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Big Decision: Six taller players who the Spurs should consider with pick number 12 in the draft

If San Antonio isn't looking for another guard, they should take a serious look at Kai Jones, Jalen Johnson, Alperen Şengün, and a few others.
Credit: AP Images / KENS Illustration

SAN ANTONIO — It's a week until the 2021 NBA Draft, and the San Antonio Spurs have another lottery pick after a down year.

There are a lot of questions for the Spurs to answer this offseason, and the answers will impact what they do with pick number 12. Is DeMar DeRozan staying or going? Could a guy like John Collins be on his way? Are they looking to trade up in the draft, and if so what would that look like?

RELATED: John Collins could be the perfect piece to add to the Spurs' youth movement this summer

San Antonio's front office has spent the last several years building a new core through the draft, starting with Dejounte Murray in 2016. Since then, they've used first-round picks on Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, Luka Šamanić, and most recently Devin Vassell. The only one of those guys taller than 6'7" is also the one who is the biggest project at the moment.

Anything can happen, and if the Spurs select a guard it might signify that considerable changes are on the way. To keep things simple, lets focus on some prospects with more size who are expected to fall outside the top ten. These guys are all 6'8" or taller, and they would all need to spend time working on their jump shots to maximize their potential, but other than that they're all quite different.

Below you will find six young players evenly divided into three distinct categories: true centers, point forwards, and defensive aces. There are legitimate reasons to prefer each archetype over the other two, and every individual has unique strengths, weaknesses, and paths to stardom in the league.

If you were in GM Brian Wright's shoes, would you prefer to take a chance on a high-ceiling prospect or go with someone with less potential who you know can contribute? Do you want a 6'8" point guard or a high-flying big man? It's choose your own adventure, and it would be hard to pick a bad player from the group.

True Centers

These are the really big fellas, the ones who would be maximized as centers at the NBA level. Spurs fan who don't believe that Jakob Poeltl should be the starter will be looking for bigs with star potential who can eventually supplant him, and a few should be available toward the end of the lottery.

Centers are not a monolith, and you'd be hard-pressed to find two prospects more different than Kai Jones and Alperen Şengün.

Kai Jones

  • Spurs Interest: Yes
  • Age: 20
  • Height: 6’11” 
  • Wingspan: 7’2”
  • Weight 218
  • 8.8 ppg
  • 4.8 rpg
  • 0.6 apg
  • 0.8 spg
  • 0.9 bpg
  • 58% fg
  • 38.2% 3pt
  • 68.9% ft

If you polled Spurs fans asking who they’d take with pick number 12, Kai Jones would probably be the name that you’d hear the most.

He’s a 6’11” long jumper from the Bahamas by way of UT Austin, and in his one season with the Longhorns, he showed enough power and potential to earn a spot in the lottery. The springy, versatile big man could be the second-best center prospect in the draft, and the Spurs were interested enough to bring him into the team facility for a workout.

A growth spurt led Jones to start playing competitive basketball at the age of 15, which means his skills are quite raw and his feel for the game is still a work in progress. Still, he brings unreal athleticism in a huge physical frame and applies all of those physical gifts with the tenacity of a gladiator.

He doesn’t just run the floor, he sprints it in mesmerizing long strides. He doesn’t jump, he blasts off to the rim and beyond, finishing lobs with extreme prejudice. He has the foot speed and agility to stay in front of quicker players on the perimeter, the size and strength to defend traditional centers on the block, and the length to recover when he gets beat off the bounce.

Credit: AP
Texas forward Kai Jones (22) shoots the ball over Oklahoma guard Alondes Williams (15) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Norman, Okla., Thursday, March 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Kyle Phillips)

At the NBA level, he should be able to make an immediate impact above the rim in transition, on rolls and cuts, and on putbacks. Defensively, he projects as a rim protector who can survive and maybe even thrive on switches with active hands, quick feet and great hip fluidity, though his awareness off the ball could improve.

