The Spurs have a vision of their next great team: it’s hyper-modern – defensively switchable and replete with long and versatile offensive options that defy positional types; it’s true to the organization’s culture with high-character, coachable players; it has stars. And they’re not going to lose sight of that for what’s in the foreground.
If that much hadn’t been clear as of late, through consecutive summers taking swings on multi-dimensional guard / wings and last season’s trade deadline shakeup, then the 2022 NBA Draft was likely their boldest statement of intentions yet.
The Spurs held on to all three of their first-round picks on Thursday night, turning them into perhaps the class’s most impactful defender in 6-9, 230-pound Jeremy Sochan (9) and two swingmen in Malaki Branham (20) and Blake Wesley (25) with three-level scoring potential.
Collectively, the bounty feels on brand for how Spurs GM Brian Wright has gone about building this team, but it also brings more method to the madness. In Sochan, Wright gets the most physically imposing iteration of the switchable defender he’s prioritized until now, a skeleton key who can unlock different lineups, check 1 through 5 and allow them to play the same brand of defense they leaned into last season without getting bullied by larger lineups. At a minimum, his offensive IQ and activity meshes well with the current system; at best, he can elevate it with the right seasoning and shooting improvement.
Here’s Wright at Spurs HQ at the end of a busy draft night, smiling and weary, speaking on the Sochan selection:
“He can have some moments where he’s playing 4 or playing 5 or playing 3. It’s the unique part about him and what drew us to him, and just that size and strength and mobility. There’s a lot there … That versatility he brings is definitely unique. ”
In Branham and Wesley, two picks the Spurs acquired the rights to via the aforementioned trade deadline moves, they get a few more bites of the apple for another highly valued type of player: defensively capable wings that can handle the ball, create a bit, and shoot from all over. They’re different types of scorers and gambles, but go ahead and throw them into the mix with Joshua Primo, Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson and you have a volume play that one or two become an offensive cornerstone.
The jokes about San Antonio taking not one but two more 6-5ish perimeter guys write themselves, and Sochan’s iffy shooting does not immediately look to pair well with someone like Jakob Poeltl, but Wright was clear on one thing the day before the draft: the Spurs front office would not let positional needs or logjams impact those decisions:
“We have always taken the approach of‘ best available player. If the best available player is a guard, we have no issue taking that person … I don’t think we’re in a position where we’re going to pass on the best potential prospect to force a fit. ”
When asked about stacking even more young talent on the wing, Wright hits a familiar refrain on the NBA’s positionless sea change and how they’re adapting to it:
“The size, the versatility, the length, the skillsets … it’s how they all complement and how you can build with that. It’s not as position-specific anymore. You watched the playoffs, and it looked like the 6-8 and under league for a while. ”
Spurs culture can be a throwaway term at times, but Wright was quick to note that swinging for upside doesn’t mean undervaluing coachability and locker room fit.
“We don’t want to gamble on the character, and we don’t want to gamble on the things we identified as important to our organization and how we grow. On these three guys we think we hit that part, with room to grow. ”
On Branham, whom Wright notes the team had “an inside track” on with his Ohio State assistant coach having been a high school teammate of his, the words “coachable”, “competitive” and “knows his game” roll of the tongue. He notes Sochan’s worldly qualities, likens him to Boris Diaw and says his views on basketball and outside basketball “really lined up” the culture they’re trying to foster. He praises Wesley’s engine and willingness to improve alongside his unteachable tools.
In those quotes, you feel the same cultural throughline that stretches back decades to various great San Antonio teams. What’s Spursy on the floor will continue to evolve; off the floor, less so.
Wright and Co. will continue to try and cobble together the next great one as the offseason gets underway. Decisions remain on qualifying offers, rookie extensions and ways to utilize their cap space, with a front office that’s showing to be increasingly open for business and trusting in a process that’s coming into focus.