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

Mike Chiari Spurs News

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 on the internet breaking down prospects whose names could be potentially called.

My inspiration for this was reading some of the comparisons that have been made — most notably, 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 comps put visions in our heads about what we can come to expect from said player, which is both fair and unfair. It’s fair, because most of us (non-draft experts) haven’t seen a ton of film on these players, so comparing them to somebody we have seen helps us understand their game more. It’s unfair, because when we hear Player X is like Player Y, it sets expectations that the player then has to live up to, or hopefully exceed.

All this to say, I took the time to watch some film on 22 players that the Spurs could look at drafting with each of their three picks, and instead of comparing them to just anybody they remind me of, I compared them to a former Spur based on size/position/athleticism and style of play.

I chose to avoid writing about Paolo Banchero, Jaden Ivey, and the aforementioned Smith and Holmgren, as they’re likely to go in the top-4 (Ivey being the only one to potentially slip) and those teams are highly unlikely to trade those picks (the Kings being possible, but I don’t see the Spurs jumping up to 4). I also tried my best to avoid comparing anybody to the Big Three, but there was one player’s tape I watched that made me break that rule.

Over the next three days, I’ll be releasing a new batch of prospects, so keep your eye out for each one. And without further ado, here are the initial prospects, but first, keep in mind:

Disclaimer No. 1: These aren’t perfect. The game has changed so much over the years, which will be evident in the videos I add for the Spurs player I’m comparing the prospect to, so some imagination will be necessary.

Disclaimer No. 2: Some footage was harder to find than other when it came to the Spur I was comparing the prospect to, so I included what I felt was best.

Modern Fours

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

Keegan Murray

Comparison: Sean Elliott

Over the year, I watched a good chunk of college basketball, understanding 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. Anywhere you look, you’ll see the book on him is relatively the same: He can score the ball. He led the Big-10 Conference in points per game at 23.5 while shooting 39.8% on his three-point attempts. He might not create quite as much off the dribble as Smith and Banchero do, but Iowa was able to move him around to different positions to open him up. Seeing his combination of size, speed, and skill, he looks like what Sean Elliott would in today’s NBA. For Murray, there are questions about his ability to create his shot, as previously mentioned, but we saw what Sean was able to do playing off others for years.

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Jeremy Sochan

Comparison: Boris Diaw

Perhaps my favorite comparison, and player, of everybody the Spurs might potentially draft. Jeremy Sochan is a Swiss Army knife power forward who should be able to play spurts as a small-ball 5. He has good mobility that allows him to stay with guards and wings and is large enough to bang with almost everybody in the league (with perhaps the exception of Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid, but that’s the case with everybody). Bobo’s playmaking ability is what made him so important during his tenure with the Spurs, and Sochan has that same skill. The only knock on Sochan right now is his shooting, but if you believe in the 90/10 rule, where if you get 90% good from a player, you’ll take the 10% bad. Plus, when you look at his touch around the basket and seeing what Keldon Johnson was able to do in a couple of years, you can’t help but believe his perimeter shooting will come around if he becomes a Spur.

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E.J. Liddell

Comparison: DeJuan Blair (with a jumper)

Liddell gets this comparison to one of my favorite role-playing Spurs of all time, DeJuan Blair, mostly because of their size at the position they play. At the combine, Liddell measured 6’7” in shoes and weighed 243 lbs., whereas Blair measured 6’6.5” and weighed 276. This makes Liddell more of a 4 than Blair ever was, but Blair was no slouch as an athlete. The shooting is also what makes Liddell more versatile than Blair, having shot 37.4% from three on 3.8 attempts per game his last year at Ohio State. His per game rankings in the Big 10 were fourth in points at 19.4, seventh in rebounds at 7.9, and first in blocks at 2.6. One of the main reasons why the Spurs might be able to draft Liddell with their later picks is because he’ll turn 22 in December. His size and skill, however, would make him a nice addition to a position of need for the Spurs.

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The Bigs

Given how great 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 with the ninth pick. However, Poeltl is in line to get paid in the near future, which is why there are rumblings about potential trades. This all makes drafting one of the following prospects something the Spurs might heavily consider.

Mark Williams

Comparison: Artis Gilmore

One of a few players whose stock rose exponentially due to their play during the season, Mark Williams has sort of a throwback feel to his game. He measured in at 7’2” at the combine with a 9’9” standing reach, not to mention his 7’6.5” wingspan – all of which were the tallest/longest of everybody that measured. Williams’ game is in the paint, where he finishes lobs with authority and swats shots with reckless abandon. The Spurs, too, once had a lengthy center that controlled the interior with the best of them. Williams might not have the sweet afro Gilmore had, but he has the game that could remedy the lack of depth the Spurs have in the frontcourt.

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Jalen Duren

Comparison: David Robinson

I know that Big Dave is in the pantheon of all NBA players, but when you see Duren out there on the court, you get a glimpse of just what kind of athlete he is. His year at Memphis didn’t quite go according to plan, but that happens to raw prospects more often than most would like. And yes, Duren is a bit raw for a potential lottery pick, but he has tools that you can’t teach. The way he can run the court at his size, his leaping ability, and strength all lend their hand to what The Admiral could do on the court. Duren won’t be a tremendous shooter, but he’s not afraid to take them from time to time. And to be fair, Robinson wasn’t the greatest shooter out there – in fact, for the years they have data available which started in the ‘96-97 season, he was 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 did, so there will be plenty of room to grow.

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Walker Kessler

Comparison: Defensive LaMarcus Aldridge

The second leading shot blocker in the NCAA this year, Kessler was the anchor of a defense that was in the top-10 of KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency. Twice this season, he had a triple-double with blocks. That just shows you the interior force Kessler was this year. Offensively, it’s hard for any big to match the skill of LaMarcus Aldridge, so I’m not here to say Kessler is that, but he is able to knock down some shots from time to time. This comparison is more about how when I watched the film, I saw the same body type and movement that Aldridge showed while in silver and black.

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