Spurs Draft Deep Dive: Tidjane Salaun and the Power of Imagination

Every NBA fan who has been paying attention knows that the 2024 draft is regarded as weak. The main reason why it’s considered weak is the fact that all of the lottery prospects are flawed in one way or another. However, this draft also has a weakness when it comes to boom-or-bust candidates.

Even if a team like the San Antonio Spurs wants to use a lottery pick on a boom-or-bust player, it’s really difficult to pinpoint a single prospect who has even a smidgen of superstar potential. Most of the players slated to be selected in the lottery appear to be high-end role players or third-star types even if their development is maximized.

Enter Tidjane Salaun, the teenage prospect from France who is so raw that it’s difficult to figure out what he’ll eventually become. That said, within the murkiness of his future lies the possibility that he could become the superstar who ends up defining the 2024 draft. That possibility is more of a dream at this point — although it can’t be counted out.

Too much imagination and projection can get scouts in trouble but Salaun’s boom-or-bust potential has caused his stock to rise as the draft approaches.

The Case for Drafting Tidjane Salaun

One glimpse at Salaun and you begin to understand why some scouts really like him. The 18-year-old is approaching 6-foot-10 and has a wingspan of somewhere around 7-foot-2. Salaun has a large, powerful frame that looks like it will fill out quite a bit more over the next handful of years.

Watching him play, his energy, hustle and undying drive are traits that stand out. Salaun plays the game with a lot of heart and self-assuredness.

Off the court, he’s regarded as a quality kid who is fun to be around. Scouts say his confidence and determination away are defining characteristics.

Four paragraphs into this section and it’s telling that I haven’t even started to discuss Salaun’s basketball playing ability yet. Truth be told, it’s difficult to find many positives from his play in the French league.

(However, despite his seemingly unimpressive numbers, the analytic models I’ve seen actually grade him better than Zaccharie Risacher. While the models say Risacher projects to be worth a second round pick, the same models have Salaun as a late first round pick. From my understanding, age and rate of improvement are the two primary attributes that are helping Salaun from an analytics perspective.)

Offensively, Salaun is at his best right now when taking three-pointers from the top of the key. He has a high release point and his mechanics from that area of the court are smooth. It’s jolting seeing someone that tall, that long and that powerfully built shoot effortless three-pointers from logo-adjacent territory.

Defensively, Salaun’s relentlessness steals the show. He doesn’t know what he should be doing a lot of the time but that doesn’t stop him from flying around the court in an effort to stop the opposition. He’s blessed with a healthy amount of quickness for someone his size, which helps.

All in all, Salaun is an unselfish player who is clearly improving at a rapid rate. He looked painfully clueless at the beginning of the season but he’s starting to figure things out.

The Case Against Drafting Tidjane Salaun

I mean, it’s not unfair to say Salaun isn’t good at basketball right now. He’s just not.

Offensively, Salaun is a terrible finisher at the rim. He has no touch on his floaters or runners. He doesn’t know how to use his body to his advantage when driving to the hoop. He’s not a notable passer. His ball-handling is extremely sketchy for a player who will need to play on the perimeter in the NBA.

Despite looking good on straight-away threes, Salaun shot only 31.6% from three-point range this season. Strangely, he doesn’t look comfortable shooting the shorter corner threes. He hit a respectable 74.8% of his free throws but his motion from the line is a bit robotic and his off-hand gets in the way.

Defensively, Salaun is entirely undisciplined. He’ll make positive plays occasionally due to his unceasing effort but he has a lot of work to do when it comes to learning defensive fundamentals. Salaun also fouls a lot and very rarely blocks shots — which is a troublesome combination for someone of his size.

Part of the reason why he almost never blocks shots and doesn’t rebound much is that Salaun lacks explosiveness when jumping. He’s slow to get off the ground and his elevation is minimal.

Clunky footwork plagues Salaun on both ends of the court. He often gets twisted around or he takes himself completely out of a play due to having immature footwork that you don’t see from NBA level prospects after the age of 15 or 16.

Tidjane Salaun’s Fit on the Spurs

Salaun would very likely need a lot of time in Austin. You don’t typically see lottery picks spend quality time in the G League — but I’d imagine Salaun would make himself at home in the state capital for most of his rookie season.

Down the road, Salaun would most likely be a big wing if all goes swimmingly with his development. Starting lineup by year three would be the goal.

Final Thoughts on the Spurs Drafting Tidjane Salaun

As I reported last month, the Spurs have kept close tabs on Salaun all season long. I currently have him in the seventh spot in the latest Spurs Big Board — and I imagine he’ll stay somewhere around that range the rest of the way heading into the draft.

Should the Spurs pick him with one of their two lottery picks? It’s a tough call. On one hand, I understand the appeal of his upside in this yawn-inducing draft. The 18-year-old looks like he has the tools to be something special one day.

On the other hand, Salaun is so very raw that it’d be a gamble of epic proportions to take him at No. 4. Even at No. 8, it’d still classify as an extremely risky move. The most likely outcome for Salaun is that he doesn’t get better enough at basketball to contribute at a meaningful level. Then again, there’s always that chance that the dream becomes reality.