In interviews, he speaks humbly and intelligently in a soft voice, but he repeatedly talks about playing “with a level of violence.” The juxtaposition of his laid-back demeanor and his genuine commitment to physically battling his opponents is equal parts amusing and endearing.

“I think they could use some youth and athleticism, just to bring some excitement and some vigor and violence to the team,” Jones said at a recent workout with the Indiana Pacers. “I feel like I could bring that.”

He was up before the sun to work on his game in high school, and graduated with a 4.2 GPA.

“One thing about Kai, he has the best work ethic of any 6’11” player I have ever coached,” UT head coach Shaka Smart said during Jones’ freshman year. Jarrett Allen, Jaxson Hayes, and Mo Bamba all came out of that program as well. “His ceiling is so high as a player. He just has the ability to move his body a little differently than 99% of basketball players.”

Some have questions about Jones’ floor because he’s so new to the game, but his motor and physical tools should make him a serviceable backup NBA big man at the very least. If the Spurs take him with pick number 12, it’s because they believe he can continue to develop on the path toward his lofty full potential.

To get there, he’ll need to build on the three-point shooting that he showed in college. Jones hit 38% from deep -- but on just 34 total attempts. His high release should be unblockable, and he has decent form for shooting coach Chip Engelland to work with, and they would probably work on solidifying his lower body and shot preparation.

A respectable three-point shot would help Jones unlock an intriguing triple-threat game for a player his size. He’s quick and powerful in a straight-line drive, and though his handle could be tighter and his decision-making could be crisper, he’s shown flashes of more advanced technique with eurosteps, spin moves, hop steps, and pump fakes into power finishes. He even got to some mid-range jumpers off the bounce, and says he loves watching guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant.

Nobody expects Jones to be a go-to scorer like those two, but if he develops into a confident secondary playmaker out of the pick and pop he would be a complete modern big man. Combine that skillset with his imposing physical tools and winning mindset, and he could be an All-Star one day. 

Alperen Şengün

  • Spurs Interest: Yes
  • Age: 18 (19 by draft night)
  • Height: 6’10” 
  • Wingspan: 7’0”
  • Weight 240
  • 18.6 ppg
  • 8.8 rpg
  • 2.7 apg
  • 1.3 spg
  • 1.5 bpg
  • 62.6% fg
  • 21.2% 3pt
  • 81.2% ft

If the Spurs want a big man with a bit more experience, they may wind up going with one of the youngest prospects in the draft. At just 18 years old, Alperen Şengün dominated at the professional level in his home country of Turkey. He became the MVP of arguably the third-best league in the world, putting up almost 20 and 10 per game against grown men.

Şengün isn’t the biggest big man, and his game is a bit of a throwback right now, but most players who produce at that level as a pro before the age of 20 go on to have successful NBA careers. He confirmed that he was in San Antonio at the team facility weeks before the draft.

A post-up big man with skill, finesse, and strength, Şengün does most of his work down low. He uses a wide array of nuanced pump fakes, post spins, and hook shots to create space. Without the ball he fights hard for seals and advantageous positioning on the block, setting up an assist for any guard who can throw a proper entry pass.

He displays solid feel and skill as a roll man and makes himself a big target after screens and handoffs. When he gets in close, he tends to finish with more craft than power. While he does have the hops to dunk forcefully on an open basket and catch some lobs, he tends to opt for hooks, floaters, and Mikan drill layups with defenders in the area.

Credit: AP
Turkey's Alperen Sengun, right, drives past Greece's Konstantinos Mitoglou tries during the first half of a semifinal in the FIBA men’s Olympic basketball qualifying tournament Saturday, July 3, 2021, in Victoria, British Columbia. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press via AP)

The area of his game where he displays the most athleticism is on the offensive glass, where he seems to soar in for some of his best dunks. He works hard for positioning on the boards on both ends and would help the Spurs bounce back after a tough year in the rebounding department.

Şengün demonstrates impressive control with the ball in his hands. He has an exciting ability to make tough, flashy passes from the post, from the perimeter, on the short roll, and even while pushing in transition. He puts good zip on the ball and even throws some no-looks on the move.

