NBA Draft 2020: Building a big board for the San Antonio Spurs

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports /

The San Antonio Spurs own the No. 11 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. With a rebuild on the horizon, here are five young guys they can prioritize.

For the first time in 23 years, the San Antonio Spurs failed to qualify for the playoffs. The Kawhi Leonard trade two years ago signaled that this era of Spurs basketball was coming to an end; now the end has come.

DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, the two main players keeping the team afloat, can both be free agents after the 2021 season (the former has a player option, the latter is unrestricted). Head coach Gregg Popovich is expected to retire after he coaches Team USA in the next Summer Olympics. Only four contracts remain on the books past next season, and three of them are rookie deals.

A new age is coming in San Antonio—and preferably one with fewer long 2s. The Spurs own a lottery pick for the first time since 1997, the year they drafted Tim Duncan. They won’t be able to get their next Duncan at No. 11 overall, but there’s plenty of solid prospects to build for the future with.

Who should the San Antonio Spurs target in this year’s NBA Draft?

1. Patrick Williams, Wing, Florida State, Big Board Rank: 12

We start with an upside play who should be in San Antonio’s range at 11. Patrick Williams was not a featured player at Florida State; in fact, he came off the bench and only averaged 22.5 minutes per game. What makes him an attractive prospect is what he could be, not what he is.

At 6-foot-8 and 225 pounds, Williams is very close to the ideal build for a contemporary switchable forward. He won’t be able to check the LeBron James’ and Kawhi Leonard’s of the world right away, but he has the physical profile to do so eventually.

His mental makeup suggests he’ll reach that point and possibly surpass it. Williams got rave reviews for character and work ethic at Florida State, and seems very willing to do all the little things that win your team games. The Spurs covet players like him and also do well at developing them. This is an easy marriage if he’s there.

2. James Wiseman, Big, Memphis, Big Board Rank: 14

James Wiseman is also an upside pick; chances are he’s gone long before 11. But scouts are torn on the top recruit of his class: his physical traits suggest he could become a monster finisher and rim protector, but his tendencies cloud his outlook.

There are legitimate concerns over whether his prolific production and physical profile actually translate into winning basketball. He becomes a black hole once he gets the ball, is afraid to finish through contact inside, and lacks discipline as a defender. He could just be an empty-calorie scorer and rebounder for a bad team.

Then there are the flashes. The same game where he commits two stupid fouls and fades away from a guy three inches shorter than him, he’ll throw down awesome dunks and soak up any daylight an attacker thought he had at the rim. He’s as tantalizing, yet polarizing, a prospect as you’ll find in this class.

If he falls to 11 in this draft, it would be wise — mandatory, even — for the Spurs to find out what he’s made of.

3. Obi Toppin, Big, Dayton, Big Board Rank: 15

Similar to Wiseman is Obi Toppin, a monster scorer in college with a questionable fit in the modern NBA. And just like Wiseman, the Spurs should still give Toppin a serious look if he falls to their pick.

Toppin was a mismatch nightmare at the college level. Most 3s were too small and most 4s too slow for his blend of size and skill. Many of the moves and tendencies he exhibited in college are translatable to the next level.

But plenty of his flaws could translate too. Toppin’s concerns are mostly on defense, where far too often he was out of place or two steps behind. A frontcourt player who’s a liability on defense is not in good hands on a competitive team; good guards and wings will eat someone like him alive.

Maybe a smaller offensive workload in the NBA will give him the requisite energy to compete on defense. Maybe NBA conditioning will keep him a mismatch 4 at the next level, and he can be a legitimate scoring option on a contender. After all, his outside game is improving; he could be potent offensively as both a spacer and a matchup problem.

Should Toppin fall to 11, the opportunity may be too good for San Antonio to pass up.

4. Tyrese Maxey, Guard, Kentucky, Big Board Rank: 9

Sticking to the theme of upside, we now shift to a perimeter player the Spurs could covet. Tyrese Maxey has a motley of outcomes projected for his NBA career: a plug-and-play guard for a contender; a talented scorer with the mentality to fight through adversity; an overly confident sparkplug whose swagger is both a blessing and a curse; and so on. Depending on the lens through which you see Maxey (and the team he goes to), he has a wide spectrum of possible outcomes.

The bet here is that San Antonio’s development staff can make the most of him — a solid gamble, given the franchise’s recent history. Maxey projects as playable both on and off the ball on offense, and expects to be flexible defending either guard spot too. That not only gives him a path to minutes on a team stocked with guards, but also fits the organization’s ethos with the position.

5. Cole Anthony, Guard, North Carolina, Big Board Rank: 5

Another ball-handler with serious talent is Cole Anthony, who has the makings of a star but the limitations of a backup.

Anthony’s main attraction is his pull-up game. He was a lot less effective in college than in high school, but the numbers indicate he’ll shoot better over the long haul. And he was still quite effective at UNC, regularly getting off tough shots and blowing by defenders with a live dribble and quick trigger.

What holds the jitterbug guard back are intangibles. He’s excellent at getting his own shot but less adept at creating for others. To fully unlock his potential on the ball, he’ll have to make quicker reads and be able to run the offense like a floor general.

This archetype of player is antithetical to what the Spurs like, which is why he’s fifth on this list. But upside should be their focus at this point; there isn’t anyone on the roster who is a bona fide star yet. And if any team can maximize a guy like Anthony’s talents, it’s San Antonio.

THE WHITEBOARD. Subscribe to our NBA daily email newsletter. light