SAN ANTONIO — Remember on draft night when the Spurs took an 18-year-old guard who few analysts expected to go in the first round, and fans were either confused or straight-up angry?
Yeah, about that.
The Josh Primo pick was widely panned on draft night for many reasons. Firstly, he's a guard, and the Spurs needed help in the frontcourt, and there were tantalizing big men available. Many wanted Kai Jones, others liked Jalen Johnson, and some preferred the throwback style of Alperen Sengun.
Also, Primo played mostly as an off-ball shooter in his only year at Alabama. When Wright said the Spurs liked what they've seen from him as a point guard, some with Synergy subscriptions questioned his sanity.
Another assumption made by fans and analysts alike was that the baby-faced teen was a year away from being a year away. Wright spoke about a long runway for Primo and others on draft night, and some wondered aloud how long it would take for the latest lottery pick to make an impact at the NBA level.
As it turns out, Wright and the Spurs did more homework than the rest of us, and a lot of those outside assumptions have been made to look foolish after Summer League and a few preseason contests.
San Antonio clearly had a plan to address big-man depth through free agency. As for reaching for Primo, there were other teams considering taking him in the lottery, according to his agent Todd Ramasar.
Primo's play since draft night has given fans some insight as to why. San Antonio has been keeping tabs on him for a long time, from Basketball Without Borders to an impressive pre-draft process.
Skill-wise, he's been asked to do a lot more with the ball in his (tremendous looking) hands than he showed in his time at Bama. He's functionally ambidextrous and looks comfortable as a triple threat in pick and roll and isolation situations. He makes his own shot and finds his teammates in good spots.
As far as readiness goes, all any of his teammates or coaches can talk about is his maturity and poise. To be 18 and a composed adult is one thing, but to be 18 and a composed adult on an NBA court is another thing entirely. It's hard to define what 'it' is, but there's no denying that he has it.
Throw all of that together, and the kid had a team-high 17 points in just 18 minutes in the team's first preseason game. His first basket was a stand-still catch-and-shoot look from the corner, and after that, he started cooking.
The rook pulled up for two more triples while running pick and roll, and that's one of the most premium skills in the modern game. He made solid reads while controlling the offense, changing speeds and directions with ease, and shooting 7-8 from the floor, finishing in all areas. It was his first game in front of a crowd that big, and at the end of the game, they were chanting his name in what he called a surreal moment.
In 42 total minutes this preseason, Primo has scored 25 points hitting 10-17 from the floor and 5-10 from deep. He added 5 rebounds, 5 steals, 5 assists, and 5 turnovers.
Every time he gets on the floor, the game seems to bend toward him. He switched teams repeatedly in San Antonio's open scrimmage, doing a bit of everything. For someone who barely ran the point in college, he can dribble well with both hands and create for his teammates. Primo's ability to get to his spot and shoot from wherever is a rare skill at any age.
At the end of an extra-long practice on Tuesday, Primo and legendary Spurs shooting coach Chip Engelland were the last two on the floor, working at the free-throw line.
The rookie took one last shot and sought feedback. Engelland's words carried through the quiet, empty gym: "It's about how you feel about it."
Primo re-took his one last shot, swished it, and the pair smiled and walked off talking.
It's still way too early to take a victory lap on Primo, or even say how much time he'll get in the NBA rotation before he turns 19. However, it's clear that the immediate negative overreactions to the pick were off the mark. Don't expect the kid to start, but don't be surprised if he carves out a rotation spot and makes an impact.
There aren't many 18-year-old guards who have ever come into the league ready and special enough to contribute. There aren't many Spurs rookies who get a chance to try. Primo could be that rare guy. His locker in Austin might not get that much use.
The most positive immediate reactions to the pick were along the lines of, "I'm going to reserve judgment and wait and see, he's so young." After a much shorter wait than anybody predicted, it's clear that that was the wise choice.
It's still way too early to tell what kind of player Primo could turn into. He might even grow a few more inches and become a do-it-all point forward.