Before the 2018-19 season even begins, the injury bug already bit the San Antonio Spurs at the guard position. On October 6, the Spurs learned rookie Lonnie Walker IV could be out 6-8 weeks. Two days later, Dejounte Murray was diagnosed with what could be a season ending injury. Then, four days later, the Spurs learned Derrick White could miss two to four weeks of playing time.
Despite the plethora of early injuries to the Spurs’ guards, time will continue to pass, and the season will begin Wednesday October 17 when the Spurs host the Minnesota Timberwolves.
That means, the Spurs have two routes they can take as they deal with these injuries – hold down the fort until White returns, or add guard depth either through free agency or a trade. Let’s explore those two options in more detail.
Hold Down the Fort
Hearing White could be out just two to four weeks sounds a little different when you look at the amount of games he could potentially miss. If White were to recover in two weeks, he’d only miss four games to start the season. However, if he recovers in four weeks, then he could miss as many as 10 games.
Depending on how quickly White progresses through the recovery process could determine how aggressive the Spurs might be in seeking additional help at the point guard position.
For now, all signs show that Bryn Forbes and Patty Mills will initially take the responsibility of the minutes at the one. On Friday, Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich started Forbes at the point guard position in the Spurs’ preseason finale at Orlando. In 26 minutes, he finished with eight points, six rebounds, three assists, and two turnovers.
Playing the point guard position isn’t something foreign for Forbes, though he doesn’t play the position often. During his rookie season, when he was finding more time in Austin in the G-League, the Spurs wanted him to experiment with learning to run more point since he had mainly been a shooting guard throughout his college career.
Even last season he got some experience at the point where he ran 111 possessions at the one according to CleaningTheGlass.com. If it’s Patty Mills who ends up getting the start, he too has years of experience running the point or shooting guard positions.
With the playmaking of DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge in the starting lineup, the main job on offense for whoever starts at point will be to bring the ball up the court and get the Spurs into their initial motion or floppy actions. If it’s a pick-and-roll play, Forbes or Mills would need to pass the ball to DeRozan and then space the floor at their natural shooting guard positions. If it’s a post-up, they’d need to be ready to get Aldridge the ball in the area where he’s most comfortable on the low block. While Mills might be used to seeing full court pressure, that could be one area of concern if a defense applies that method against Forbes.
On defense, Forbes and Mills will mainly have the responsibility of defending the opposing point guards across from them. While Mills is more of an energetic defender, Forbes has put on more muscle and Popovich has commented on how Forbes is putting a lot of effort on the defensive end of the ball early in the preseason. If the opposing offense targets Forbes or Mills and puts them in the post, the Spurs’ help scheme will be tested very early in the season.
If the Spurs were to look at adding some depth at the point guard spot by signing a veteran free agent, there’s four ways they could go about doing that.
Waive and sign someone – Since the Spurs’ roster is already capped with 15 contracts, the team would likely need to waive a player if they wanted to add a veteran point guard through free agency and be able to offer the full veteran minimum. If this was the case, the most likely player to be waived would be Quincy Pondexter, since he only has a partially guaranteed contract.
Some veteran free agents currently available are: Mario Chalmers, Aaron Brooks, Jameer Nelson, Ramon Sessions, Ty Lawson, Donald Sloan, Jarrett Jack, Sean Kilpatrick, Jason Terry, and Tim Frazier.
From outside, it seems like all those veterans would be fine signing for the veteran minimum to get an opportunity with an NBA team.
Apply for the Disabled Player Exception – If Murray is ruled out for the season, the Spurs can apply for the Disabled Player Exception up until January 15. If the team is granted the exception, they’d be allowed to add an additional player to the roster, which means they could keep Pondexter, BUT, they’d only be able to offer a free agent a one-year contract of $772,476, since the offer can only be 50% of Murray’s salary this season. It’s unknown if one of those veterans listed above would be willing to play for that amount of money.
Trade for a player – The Spurs could always explore trading for a veteran guard, though, this early in the season, when most teams are trying to see which type of roster they have, that seems unlikely. Plus, if the team thinks White will only be out for two weeks, they probably wouldn’t make a trade which would require trading away a potential future pick. This is not to say the Spurs won’t make a trade, but again, it just doesn’t seem like the most likely option right now unless things go terribly wrong with Forbes and Mills running the point. Just for an EXAMPLE of what a trade could look like, it could be something like Jeremy Lin for Pau Gasol and a future pick or rights to an international prospect.
Use the vacant two-way slot – The Spurs’ last option to add some depth at the point guard position could be to use their vacant two-way slot, which would allow them to sign a player with less than three years of experience to a two-way contract. This would give the Spurs 45 days to have that player on the depth chart while White and Walker IV continue to heal and eventually return.
Since the Spurs haven’t yet made any other roster additions, it seems like they will head into opening night with the plan to play Forbes and Mills at the one. But still, a lot could change before Wednesday.
If my sarcasm detector is working, I think this answer from Pop means the Spurs will indeed look to add veteran help at point guard in the days to come:
“Nah, who needs a point guard? We’re not going to look at all. Come on, Jeff. Jeez.”
— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) October 12, 2018