Spurs take teens Samanic, Johnson to open NBA draft
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The San Antonio Spurs have a long and successful history of drafting European players and stashing them overseas until both parties are ready.
Croatian power forward Luka Samanic does not plan on waiting and neither does San Antonio.
The Spurs selected Samanic with the 19th overall pick and fellow 19-year-old Keldon Johnson of Kentucky at No. 29 in Thursday night's draft.
"No, no, no, right away," Samanic said of playing in the NBA. "Yep, tomorrow (he's arriving in San Antonio)."
The 6-foot-10, 230-pound forward plans to play for the Spurs in the Las Vegas and Salt Lake City summer leagues.
"He's a really skilled player at a position that now is requiring great skill in our league," San Antonio general manager R.C. Buford said. "He's got to tighten up his game. He's got to get better physically, but from a skill and talent standpoint, we felt like we were acquiring someone that would fit in with the development of a lot of our young guys."
Samanic played for Petrol Olimpija last season, where he averaged 7.96 points and shot 34% from 3-point range.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said acquiring more 3-point shooting in the offseason was vital for the team next season and Samanic believes he can help.
"If you think you are a shooter, like I think I am, and I have a touch for the 3, you just have to keep shooting even if some days you're making less," he said.
Samanic has attempted to pattern his game after Golden State forward Kevin Durant but said his game probably compares more to former Utah forward Andrei Kirilenko.
"My ability to switch on defense, to shoot the ball, run, screen and rebound," Samanic said of his strengths. "Whatever Coach Pop wants me to do."
Johnson, a 6-foot-6 wing who played at Kentucky for one season, averaged 13.5 points and 5.9 rebounds last season. Buford said the Spurs had Johnson rated as the top player in the draft at his position.
"I was definitely nervous to find out where I was finally going to land, but I'm blessed to be able to come to an organization like the Spurs," Johnson said.
San Antonio completed their draft by selecting Mississippi State guard Quinndary Weatherspoon with the 49th pick. Weatherspoon was named first-team All-SEC after averaging 18.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists in his senior season with the Bulldogs.
"With the team we have in place, with the group we hope to bring back and add to, everybody will have to work hard to earn their opportunities," Buford said.
The Spurs are rebuilding after the franchise was turned upside down last offseason after relenting to Leonard's trade demand and sending him and Danny Green to the Raptors for DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl. Leonard was named the NBA Finals MVP after leading Toronto to the franchise's first championship.
San Antonio had two picks in the first round for the first time since 1987, when they selected David Robinson first overall and Greg Anderson at No. 23.
The Spurs were without a lottery pick for the 22nd consecutive season, the longest streak in the NBA history. San Antonio has made the playoffs 23 straight seasons despite that.