With the 12th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, the San Antonio Spurs select… Joshua Primo.
The 18-year-old kid from Alabama?
The one who averaged just 8.1 points per game?
No one—not even the “experts”—saw it coming. Primo was projected as a late first rounder. Spurs fans were confused. Many were angry. Many more were critical. You can just read the responses to the tweet below…
Spurs general manager Brian Wright told the media that his team was looking for the prospect with the “best potential long-term ceiling.” Primo was the youngest player in the draft. Plus, San Antonio sought to add another versatile wing to their developing core. Key word: developing.
This was a pick about the future. The distant future. Primo would need time to grow—the front office understood that. But that was just fine. The Spurs, as Wright alluded to, were in no rush.
“Josh’s development timeline will be Josh’s development timeline. I think what we’re focused on is ultimately the type of person he is, the work that he’ll put in to continue to improve his craft and how he’ll impact our team long-term, so there’s no pressure from us,” he said, via AL.com. “The pressure that he puts on himself is the pressure that he would consistently put on himself to be good. He wouldn’t be in this position if he didn’t push himself to work hard and improve. Again, he was a high school senior playing starter-level minutes in the SEC, so we do think there’s big upside there and he’s going to continue to improve once we get him into the program.”
Well, he’s been in the program for nine months now, and the 6-4 guard has certainly continued to improve. He has spent significant time with the Austin Spurs, the Spurs’ G League affiliate, and been impressive as one of their primary playmakers. This season, Primo has averaged 16.7 points (on 38.7 percent shooting from the field and 42.1 percent from three), 5.9 assists and 1.6 steals. At the G League Winter Showcase in Las Vegas, he helped lead the Toros to a victory over the highly-touted Ignite team, which features several future lottery picks (as Jonathan Tjarks pointed out in this story for The Ringer, Primo is actually younger than Jaden Hardy and MarJon Beauchamp, who are both projected as first-rounders in the 2022 Draft). Primo finished with 23 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists in the win.
The rookie looks comfortable handling the ball and operating out of pick-and-rolls. He has good size for a guard, which allows him to finish at the rim on one end and guard multiple positions on the other. He spreads the floor as a perimeter threat and hits pull-up jumpers off-the-dribble.
Throughout March, he stepped into a bigger role in Coach Popovich’s rotation. He averaged 6.6 points on 39 percent shooting amid a recent four-game winning streak (a crucial one that put the Spurs in the play-in tournament). Coaches have praised Primo’s composure, fearlessness and professionalism, especially for someone his age.
“Joshua has an uncanny maturity about him—kind of a steady demeanor,” Popovich told reporters in January, after Primo put up 15 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists against the Raptors. “He’s not awed by the NBA or anything like that. He makes good decisions. He definitely knows how to play. He understands the game. It’s just a matter of getting stronger and more aware that these are men and they’re coming after your head, so to speak. Just to get used to that physicality and all those sort of things.
“He’s not afraid to shoot it. He makes good decisions. He’s a good passer,” Pop added. “He’s got some innate ways about him that let you know that he understands what’s going on. He’s already pretty good at pick-and-roll, for instance. Sometimes it takes a player a couple of years to figure that out. So I think it’s a maturity thing and I want to make sure he feels comfortable and he’s not overwhelmed. He’s a respectful, quiet kid so it’s going to take some time to pull some stuff out of him, but he’s been wonderful.”
It may take some time, but that’s not a problem. The Spurs will stay patient. Primo is only 19 years old, and just keeps getting better.