From drafting DeShaun Thomas with the 58th pick in the second round nearly a year ago, and then inviting players like Corey Maggette and Sam Young to San Antonio for training camp this past season, it’s probably clear by their roster moves, the San Antonio Spurs have been pursuing a backup small forward since the team released Stephen Jackson just before the 2013 NBA Playoffs began. Othyus Jeffers and Damion James were also Spurs once this past season, and there was even a trade that landed Austin Daye in a Spurs uniform, as he was one of the Spurs’ 13 players on roster to win an NBA Championship.
With free agency beginning on July 1, it’s time to look at some potential small forward candidates that could be economically available for the Spurs when free agency comes. Before taking a look, let’s work with a scenario in which the Spurs re-signed upcoming free agents Patty Mills, Boris Diaw, and Matt Bonner to manageable contracts, and the team either retained Aron Baynes as a restricted free agent, or did not pick up Daye’s non-guaranteed deal – or vice versa (Baynes leaves, Daye stays).
So let’s just assume the Spurs have about $2.5-3 million dollars to work with in signing a veteran free agent, for a fair price tag. The four free agents I’ll be discussing are Mike Miller, Marvin Williams, Richard Jefferson, and Chris Douglas-Roberts (CDR). All four players are unrestricted free agents, per BasketballInsiders.com.
Though the Spurs could also be looking at some point and shooting guard free agents, as well as big men, I’m going to keep this analysis strictly on small forwards. There are some other names out there like Paul Pierce, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, and Luol Deng, but for different reasons (playing time, money, staying at their current location), I excluded them from the list and narrowed it down to the following four players.
Free Agents Offensive Capabilities
Let’s first go to the offensive side of the court, focusing on some traits that make Spurs perimeter players effective – outside shooting, off the ball movement, transition, and passing. I’ve based most of my offensive analysis on Danny Green and Marco Belinelli, two perimeter players who spent time not just playing shooting guard, but also moving to small forward, especially on possessions at the defensive end, like when either had to be matched up with the likes of LeBron James of the Miami Heat, or Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder. I’ve excluded Kawhi Leonard from this discussion because as I explained in an in-depth feature on him recently, he’s become more than just a role player in the offensive system for the Spurs, and that extended responsibility on offense for him, is likely to grow next season.
Below is Green, Belinelli, Miller, Jefferson, Williams, and CDR’s five most used scoring possessions from last season, including the playoffs per Synergy. For a visual perspective, you can take a look at how each of the free agents’ shot distribution is either similar or different from Green and Belinelli’s shot diagrams.
In picking apart the data, Green and Belinelli are both solid 3-point shooters on their Spot-Up shots, as they each shot 44% from beyond the arc on those looks. There’s also a reason Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich gave Green the green light to shoot 3-pointers in transition, as Green finished the season a as a better 3-point shooter in transition (45%), than out of Spot-Up situations (44%). Green also shot 49% off of screens from 3-point range. As for Belinelli in transition, he shot 51% on transition 3-pointers, by spreading out to the 3-point line on transition plays.
Being that the Spurs as a team shot 42% on their Spot-Up 3-pointers, I’ll be showing how the four free agents shot percentage-wise on those shots.
|Team/Player||3-Point Percentage on Spot-Ups|
Like Belinelli and Green, Miller has been known throughout his career for his 3-point shooting and off the ball movement to get himself into the positions to receive a 3-point shot and knock it down. Whether it was with a team like the Heat in previous seasons, or most recently with the Memphis Grizzlies, Miller was still an effective spot-up 3-point shooter.
Most Spurs fans can recall how Jefferson was molded into a 3-point shooter in being part of the Spurs’ system during the few seasons he wore silver and black. Jefferson still took a high-percentage of 3-pointers even with a struggling team like the Jazz. Though his 40% Spot-Up 3-point range isn’t ideal, with a better team and better system, the percentage would likely increase.
Williams and CDR are a bit different when it comes to being natural 3-point shooters. Williams mainly played the “stretch 4” position in the time he’s spent in Utah with the Jazz, knocking down most of his 3-pointers off pick-and-pop jumpers, like the video below shows.
But as you can see in the next video below, Williams has the mechanics like a “Danny Green” or “J.J. Redick” on his spot-up 3-pointers, where he performs a quick jump in order to propel himself into the air to shoot the 3-pointer with a rapid release.
If put in the small forward position, Williams would have more opportunities to display his spot-up 3-point shot, and benefit from likely open looks that are created from the Spurs’ ball movement. Williams would also be versatile enough to play the power forward postion for stretches, as the pick-and-pop could be another weapon he could add to the lineup, like Bonner and Diaw currently do.
