San Antonio Spurs: 2019 NBA Draft grades

(Photo by Ashlee Espinal/NBAE via Getty Images)
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(Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
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Drafting Luka Samanic with the No. 19 selection

If Luka Samanic turns out to be anything like he described himself to be during his post-Draft interview, the San Antonio Spurs will have hit the lottery without needing a lottery pick to do so.

To his credit, expert analysis sees some of the same two-way strengths that Samanic sees in himself. In spite of his lanky, 6-foot-11 frame, the Croatian forward views himself as the type of big who can run the floor, shoot the ball and switch on defense from 1-to-5.

Samanic showed the ability to do so often with his Basketball Champions League team, Petrol Olimpija.

As for how that would turn out against the likes of 1s such as Russell Westbrook or Damian Lillard remains a different story. He also gave an enticing answer when asked who he would compare his playstyle to:

"“Right now, I think, (Kevin Durant). A big guy who can shoot, who can face the basket, and also low post. All-time, maybe (Andrei) Kirilenko. He played in Utah. I can run and jump, play defense, whatever it takes.”"

The big positive is that the Spurs, as mentioned, not have not only left behind a paper trail of International draftees, but they also run the type of European-style offense that caters to his style of play.

Passing and screens are key to how the Spurs operate; despite ranking 26th in passes made, they make up ground in assist-to-pass percentage, and assist-to-pass adjusted metrics.

For Petrol Olimpija, Samanic averaged 8.0 points and 4.8 rebounds per game while hitting on 33.8 percent of his 3-point attempts. His shot chart indicates where he wants to get his looks, per and Second Spectrum.

The draft profile and tracking data help to paint the picture: roughly one-third of Samanic’s shots in a half-court setting were off the catch.

It could be redundant to play him alongside Davis Bertans, a player who fulfills similar offensive pillars. Nonetheless, pairing him on the court with players like LaMarcus Aldridge or DeMar DeRozan could give him his best opportunity to thrive.

One place the statistics don’t articulate as well is Samanic’s promising court vision. It would be a stretch to say he had “point center” potential in the Spurs’ preferred system, but he has shown he can get the ball off a defensive rebound, and find the open man.

Here, Samanic shows just a sliver of what he can do in terms of passing the ball.

The 0.9 assists per game are alarming, especially when paired with an aggressive mentality that leads to excessive turnovers, but under the tutelage of Gregg Popovich, the statistics we nitpick can turn into strengths with fine tuning.

The pick itself turned out to be a surprise. The Indiana Pacers were said to be so impressed with the 6-foot-11 Croatian, that they requested a 1-player workout.

They instead selected Goga Bitadze, a similar decision to the one they made last year, when they selected Aaron Holiday after working individually with Jalen Brunson.

Regardless of where Samanic sat on the Spurs’ draft queue, he fits the mold of what they’ve drafted in the past.

He will have his work cut out for him, should he intend to be the most productive “Luka” in the NBA. Some still wonder if the Spurs reached by taking Samanic that early.

Similar to Bertans, Samanic has the look of a player who would be a year or two out of his early breakthrough. For that reason, the pick’s grade will suffer a bit.

Grade: B-