Like most centers, his perimeter defense is pretty rough, and his interior defense is more disciplined but not elite. He gets a lot of deflections thanks to smart positioning and high activity, but the lack of quickness limits him on that end.

Şengün’s skill as a basketball player is not up for debate, but there’s a valid discussion to be had about his role in the NBA. Recent photos suggest he may be a bit taller than 6’10”, but he’ll likely be undersized at the center position. Most players who successfully make up for that do it with superior leaping ability or respectable outside shooting, and right now the teen possesses neither.

His outside shot isn’t there yet, but there are encouraging signs that the young man can grow that part of his game. If he does expand his range, he could get closer to his ceiling and the Nikola Jokić comparisons he’s drawn. If he doesn’t, his role will be determined by how well he can translate his style and production to the NBA, and how much his team is willing to let him operate in the post.

Point forwards

Versatile wing players might be the most important archetype in the NBA, and for good reason. Players with guard skills and considerable size have the potential to develop into heliocentric stars, and if you're looking for the category of prospect with the highest theoretical ceiling, it's right here.

A player like this would make a lot of sense if the Spurs want to take a big swing on a potential franchise cornerstone, especially if they're committed to bringing in an off-ball big man like John Collins.

Josh Giddey is a pure point guard at 6'8", and Jalen Johnson has shown flashes of wonderful playmaking along with a more well-rounded game.

Jalen Johnson

  • Interest:?
  • Age: 19
  • Height: 6’9” 
  • Wingspan: 7’0”
  • Weight 220
  • 11.2 ppg
  • 6.1 rpg
  • 2.2 apg
  • 1.2 spg
  • 1.2 bpg
  • 52.3% fg
  • 44.4% 3pt (8/18)
  • 63.2% ft

Jalen Johnson is a one-and-done from Duke who was once projected as a top-five pick in this year’s draft. 

He dealt with a foot injury and didn’t play a whole lot of minutes for a Blue Devils team that looked like it was going to miss the tournament, but he was impressing scouts when he was on the floor.

Johnson is a 6’9” wing with a 7’0” wingspan, and he’s shown spectacular flashes in enough different areas to suggest that he could develop into a special version of the total package. It isn’t just that he’s well-rounded for his size, it’s that he has the potential to be elite in a number of valuable areas.

He’s the kind of guy who can meet a big man at the rim and block his shot before grabbing the ball, pushing in transition with behind-the-back dribbles, and finishing the play with an eye-popping dime or power dunk. 

He moves like a truck built for the track: fast enough to beat you in a straight line, nimble enough to lose you in the corners, and big and strong enough to run you over if you’re in the way. 

Credit: AP
Duke's Jalen Johnson (1) shoots against Pittsburgh during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Johnson can throw lobs or finish them, he can set screens or dribble around them, and his three-point shot looked promising in a limited sample size. He shows an advanced feel for drawing multiple defenders and finding the open man, and he cuts dangerously without the ball. He turned it over a bit too much, but his passing could grow to be quite special for a guy that big. His post-ups are often dangerous enough to draw doubles, and he made some wonderful passes out of that action.

He can defend each position on the floor, so he can switch everything. His length and positioning make him a bit of a menace in passing lanes and as a help defender. His motor rarely idles, his anticipation is improving, and he loves taking charges.

Johnson started the season with 19 points, 19 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 blocks. After suffering that foot injury, he missed a month. When he came back, he had a game with 24 points, 16 boards, 7 assists, 4 blocks and 2 steals in a game that the Blue Devils lost to Pitt.

This blue-chip talent has drawn valid comparisons to Ben Simmons, and he’s young enough to develop into a genuine catch-and-shoot threat from three. If he reaches his lofty potential, he could become one of the best players in the league.

So why would he be available for the Spurs to steal him at 12?

In the latter portion of that doomed Duke season, Johnson decided to opt out and focus on preparing for the NBA draft. Coach Mike Krzyzewski gave him his blessing and said he had the full support of the coaching staff and his teammates.

