 6-foot-10. He’s a natural-born shotblocker. There are glimpses of top-notch one-on-one playmaking. Unfortunately, Buzelis lacks any certainties. We don’t know yet if he can shoot, pass, score in isolations, defend on the perimeter or defend on the interior.

Salaun is 6-foot-10 with an enormous 9-foot-2 standing reach. To put that number in perspective, that’s a higher standing reach than Anthony Davis or Bam Adebayo. He can also shoot straight-away three-pointers, he has a massive frame and moves really well for his size. On the flipside, the Frenchman is painfully raw, somehow doesn’t block shots and has poor footwork.

Like Buzelis, Holland spent a year with the Ignite in the G League. He hustles, plays with boundless energy, maximizes his athleticism on the court and was a better playmaker than expected this past season. Regrettably, he’s a poor shooter who lacks fundamentals and can be slow to process the game.

-Could Williams, Buzelis, Salaun or Holland be San Antonio’s pick at No. 4? I really do think so. All the prospects mentioned so far are on the same tier. If the Spurs fall in love with one of these toolsy wings, I’d understand picking him fourth overall. 

I’m sure most Spurs fans would be upset if the Spurs pick someone like Salaun over someone like Sheppard but I’d trust their judgment. The hope is that the front office has been able to pinpoint a potential star. I don’t care if that player doesn’t happen to be one of the prospects anointed by draft pundits as a top player in the draft.

-With Wembanyama in the mix, there’s a chance that the Spurs could value older, ready-now prospects. In the lottery, that would be Dalton Knecht and Devin Carter

Knecht is a 23-year-old shooter who can fill it up off the catch, off the dribble, off of movement or driving to the rim. At Tennessee, he was arguably the country’s most lethal offensive weapon. At the combine, he tested out really well as an all-around athlete. 

Carter is a 22-year-old defensive dynamo who is inarguably the most athletic player in the draft. As a 6-foot-3 guard, he’s a fantastic rebounder who also tallies blocks and steals at high rates. His competitiveness and will to win also translate to the offensive end where he’s a rugged finisher and an improving outside shooter.

While both of these geriatric prospects should be in the running at No. 8, I think No. 4 is too high for either one. Picking Knecht or Carter at No. 4 would be playing things too safe. While Knecht is athletic, his lack of defensive instincts or playmaking upside limit his ceiling. Carter also has a relatively low ceiling because he lacks point guard skills and his shooting stroke could need a renovation.

Nikola Topic is a bit of a wildcard. He went from being widely considered to be a top five pick to being someone who will drop to at least the end of the lottery. 

A tall point guard out of Serbia, Topic has great court vision, great timing on his passing and can get downhill in a hurry. His finishing at the rim looked excellent in Europe. 

As for his weaknesses, Topic is not a three-point shooter. He’s an elite free throw shooter — so there’s hope. Defense won’t be a strength but he’s tall enough with enough athleticism to maybe figure something out down the road.

The primary reason for Topic’s freefall is a partially torn ACL that will likely force him to miss all of next season. If the Spurs were high on him before the injury, I think drafting him at No. 8 is totally reasonable. That said, I haven’t heard of much interest in Topic from the Spurs and he’s not the type of prospect (pass-first point guard with middling athleticism) they’ve typically drafted.

-Let’s end this where this draft cycle began. Even before the lottery balls bounced, rival teams thought the Spurs would target Robert Dillingham. An explosive offensive weapon, his ability to shoot, create and wreak havoc on or off the ball would fit very nicely next to Wembanyama. As a two-man partner for Wembanyama, no one in this draft class has a higher ceiling. 

Unfortunately, Dillingham has tumbled down the Spurs Big Board. At the combine, he came in smaller than expected at 164 pounds. He also suffered an ankle injury that has kept him from doing athletic testing or full workouts with teams. Then the Boston Celtics won a championship playing a style of basketball that would unceremoniously torture Dillingham on the defensive end.

Add it all up and now Dillingham to the Spurs looks unlikely. At this point, it looks like he’s destined to land somewhere late in the lottery. As great as he is offensively as a shooter and a disruptor, his defense projects to be so bad that he might not be playable in the playoffs. I’ve also heard from teams that in interviews with him it’s unclear if he comprehends the defensive challenges that await. 

All that said, I still think the Spurs picking Dillingham is justifiable. His offensive fit is so immaculate that he’d be worth it even if he never emerges as a big-minute starter. No. 4 is unnecessarily high but No. 8 would be fine — and would result in even more highly entertaining basketball in San Antonio in the coming seasons.