Spurs pick up European Center

2015 draft pickThe San Antonio Spurs made another unexpected draft pick when they selected 7’0″  Serbian Nikola Milutinov, who was not on any pundits radar coming into the draft.

“We’re excited to get Nikola,” Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said. “He’s a young big guy that has improved a great deal over the last year. As we look to the future, we need to replenish our size. To add a player like that, we’ll give him a chance to develop and see what he can do.”

Shortly after he was drafted, Milutinov tweeted:

“What an honor and a privilege to be drafted by the @spurs. I am very excited to get to Texas.”

The Spurs second round pick went to 4-year UMass graduate, 6’10” Power Forward Cady Lalanne who became one of three players in school history to record 1,000 points, 800 rebounds and 100 blocks in a career.

“He’s an athletic big guy who has a really good shooting form,” Buford said.

The No.1 pick in the draft went to the Minnesota Timberwolves, who selected Kentucky Center Karl-Anthony Townes who will join Power Forward Kevin Garnett, who was traded back to the Timberwolves from Brooklyn in February.


Denmon: “I’m better than the 59th pick”

Typically speaking, little is ever expected out of the No. 59 pick in the NBA draft.

That is fine by Marcus Denmon, the Missouri guard the Spurs selected with the draft’s second-to-last selection Thursday night.

“I feel I’m better than the 59th pick,” Denmon said.

When the Spurs’ one-man draft class arrives in San Antonio on July 5, the team’s brain trust — from general manager R.C. Buford and coach Gregg Popovich on down — will greet Denmon with one directive: Prove it.

Nobody questions Denmon’s credentials as a fill-it-up scorer. As a senior last season, Denmon averaged 17.7 points — tied for second in the Big 12 —  led Missouri to its second conference tournament championship in four years, and was named a second-team All-American.

A two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection, Denmon shot better than 40 percent from 3-point range over four college seasons, one of the most accurate marksmen in the country.

And yet there he was Thursday,  moments away from going undrafted.

Speaking with the Express-News via telephone from his hometown in Kansas City, Mo., on Friday afternoon, Denmon said he will use his long slide on draft night as motivation once he arrives in San Antonio.

“With my accolades and my body of work, I was still overlooked,” said Denmon, who next month will compete for the Spurs’ summer league team in Las Vegas. “I’m going in hungry and humble.”

And, perhaps, with a chip on his shoulder that could serve him well.

Spurs can’t help but smile at play of stoic Leonard

By Jeff McDonald

The 66th game of his NBA career had ended. The TV lights had faded and most of the microphones that had semi-circled his locker just moments earlier had disappeared in search of someone more quotable.

It was then and there, in the aftermath of the Spurs’ resounding Game 2 victory over Utah on Wednesday, that Kawhi Leonard chose to reveal his best-kept secret.

“I do smile,” Leonard said.

And then he did. Sort of. The left corner of Leonard’s mouth inched north ever so slightly, briefly transforming the Spurs’ enigmatic rookie small forward into a Mona Lisa in braids.

Just like that, it was gone. The instant passed without anyone bothering to capture photographic evidence of the Loch Ness monster of NBA facial expressions.

For Leonard’s teammates, who have come to regard the soft-spoken 20-year-old as the type of player who could make it stone-faced through a tickle fight, the moment was one that had to be seen to be believed.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before,” Manu Ginobili said of Leonard’s grin. “Not for more than a second. Or a fourth of a second.”

In the crucible of his first NBA playoff series, which the Spurs lead 2-0 heading into Game 3 on Saturday in Utah, Leonard’s seeming inability to feel neither pleasure nor pressure has been a blessing.

Quietly — because how else would he do it? — the 6-foot-7 rookie from San Diego State is having quite an impact on the top-seeded Spurs’ manhandling of the No. 8 seed Jazz.

During the Spurs’ 114-83 picnic in Game 2, Leonard hit 6 of 7 shots, including 3 of 4 3-pointers, on his way to 17 points. It was the highest-scoring playoff game for a Spurs rookie since Ginobili went for 21 against Dallas in Game 4 of the 2003 Western Conference finals.

Leonard did it without beating his chest. Or, save for a momentary lapse in the postgame locker room, without cracking a smile.

“He’s got a way about him,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s not so anxious to show us that he’s got every move in the world. He’s level-headed and takes things as they come. Which is great, because he blends in with everybody else.”

Leonard, for his part, doesn’t quite understand why everyone keeps asking him to smile more, as if every day were team picture day.

“That’s just my character on the court,” Leonard said. “Act like I’ve been here before.”

Yet his lack of outward emotion often belies a potpourri of feelings inside. He is not made of stone, even if he sometimes appears to be doing a spot-on impression of Mount Rushmore.

“I am excited,” Leonard insisted. “I’m out there playing hard. If I was down, I wouldn’t be playing hard basketball.”

Other Spurs admit they at first didn’t quite know what to make of the draft-day trade that brought Leonard to town last June. General manager R.C. Buford had to send George Hill — a versatile and popular backup guard — to Indiana to make it happen.

The deal was a gamble, and even Leonard’s soon-to-be teammates knew it.

“I was definitely shocked, even upset,” Ginobili said. “I loved playing with George.”

It didn’t take long for the quiet kid with the braids to win fans in his new locker room.

With giraffe-neck arms and hands that could palm Jupiter, Leonard is a born rebounder — he averaged 5.1 in 24 minutes per game during the regular season — and a steals machine. His ability to run the floor and finish fast breaks has given the Spurs’ transition game an extra gear.

Those are the things that make him stand out. As impressive to his veteran teammates are the ways in which he fits in.

The never-smiling thing is part of it.

“He doesn’t get too upset, and he doesn’t get too pumped up,” Ginobili said. “He just plays. That’s basically who we are.”

And basically who Leonard has always been.

There is but one scenario Leonard could envision that might cause him unveil his full-on, ear-to-ear, 5-year-old-at-Disneyland grin.

And if the Spurs’ luck breaks just right between now and late June, they just might get to see it.

“You might see it,” Leonard said. “If we win the championship.”

Twitter: @JMcDonald_SAEN


Game 1:

Game 2:

Game 3 Saturday: Spurs @Jazz, 9 p.m.
TV: FSNSW, TNT Radio: WOAI-AM 1200; KCOR-AM 1350?

Game 4 Monday: Spurs @Jazz, TBD
TV: FSNSW, TBD Radio: WOAI-AM 1200; KCOR-AM 1350?

* Game 5 Wednesday: Jazz @Spurs, TBD
TV: FSNSW, TBD Radio: WOAI-AM 1200; KCOR-AM 1350?

* Game 6 May 11: Spurs @Jazz, TBD
TV: FSNSW, TBD Radio: WOAI-AM 1200; KCOR-AM 1350?

* Game 7 May 13: Jazz @Spurs, TBD
TV: TBD Radio: WOAI-AM 1200; KCOR-AM 1350?

* — As needed in best-of-7 series