The medical staff worked with Johnson throughout the season on his foot injury, and he reportedly wore a protective boot when he was out. He called the recovery process "something that, if it's not done right, and it is being done right, could be a major factor in his career." 

Plenty of people outside that team had mean things to say about Johnson after he decided to hang it up for the year. He was painted as a guy who selfishly bailed on his team, and that perception has absolutely hurt his draft stock. In the time he was preparing for the draft out of the spotlight, other guys shot up the boards. ESPN projected him as the sixth pick before his announcement, and since then he’s fallen to just outside the lottery in some mock drafts.

When asked about his decision to leave Duke, he has repeatedly said that he had to make the best decision for his family, and that’s the truth. Seeking the approval of fans who like college sports better because the athletes don’t get paid for their labor is not a good reason for him to risk further injury and risk his long-term health and career. 

His health is the most important thing for his career moving forward, and prioritizing that is practical, not greedy. In this game, no in this business, no in this world, the only person who will always be in your corner is you. NBA teams probably won’t hold it against him and question his love for the game of basketball the way plenty of Duke fans and talking heads did.

The severity and exact diagnosis of that injury are a bit murky, but teams will do their due diligence. Selecting Johnson might be a bit of a gamble, but it might pay off with a franchise-caliber superstar. If he’s healthy and committed there’s no reason he can’t be one of the best players to come out of this draft.

Josh Giddey

  • Interest:?
  • Age: 18
  • Height: 6’8” 
  • Wingspan: 6’8”
  • Weight 205
  • 10.2 ppg
  • 7.3 rpg
  • 7.6 apg
  • 1.1 spg
  • 0.5 bpg
  • 42.7% fg
  • 29.3% 3pt
  • 69.1% ft

As an 18-year-old in the Australian NBL, Josh Giddey proved himself as one of the most special passers in this year’s draft class.

At 6’8” he can see over the defense and use his size to conceive and execute passes that others simply cannot. He routinely breaks down defenses in pick and roll and makes live-dribble passes across the court with either hand, and he can hit a bullseye with zippy overhead skip passes. There’s a wow factor to a lot of his facilitating, and a high volume and consistency as well. If he gets the ball in transition, he can find an open man with a 40-foot outlet before the other team can react.

His playmaking ability borders on unteachable as he makes plays and reads that compel the viewer to rewind and rewatch in hopes of understanding how he made the whole thing happen. Most of the time, the answer is that he’s miles ahead of the game mentally. It’s like he’s seen 14 million possible futures, and he knows the only one where the pass gets through.

The Aussie will spot a man in the opposite corner, stare down a cutter who occupies the weak-side help, and whip a no-look laser over the top right to the guy in the corner who is now wide open. He’ll cross his man up moving away from a screen, get to a spot inside 12 feet, pump fake, and drop a bounce-pass to the screen-setter that he never looked at, but never forgot about either. He is a natural and an artist as a point guard, and his frame puts him among the biggest.

Giddey changes speeds and directions well on his way to the cup, long strides add to his elusiveness, and ambidextrous finishing comes in handy when he gets in close. He has the ability to pull up from the mid-range area with solid accuracy, and he’s been working on punishing defenses with the three ball when they go under screens for him or show drop coverage in the pick and roll. He's still a ways off from being a legitimate deep threat.

The kid is already a playmaking pro, but the defensive side of the ball needs a lot of work. He doesn't have the lateral quickness to contain smaller guards off the dribble, and he doesn't have the strength or length to limit big men down low. Plenty of prospects garner attention for their offensive ability and then focus more on the other end when they reach the league, and he'll have to do that to avoid being a liability there.

Every player in the draft has room to grow, and Giddey’s youth makes him a particularly high-upside prospect. His shot needs work, but he can work on it. His frame needs more muscle, but he can hit the weight room. He's without a doubt the best passer in this group, which is always valuable. Improving the other areas of his game can help him become a star.