As for CDR, his release and form are something that might need some tweaking (see video below), but at the age of 27, that would be up to assistant coach Chip Engelland in determining if CDR’s shot would need some reconstruction. However, despite his form on his jumper, CDR shot 44% from 3-point range on Spot-Ups, the same as Green and Belinelli.
The next area to examine is the passing ability of each of the free agents compared to Green and Belinelli. To the left is a chart showing Green and Belinelli’s touches and passes per game during the regular season, via the SportVU data. To the right is a chart showing Green and Belinelli’s passing statistics, plus the four free agents stats as well.
Miller’s passing and touches dips compared to most of the group likely because of the offensive system Memphis ran, where there was a lot of pick-and-roll or post-up action in a slower pace. As he showed in his time in Miami, he is a capable passer in a system where there’s more penetration and ball movement. As for CDR, his statistics could be a bit more questionable as far as passing and ball movement go. For one, it could be the offensive system Charlotte ran, where there was more pick-and-roll action or post-ups with a player like Al Jefferson. Or it could be that he was one of the Bobcats’ options to create on offense, as 16% of his scoring possessions came from being the pick-and-roll ball handler and using isolations 6% of the time. Whether it was the system Utah ran or the fact that they had to pass more because they couldn’t find quality shots, both Jefferson and Williams put up “Spursy” passing numbers.
Free Agents Defensive Capabilities
One of the common sayings that’s been said from Spurs players’ current and past, is that if you don’t play defense, you won’t see playing time under Popovich. The data below to the left shows the Spurs’ perimeter players individual defense when measured by Opponent Points Per Possession (PPP), and to the right is how the four free agents defended those types of scoring possessions.
When it comes to defending the pick-and-roll ball handler, both Miller and CDR struggled, as they both averaged over 1.08 PPP. The best of the group at defending the pick-and-roll ball handler was Jefferson (0.81), as he defended the possession better than Tony Parker (0.89) based on the data. When defending Spot-Ups, almost all of the free agents struggled, as Miller was the lowest of the group at 1.00 PPP. However, even Parker and Belinelli allowed over 1.00 PPP when defending Spot-Up shots. Lastly, all free agents, but Williams kept isolation PPP below 1.00. Miller held his opponents to 0.56 PPP, which ranked 10th best in the entire NBA by Synergy’s metrics.
The reason I used these three types of possessions is because those are usually the three possessions individual defenders see the most by Synergy’s standards. When I averaged all three possessions per each free agent, here were the PPP from best to worst.
Miller – 0.93 PPP, CDR – 0.97 PPP, Jefferson – 0.99 PPP, Williams – 1.03 PPP
The Potential Price Tag
Lastly, one might be wondering how much these free agents are valued at, and how much it could cost the Spurs to ink one of them. A good measurement to see how much a player is worth is by their win shares. I’ve combined the regular season and playoff win shares from basketball-reference.com, and put them next to each player, and displayed what that player could be valued at in dollar figures, as well as how much it could be for the Spurs to sign them.
Miller: 4.2 Win Shares (WS) – $2-4 million – Miller is coming off a season where he earned $884,293 with the Grizzlies, but if he’s chasing another title, it would be understandable to see him sign from anywhere between the veteran minimum to $2.5 million. When Miller was amnestied from the Heat before the start of last season, the Spurs were one team rumored to be a suitor for him.
Jefferson: 2.7 WS – Veteran Minimum to $2.5 million – Jefferson just came off the books making $11 million. If he and the Spurs still have a mutual interest, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Jefferson sign for the veteran minimum to about $1.5 million.
Williams: 2.9 WS – $3 million – Williams just made $7.5 million with the Jazz. Though he’s 28 years old, he might be ready to start contending for a championship since he’s been on unsuccessful teams in Utah. Williams taking anywhere from $2-2.5 million seems like a reasonable figure to sign with a contender like the Spurs.
CDR: 2.7 WS – $1.5-2.5 million – CDR bumped his scoring average up by almost 3 points per game in the playoffs, where the Bobcats were swept by the Heat. At 27 years old, and having played for four teams in five seasons, CDR might be looking to make more than the $660,619 he made with Charlotte this past season. If he’s willing to sign from $1-1.5 million, it might be the price tag to sign a reemerging player like Roberts.
Since free agency hasn’t even begun, there’s no way to realistically know just how much cap room the Spurs will have to spend on free agents, because Diaw and Mills could be re-signed, or leave elsewhere. If the scenario comes up where the Spurs have about $2.5 million to sign a veteran free agent, Miller, Jefferson, Williams, and CDR could be new pieces to add to the team, with skill sets that might fit the Spurs’ system on both sides of the ball.