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Taking a look at draft prospects through Spurs-colored glasses: The Frontcourt

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In just a few days, we’ll be sitting around (im)patiently waiting to find out who becomes the next San Antonio Spur. Before we get there, I felt compelled to add to the numerous pieces that have been put out on the internet breaking down prospects whose names could potentially be called.

My inspiration for this was reading some of the comparisons that have been made, in particular seeing how The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor compared Jabari Smith Jr. to “two-way Rashard Lewis” and Chet Holmgren to “Gen Z Pau Gasol.” These compositions put visions in our heads about what we can expect from said player, which is both fair and unfair. Fair enough, because most of us (non-draft experts) haven’t seen a ton of video on these players, so comparing them to someone we’ve seen helps us better understand their game. It’s unfair, because when we hear that player X is like player Y, it sets expectations that the player must meet or hopefully exceed.

All this to say, I took the time to watch a movie about 22 players the Spurs could see in the draft with each of their three picks, and instead of comparing them to anyone I remember, I compared them to a former Spur. based on size/position/athletics and style of play.

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I chose to avoid writing about Paolo Banchero, Jaden Ivey and the aforementioned Smith and Holmgren as they are likely to break into the top 4 (Ivey being the only one to potentially drop) and those teams are highly unlikely to trade those picks (Kings are possible, but I don’t see Spurs jumping to 4). I also did my best to avoid comparing anyone to the Big Three, but there was a tape of a player I saw that made me break that rule.

Over the next three days, I’ll be releasing a new batch of prospects, so keep an eye out for each one. And without further ado, here are the initial perspectives, but before that, please note:

Disclaimer #1: These are not perfect. The game has changed a lot over the years, which will be evident in the videos I add for the Spurs player I’m comparing the prospect to, so a little imagination will be required.

Disclaimer #2: Some images were harder to find than others when it came to the Spur the prospect was comparing to, so I included what I felt was better.

modern four

To start, let’s focus on three players who would help fill out the frontcourt and add needed depth on the 4 (and potentially the small-ball 5).

Keegan Murray

Comparison: Sean Elliott

During the year, I watched a good chunk of college basketball, understanding that the Spurs would probably end up with a lottery pick. It just so happened that Iowa was on TV quite a bit, which means I got to see what Keegan Murray had to offer. Everywhere you look, you’ll see that the book on him is relatively the same: he can score the ball. He led the Big-10 Conference in points per game with 23.5 while shooting 39.8% on his 3-point attempts. He may not believe in dribbling as much as Smith and Banchero do, but Iowa was able to move him to different positions to open him up. Seeing his combination of size, speed and skill, he looks like Sean Elliott in the NBA today. For Murray, there are questions about his ability to create his shot, as mentioned above, but we saw what Sean was able to do playing with others over the years.

jeremy sohan

Comparison: Boris Diaw

Perhaps my favorite comparison, and player, of all the Spurs could potentially draft. Jeremy Sochan is a Swiss Army knife power forward who should be able to play squirts as a small-ball 5. He has good mobility that allows him to hang onto guards and wings and is big enough to hit just about everyone in the league (with perhaps the exception of Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid, but that’s the case for everyone). Bobo’s playmaking ability is what made him so important during his tenure with the Spurs, and Sochan has that same ability. The only obstacle for Sochan at the moment is the shot from him, but if you believe in the 90/10 rule, where if you get 90% good from a player, you take 10% bad. Plus, when you look at his touch around the basket and see what Keldon Johnson was able to do in a couple of years, you can’t help but believe his perimeter shooting will improve if he becomes a Spur.

EJ Liddell

Comparison: DeJuan Blair (with a jumper)

Liddell gets this comparison to one of my all-time favorite Spurs, DeJuan Blair, mainly because of his size at the position they play. At the combine, Liddell was 6’7″ in shoes and weighed 243 pounds, while Blair was 6’6.5″ and weighed 276. This makes Liddell more of a 4 than Blair, but Blair was no slouch as an athlete. The shot is also what makes Liddell more versatile than Blair, as he shot 37.4% from 3 on 3.8 attempts per game his senior year at Ohio State. His per game ranking in the Big 10 was fourth in points with 19.4, seventh in rebounds with 7.9 and first in blocks with 2.6. One of the main reasons the Spurs might draft Liddell with their later picks is because he turns 22 in December. However, his size and ability would make him a good addition to a needed position for the Spurs.

the big ones

Given how good Jakob Poeltl was this year, it would seem odd for the Spurs to go out and draft a center with one of their top picks, especially the ninth pick. However, Poeltl is in line for a payment in the near future, which is why there are rumors about possible trades. All of this makes drafting one of the following prospects something the Spurs could seriously consider.

brand williams

Comparison: Artis Gilmore

One of the few players whose stock rose exponentially due to his play during the season, Mark Williams has something of a receding feel to his game. He measured 7’2” in the combine with a standing reach of 9’9”, not to mention his 7’6.5” wingspan, all of which were the tallest/longest of anyone they measured. Williams’ game is in the paint, where he finishes lobs with authority and hits shots with reckless abandon. The Spurs also once had a long center that controlled the interior with the best of them. Williams might not have the sweet Afro that Gilmore did, but he has the game that could remedy the Spurs’ lack of depth up front.

Jalen Duren

Comparison: David Robinson

I know Big Dave is in the pantheon of all NBA players, but when you see Duren on the court, you can see what kind of athlete he is. His year in Memphis didn’t go quite as planned, but that happens to raw prospects more often than most would like. And yes, Duren is a little inexperienced for a potential lottery pick, but he has tools you can’t teach. The way he can run the floor at his size, his jumping ability and his strength help what El Almirante could do on the floor. Duren won’t be a tremendous marksman, but he’s not afraid to take them from time to time. And to be fair, Robinson wasn’t the best shooter out there; in fact, for the years for which data is available beginning in the ’96-97 season, he had 39.2% (682/1739) on jump shots from 10 feet. and out. The biggest difference between the two is that Duren will be making his NBA debut 5 years younger than Robinson, so there will be plenty of room to grow.

Walker Kessler

Comparison: Defensive LaMarcus Aldridge

Kessler, the second-leading shot-blocker in the NCAA this year, was the anchor of a defense that ranked in the top 10 of KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency. Twice this season, he had a triple-double with blocks. That just goes to show the inner strength Kessler was this year. Offensively, it’s hard for any great to match LaMarcus Aldridge’s ability, so I’m not here to say Kessler is that, but he’s capable of knocking down a few shots from time to time. This comparison is more about how when I watched the movie, I saw the same body type and movement that Aldridge displayed while he was in silver and black.

sniloans