Defensive Aces

San Antonio has a good amount of playmakers, so selecting a wing who plays a complimentary offensive role and brings high-level defense might help them most in the short term.

It wouldn't be the sexiest decision, but there's definitely value in players who have good size and the ability to guard basically anybody. Franz Wagner and Usman Garuba fit the bill, and though neither has elite offensive skills yet, they both have clear paths to becoming at least passable role players on that end.

Franz Wagner

  • Interest:?
  • Age: 19
  • Height: 6’9” 
  • Wingspan: 7’0”
  • Weight 220
  • 12.5 ppg
  • 6.5 rpg
  • 3.0 apg
  • 1.3 spg
  • 1.0 bpg
  • 47.7% fg
  • 34.4% 3pt
  • 83.5% ft

Teams in the late lottery looking for a lockdown wing should pay serious attention to Franz Wagner.

The German by way of Michigan has already made an impact in both college and in professional leagues, and the main way he does that is by pestering just about everybody with stifling defense.

Wagner is tall and long and lanky, but he moves quickly and fluidly enough to defend in space. His fast feet and active hands make him a true disruptor who can stay in front on isolations, muck up pick and rolls, and even throw a wrench into enemy fast breaks.

His help is active, timely, and forceful, his anticipation makes him look like a mirror of the offensive player, and his timing on block and steal attempts is precise. He will make a difference for his NBA team on that end of the floor. 

Credit: AP
Michigan guard Franz Wagner (21) drives to the basket over UCLA forward Kenneth Nwuba (14) during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Tuesday, March 30, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

The surprises continue on offense, where he has shown a decent ability to handle the ball, run the floor in transition and make decisions in pick and roll. His live-ball passing is crisp, a bit fancy at times, and extremely fun to watch. He can hit cutters with on-time, on-target bounce passes with one hand while moving, and he even manipulates the defense with his eyes before throwing no-look dimes.

He’s a streaky outside shooter, but when he’s on he can be dangerous from deep and even dribble into some threes when he runs pick and roll and defenders go under screens. That sets up his strong drives out of the triple threat, where he uses decent jabs and fakes to lose defenders en route to the rim. His footwork looks almost guard-like on those drives, as does his ability to finish finger rolls and floaters. He can also make himself useful on screens and cuts.

He’s not the biggest, or the strongest, or the most explosive leaper. His handle needs work, especially heading to his weaker left. He can definitely stand to improve the consistency of his jumper. All of that can lead to a lack of aggression, and in his first few years in the NBA he’ll likely defer on offense. He can be a serviceable stretch four on offense as long as he takes good shots in the flow of the offense.

Wagner is a defensive ace with intriguing upside as a playmaker. His ceiling will be determined by how much he can grow and consistently perform on offense, and his floor as a big, switchable defensive wing should allow him to contribute to most NBA teams.

Usman Garuba

  • Real Madrid
  • Interest: ?
  • Age: 19
  • Height: 6’8” 
  • Wingspan: 7’3”
  • Weight 230
  • 5.8 ppg
  • 5.4 rpg
  • 0.9 apg
  • 0.7 spg
  • 0.5 bpg
  • 45.7% fg
  • 34.8% 3pt
  • 72.1% ft

Usman Garuba is another player who could be the best big wing defender in the class. He’s fast and agile at 6’8”, and his 7’3” wingspan is a weapon he wields with precision. He can poke the ball away from guards and climb the ladder to meet big men at the rim. He has the tools and talent to guard 1-5, and it’s hard to picture any player that would have an easy time exposing him in a mismatch.

The former Real Madrid player’s anticipation on the weak side will make coaches happy, and he couples that with elite athleticism to launch himself skyward with perfect timing for blocks that make you sit there mouth agape in pure wonderment.

He put his defensive ability on display in the Spanish national team’s exhibition against Team USA, and looked in his element guarding Kevin Durant and other genuine stars. This is a guy who could make an All Defense team if he continues to apply himself on that end.

