In a Draft class with such wildly high expectations, multiple franchises had extremely productive nights in terms of infusing long-term talent and filling holes on the current roster. Five particular Draft night operations stood above the rest to me.
Over the course of about two days, I’ve become a rather large supporter of the Spurs and what they’re building. I was 22 spots or higher on two prospects versus the consensus in the entire draft – both of those prospects landed in San Antonio. Before getting into the actual fit of the prospects within the roster, I do absolutely love how RC Buford, Brian Wright and the Spurs front office have approached the draft over recent years. Whether it’s a big guard or a long wing, the Spurs repeatedly are pouring stock into the most valuable archetype league wide. Multi-faceted, high upside wings who carry multiple of the following traits – youth, shooting, athleticism, length or the ability to put the ball on the floor. I’ve harped on this repeatedly through my breakdown of swing, stability and hybrid prospects, but the highest value swings are on wings when considering how the league has modernized. Of the last 10 Spurs draft selections, only one true big was taken – Chimezie Metu 49th overall in 2018. Value of bigs has undeniably shrunk and while patience is key with the development of these draft selections, multiple have begun parlaying the flashes into production. While the history of winning in San Antonio can make it difficult to swallow the clear-cut focus on development, it is simply a part of the ebb and flow of the NBA – and I believe the Spurs are taking it on in a productive, proactive and intelligent manner.
Josh Primo, my 10th overall prospect in the class, is one I’ve been tracking since his days with UPLAY Canada, Huntington Prep and with Canada U19’s. The beginning of a Josh Primo breakdown has to immediately address the nuance and context with the selection – rather than production in one year at Alabama. Simply put, Nate Oats and Alabama want to maximize Josh Primo’s role in the moment – utilizing his spot up game, energy and ability to space the floor. The role of college basketball isn’t to put Primo in developmental situations with the ball in his hands, creating in the PnR or playmaking for others, when there are already players like Jahvon Quinerly and Herb Jones who thrive doing so now. In addition, Primo played alongside John Petty (6.5 3PA) and Jaden Shackelford (5.6 3PA), who attempted the 2nd and 3rd most three point shots in the SEC last season. So yes, the fit and opportunity at Alabama was rather stark, but it doesn’t alter who Josh Primo is as a prospect. As I’ve harped on since April, if many executives projected Primo to vault into the lottery in 2022, then his stock should be even greater in 2021, if they trust their development staff like the Spurs historically have. Progressing the ability to play with pace, ironing out shot selection at times – which was understandable weakness considering he was the 8th highest usage player on Alabama – and sharpening his handle are next steps of development. There are a myriad of untapped avenues of production for Josh Primo, and the Spurs front office saw similar flashes I have over the course of the last 5 years. In terms of the plans for development and inserting Primo into a program while he should be technically just enrolling in his Freshman year of college, I couldn’t have drawn up a better scenario for the young Canadian wing.
Joe Wieskamp, the 27th overall prospect on my board, shot the lights out in a Spur workout and quietly became a growing commodity throughout the Draft process. Elite is a cliche, but Wieskamp is truly an elite spot up shooter. A high, quick release against closeouts and a very natural ability to slide to space off the ball. Wieskamp will space the floor from the moment he steps onto an NBA court, allowing the high wired, athletic driving guards and wings in San Antonio to have more room to operate. Not in the mode of a swing like Primo, Wieskamp has stood out throughout the last few months for me as a guy who just has a cemented spot in the NBA for a long time. As competitive and intelligent of a worker as I have ever been around, I am extremely confident that the Iowa-native outperforms his 41st overall draft slot.
Somewhat of a unanimous winner, Orlando landed two of my top seven prospects, including my 3rd overall prospect in back to back years with positive value. Having so much young backcourt talent in the fold is an extremely positive issue to have, which will likely sort itself out over time as prospects begin to sort through their longterm trajectory. The combination of Jalen Suggs and Cole Anthony is one of the most intriguing young duos in the league for me, as two dynamic off the dribble creators with extreme toughness. A frontline consisting of Franz Wagner, Chuma Okeke, Jonathan Isaac and others provides potentially premier defensive versatility, connective tissue offensively and extremely high speed processing – all 23 years old or under. Roster configuration is the broader key, but I do believe the Bright Future Magic are here.
Shooting and defense. The Pelicans gaping weaknesses over the last year. After dumping cap and moving back, the Pels grab a ready-made two-way wing with upside for more. Trey Murphy can quickly become a bridging piece in a lineup between Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson, spacing the floor, defending multiple positions and playing at a high tempo. With Lonzo Ball’s future looking more and more gloomy in New Orleans – and the Bulls interest growing – Herb Jones can provide a few of the same utility traits moving forward. One of the premier defenders in the class, Jones can guard multiple spots and serve as a secondary playmaker on the other end with his adept ball handling traits. I primarily believe in swinging and youth, but for a franchise with unforeseen pressure to produce winning basketball now, Murphy and Jones both were high value selections and fit what they project to need next season.
The relatively rich, just get richer here. Travis Schlenk has completely altered his identity and stature over the course of just a few months, and I thoroughly enjoy what he did in the 2021 NBA Draft. The Hawks threw out all the over-evaluation and dissecting, simply taking the two most talented prospects on the board at 20 and 48. Jalen Johnson, my 28th overall prospect, undeniably has standout traits that need shoring up. Being surrounded by shooters and providing the Hawks with a potential supplementary playmaker in the frontcourt appears to be an optimal climate early on. There should be no pressure to bring production at all early on, which likely largely benefits both parties. Sharife Cooper can eventually provide the Hawks the ability to seamlessly mimic schemes when Trae Young needs a rest, who’s already nearing 34 minutes per game in just his 3rd season. Between Trae Young’s toughness and the identity the Hawks structured over the last year, it seems as though bleeding those characteristics into both Jalen Johnson and Sharife Cooper can provide universal benefit in Atlanta. When it came down to it, two players who the Hawks likely didn’t think would be on the board were both available at their draft selections. Neither was largely tied to Atlanta pre-draft, but that didn’t hinder Schlenk from taking best player available.
I dont know if it’s even logical to call it a smokescreen anymore, but Sam Presti changed the course of the draft selecting Josh Giddey 6th overall. Assuming Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is in the longterm plans, which he should be, inserting Josh Giddey and Tre Mann allows the young Canadian star to continue singularly cementing himself as one of the NBA’s top scoring threats. Two of my top eight prospects in the class, both Mann and Giddey will require some patience to settle into the league and find means of production. Quickly, the Thunder have filled their roster with oversized processors with unique skillsets. I am eager to see Tre Mann develop in this setting, where he should have heaps of opportunity to have the ball in his hands and serve as a half-court shot creator. A lineup of Tre Mann, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Lu Dort and Darius Bazley would have my full attention. Oklahoma City was connected to Josh Primo, Moses Moody and James Bouknight, and while all were off the board at 16, Presti traded out and added another future first round pick. Presti just keeps stacking assets and remaining patient with this historic rebuild.