Building the Spurs back into a contender starts with the 2022 NBA Draft

On Thursday night, the Golden State Warriors defeated the Boston Celtics to capture their fourth championship in eight years to close the door on the 2021-2022 NBA season. Exactly one week later, on June 23, the next season begins as the NBA draft gives teams their first chance to make amendments.

For the San Antonio Spurs, the event will really set the tone for their off-season. Two months ago, as San Antonio’s season ended in a play-in game loss for the second straight season, I wrote, “(The Spurs) now have the resources to go in any direction they choose, be it Option A: make money on one player, or Option B: build slowly through the draft. The first season of rebuilding was a success because it laid the groundwork for this franchise to decide how they want to proceed to build this team back into a competitor. Now the next few months will tell us which way they will go: A or B.” This Thursday will be the first opportunity to see which direction the Spurs front office decides.

Neither option is necessarily bad. Cashing in on assets for established players means Spurs can be back in the playoff hunt from next season, and if the new signings catch on at some of the current Spurs, they could pose a threat for years to come. But one has to wonder, after looking at this year’s NBA Finals (and given Spurs’ own track record), if working through the draft isn’t a more optimal route. Eight of the ten starters in the NBA Finals were drafted by their current team and developed by the same coaching staff. The majority of the players had played together for years and developed chemistry over time, which is a big reason both teams were able to endure three grueling playoff series.

The Spurs front office will certainly have noticed this trend and because they have a high level of trust in their scouts, they have been able to rely on their information to select the right players and guide the Spurs through their own development system in San Antonio and Austin rebuild as they did before. They already have a wealth of young talent of varying caliber, from new All-Star Dejounte Murray and US Gold Medalist Keldon Johnson to their last two lottery picks of Devin Vassell and Josh Primo. The Silver & Black may not have many starting talents in the pipeline, but they certainly aren’t lacking in the youth division.

So the question is, would adding another four draftees into the mix help Spurs’ long-term goals? Possibly, but sooner rather than later they will have to decide which young players they like best because 1) they can’t pay for them all and 2) they don’t have enough minutes to make enough developmental progress. Even if they decide to continue the youth movement, the clock is ticking. It might be time to take some risks, which Spurs appear ready to take.

In reviewing the contents of last year’s draft, I found an article I wrote about San Antonio General Manager Brian Wright and his post-draft comments to the media that could be applied to this year’s draft and could give a good insight into who the Spurs will be allowed to choose this year.

“Best available player, best potential long-term cap. Some key goals that we want to achieve, eventing and shooting,” Wright said immediately after the 2021 draft ended.

It sounds like San Antonio will pick the best player available, even if it’s a different guard, which is the right approach. If the Spurs don’t cash in on their pick for a star in a trade, they’ll have to find one in the draft and develop it like Boston and Golden State did. Unfortunately, the players who have surefire heart potential will most likely disappear in the top 5 picks, leaving them potentially swinging for the fences at some riskier prospects.

Take Shadeon Sharpe as an example. A once-potential top-five pick is reportedly beginning to fall into the preliminary draft process after overwhelming training sessions. With so little information available on him, he could fall as low as ninth place where San Antonio would have an opportunity to pick him. Sharpe certainly has a high cap and is still considered by some to be one of the best players to emerge from this draft, although he is a bit of a mystery having not played last year. He’s damn good at shooting off the ball and is certainly versatile with his 6’5 frame and 6’11 wingspan. Sharpe in particular stands out as a potential target, but there could be others who would make good targets if what Wright said last year is true this Thursday and its cap is high on Spurs’ list of desired attributes.

With a roster already settled at eight guaranteed contracts, four non-guaranteed and a possible $30 million plus free agency deal, it seems unlikely that the Spurs will land four new rookies with three guaranteed contracts from the first round. But when Silver & Black make every particular choice they currently have, expect the same approach with each one. Wright made it clear last year that they would not deviate from the BPA mindset, so for now the wait continues until Thursday as the NBA’s most secretive organization keeps its cards tight to its chest.

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