The big man’s offensive production wasn’t much to write home about, but there are definite areas where he can provide consistent impact and a few flashes of potential. 

Right now he’ll be best used as a screener, a cutter, and a dunker spot finisher. His understanding of how to do that dirty work makes it look pretty clean, and if you like guys who exhibit nuance when it comes to the little things, you’ll love Garuba.

Standing under the cup doesn’t sound like a particularly difficult task, but Garuba is constantly looking for ways to make himself the most useful passing target he can be. When he gets the ball down low, he can take a hop step or go straight up for a thunderous dunk. 

Some of his most impressive offensive plays come when he cuts to the basket, catches the ball on the move, and immediately hits the open guy, whether he’s in the corner or at the hoop. That short-roll playmaking could grow to be an important part of his offensive game.

His handle is fairly rudimentary, but he deploys it well with some tricky tactics to get an advantage. One of his primary offensive functions is to initiate dribble handoffs, and on multiple occasions he’s caught the defense out of position, kept the ball, and quickly dribbled in a straight line to the basket with his right hand. He’s thrown in a few crossovers and fakes here and there, but he’s a long way from being an on-ball playmaking threat.

Garuba isn’t the most accurate outside shooter, but he’s not afraid to let corner threes fly and has plenty of time to work on it. If he can hit about a third of those shots it will force defenses to think about leaving him open. If he becomes a legitimate catch-and-shoot guy, the pick and pop could open up opportunities for him as a secondary playmaker.

That’s a pretty big if, and it seems a long way away at the moment. Still, Garuba can earn a role at the NBA level from day one if simply does his thing at a high level. The defense makes him a rotational big man on most teams, and if he can become a versatile finisher he could flourish. 

As a prospect, he reminds me of Onyeka Okongwu last year. At his best, he could be somewhere between Draymond Green and Bam Adebayo. 

So who should they take?

The best part of this debate is that there's a case to put any of these prospects at the top or bottom of your list, and reasonable people can disagree. Any of these guys could turn into a good or great NBA player. It comes down to personal preference about what kind of player you think the team needs, and what kind of risk level you're comfortable with.

My thinking is that the Spurs rarely get lottery picks, and when the opportunity comes they should shoot for the guy with the highest potential and the best chance to reach it. Having said that, here's my board. 

6. Alperen Şengün

This guy is extremely talented and his production as a teen in the pros gives me high confidence that he can make it, but I have a lot of questions about how far he can make it, and doing what?

He's undersized, and not a reliable shooter, and not a defensive anchor. He's a lottery prospect because of his ability on the block, and even if he can reach his full potential I wonder how he'd fit with the fast transition team San Antonio has been building. His path to becoming a star in the modern league is a bit murkier than the rest.

5. Usman Garuba

If defense is the top priority, Garuba is probably the answer. He might be a bit of a reach with pick number 12, but outside the top 10 there's a lot of uncertainty and it's really just a matter of preference. 

He could slot in at the four alongside a crew of willing defenders, switch everything, and provide a vertical threat in transition for Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and others.

Garuba's offensive game is interesting enough to hope he can develop into at least a solid complimentary piece there, but he's lower on the list because the others have shown more flashes of their potential.

4. Franz Wagner

Some fans would pan the pick as boring and conservative, but I just keep going back to the tape and seeing a huge defensive lockdown with serious upside as a shooter and playmaker.

He's a superb defender at least on par with Garuba, but that framing may be obscuring the fact that he has some rare offensive talent for his size. He could play the stretch four role on offense while bringing exactly what San Antonio needs on defense, and has room to grow into much more of a threat with the ball in his hands.

He'd be a solid contributor, but there are other players who offer more in terms of immediate impact and star potential.

3. Josh Giddey

6'8" point guards are a rare breed, and Giddey's ability as a floor general is top-notch. A lot of people compare him to fellow Aussie Joe Ingles, but the size and passing remind me more of LaMelo Ball, and the proven pro-level production gives him a pretty high floor.

