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Spurs draft pick Marcus Denmon
Kansas State guard Jacob Pullen (0) shoots over Missouri defenders Marcus Denmon, left, Laurence Bowers and Matt Pressey, right, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011, in Manhattan, Kan. Pullen scored 24 points in the game. Kansas State defeated Missouri 80-70. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner) (AP)
Missouri’s Marcus Denmon, left, shoots past Colorado’s Keegan Hornbuckle, right, while scoring two of his game-high 21 points during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010, in Columbia, Mo. Missouri won the game 92-63. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson) (AP)
Missouri’s Marcus Denmon celebrates after making a shot during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Kennesaw State, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011, in Columbia, Mo. Missouri won the game 104-67. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson) (AP)
Missouri’s Marcus Denmon, right, dunks the ball over Texas’ J’Covan Brown, left, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012, in Columbia, Mo. Missouri won the game 84-73. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson) (AP)
Missouri guard Marcus Denmon (12) goes to the basket in front of Oklahoma’s Cameron Clark (21) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Norman, Okla. on Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. Missouri won 71-68. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
By Jeff McDonald
A year ago, the Spurs did something on draft night uncharacteristic of them, making a bold move up the order to nab Kawhi Leonard.
Originally taken by Indiana at No. 15, the San Diego State small forward became the Spurs’ highest-drafted rookie since Tim Duncan.
The latest NBA draft followed a more familiar script for the Spurs.
Owning only the second-to-last pick Thursday — No. 59 overall — the Spurs were not expected to select a player likely to improve what is already one of the NBA’s deepest rosters.
It would be optimistic to expect Marcus Denmon, the high-scoring Missouri guard whose name the Spurs waited nearly 4????1/2? hours to tab with their lone pick, to make much of an impact immediately.
“The expectations weren’t overwhelming,” Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said. “We really like the pick and look forward to bringing him in and seeing how he is.”
Having traded their first-round pick to Golden State as part of the Stephen Jackson deal in March, and lacking the assets if not the desire to move up, the Spurs settled for a one-player draft Thursday.
Denmon’s strengths are evident in his scoring numbers.
A 6-foot-3 scorer, the 22-year-old led Missouri at 17.7 points per game last season, tied for second in the Big 12 behind Texas’ J’Covan Brown, and shot better than 40 percent from 3-point range. Denmon also averaged 2.1 assists and five rebounds.
“The guy can shoot the ball,” Buford said.
Denmon’s downside, meanwhile, can be measured by a ruler.
“It would help if he’d grow 3 or 4 inches,” Buford said.
A lack of size is the primary reason he tumbled to the end of the second round.
Buford said Denmon could project as a point guard in the NBA but was hesitant to pigeonhole him there before first seeing him on the Spurs’ practice court.
“I’m not comparing him to Gary Neal,” Buford said, referring to a similarly sized guard who has found a role as a shooter off the Spurs’ bench. “But the knock on Gary was that, for his size, people wanted him to be a point guard. He’s figured out a niche.”
Denmon’s first NBA test is likely to come next month at the Las Vegas Summer League. Given the dubious history of late second-round selections, it might be something for Denmon to make the Spurs’ roster.
If there was a chance for the Spurs to make another Leonard-like splash, it fizzled early Thursday.
Explorations into moving up in the draft, reportedly with fourth-year center DeJuan Blair as bait, proved fruitless.
“We had some conversations throughout the draft, throughout the days in preparation for the draft,” Buford said. “As we got into the draft, we really felt we were better off with who we had and where we were.”
With Thursday’s draft completed, Buford and the Spurs management team will pivot quickly to free agency, which begins Sunday.
The most notable name on the Spurs’ free-agent to-do list is Duncan, now 36 but still in many ways the centerpiece of the franchise. The resolution of Duncan’s contract situation — how much and for how many years — will set the stage for the rest of the Spurs’ summer.
Other Spurs who will enter the free-agent rolls this weekend are Boris Diaw, Danny Green, Patrick Mills and James Anderson. The Spurs have already made qualifying offers to restricted free agents Green and Mills. The Spurs have a chance to match any other offers they receive.
The Spurs might also look to entice Slovenian big man Erazem Lorbek, a sidepiece to last year’s draft-day deal with Indiana, from his team in Spain.