He's probably top three in this group in terms of how valuable he could be if he becomes the best version of himself, and if John Collins is coming to town Giddey would be a fairly logical choice depending on who is left on the board.

Concerns about his strength, outside shooting and defense leave him behind the other three... but if he can develop those things? Adding a well-rounded game and 20 pounds of muscle to his game IQ and otherworldly passing could make him one of the more dynamic heliocentric stars in the class.

He would be behind some more established playmakers on the depth chart who offer more in other areas of the game, so he may indeed spend a considerable amount of time in Austin hitting the weights and putting a little beef on the barbie.

2. Kai Jones

Jones is a swing for the fences at 12. He's only been playing organized basketball for about five years, so some have concerns that he could become a bust and wash out of the league. The flip side of that coin, however, is that he's turned himself into a lottery pick in a very short time and has loads of untapped potential.

If Kai Jones only ever brings his college game to the NBA, he will make an impact on both ends in a way that not many players in this draft class will. He's a ludicrous speed off-ball combo big who can switch on defense and space the floor, and the Spurs absolutely need a guy like that.

He does indeed play "with a level of violence," and relatable in a way that makes you root for him. I'm the kind of person who gets a new videogame and plays it for hours on end, practicing by myself in the wee hours of the morning to race up the learning curve so that I can crush my friends and hold my own against solid competition. Jones seems to have done the same, just, you know, in a little taller and more athletic way than the average gaming enthusiast.

I believe in his size, talent, athleticism and work ethic enough to bet that he could use all of that to help the Spurs on both ends immediately and develop into a more versatile and dangerous complimentary player. I certainly wouldn't bet that he's reached the peak of what he can do on the court, and working with Chip Engelland on his three ball should help make him a true spacing threat, at least in the corner. 

If John Collins isn't walking through that door, drafting a guy who is bigger and stronger and does a lot of similar things would be a very smart thing to do. The only reason he isn't first on this board is that there's one guy who has a clearer path to becoming a ball-dominant two-way superstar in the league

1. Jalen Johnson

How often do the San Antonio Spurs have a chance to use their first-round draft pick on a guy who could become a generational talent? Rarely if ever. 

How good could Ben Simmons be with a reliable jump shot? Exactly.

So goes the case for selecting Jalen Johnson at 12, and my goodness it's a compelling one. He was heavily recruited and highly rated because he has the rare combination of size, speed and skill that can make a franchise-driving NBA star.

At a very base level, he would provide length, strength, and valuable defensive versatility at the power forward spot. He would be a nightmare with or without the ball in San Antonio's fast break, and in the half court he could be leveraged as a screener and cutter while he works on developing his promising outside shot and playmaking ability.

Johnson is an elite young talent who came from some top-level programs with IMG Academy and Duke, and if you're scared of him at 12 it's probably about "character concerns" regarding how he left both of those programs.

I don't know Jalen Johnson, but I do know that kids with his potential are under an immense amount of pressure from an early age to compete and perform and navigate life under a microscope to put themselves in the best position for draft night, where they stand to provide their family with generational wealth by doing the thing they love putting their heart and soul into at the highest level.

Johnson's stock has fallen since he left Duke, and he could go almost anywhere in the first round after about pick number eight. He could be one of those guys who slides pretty far because of injury or "character concerns" that only involve prioritizing long-term health and wealth.

If I had to convince him to volunteer his time to play basketball for my own immense profit, I would be worried. The Spurs will not have to do that.

So long as he's healthy, Johnson provides the total package in a prospect. His ceiling is as high as can possibly be, and his floor is up there with the safer picks. He's huge and strong but nimble and skilled, a forceful finisher and unselfish passer, a versatile menace on defense and a beast on the open road.

If the Spurs want to use their rare level of draft capital to take the guy with the highest potential to lead a championship run, Johnson is the guy.


That's my thinking on the prospects, but it's all subjective and we don't know who will be available or if the Spurs will even keep the pick. What does your board look like? Come join the conversation and tell me who I missed on Twitter.