San Antonio Spurs 2019-20 review: Bryn Forbes is erratic in contract year
By Damien Bartonek
Shooting guard Bryn Forbes of the San Antonio Spurs looked to build off of his best statistical year coming into this rollercoaster ride of a 2019-20 season.
Coming into the 2019-20 NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs and fans among the NBA had a supreme level of optimism involving the team. The Spurs had an impressive showing last season considering the barrage of injuries that hit the roster early in the year, which ultimately brought out some unsung heroes in guys like Bryn Forbes and Davis Bertans.
In Forbes’ case, he posted his career-best statistical season last year as that was his first year ever being a starting shooting guard in the NBA. “Sparty,” as the great Bill Land refers to him, was entered the 2019-20 season shooting a remarkable 42.6 percent from three his previous year during the regular season, and it seemed to only get better from there.
Forbes ultimately picked up right where he left off as soon as the playoffs started against Denver when he helped San Antonio come one possession away from moving into the second round of the Western Conference Playoffs.
In the Spurs’ lone playoff series last season against the Denver Nuggets, Bryn looked to have blossomed into one of the game’s elite floor spacers, shooting 48.4 percent from beyond the arc in the seven-game series. His elite-level three-point shooting, coupled with his undeterred grit and hustle on the floor would be an instrumental part for this Spurs team should they have made any sort of playoff run.
With the ups-and-downs we have seen from this year’s Spurs team, there’s no question, this bunch vastly underachieved. Forbes is a big part of the group that’s taken a step back in terms of his play. Now that every loss that hurts this Spurs team, everybody’s mistakes on the floor get magnified even further.
The games aren’t played on paper—we all understand that—but for a team that’s deficient when it comes to floor spacing and three-point shooting, Bryn’s importance to the offense went up a notch that he may not have been ready for just yet. The numbers and the tape prove so, but all wasn’t bad this season for the Michigan State alum.
Next: Sparty is still a sniper
Statistics don’t do full justice to Sparty’s exceptional shooting
While Forbes’s three-point percentage dipped nearly four percent from last season, Bryn has still been a force from beyond the arc. With every shooter, you’ll have hot and cold streaks. While Bryn has had his fair share of both, he’s recovered from his shooting slumps and went back to hitting bombs from deep later in the season.
Bryn shot 41.7 percent or better from three-point land in October, December, February and March of this season. Throughout his 2019-20 campaign, Forbes has been a well above average catch-and-shoot player. Forbes is shooting 39.5 percent from three-point land in catch and shoot situations.
In totality, Forbes would be having a down year in many people’s eyes—just check Spurs Twitter—but he’s still among the NBA’s best in three-point shooting. A 38.8 percent three-point shooter this season and a career forty percent three-point shooter, what Bryn can offer a team is still needed and accepted in this era of basketball.
Forbes is still among the best in terms of shooting from downtown, and while maybe his role and play style is suited for being a 25-28 minute per night starter, he can still bring the fireworks from deep in this pace-and-space era of NBA basketball.
He also goes against the grain of what many people expect from a player of his caliber.
The saying goes in the NBA that “your role players play better at home.” In Bryn Forbes’s case, that’s inaccurate. In his 33 games played on the road this season, Forbes was a substantially better player. At home, Forbes is a 40.6 percent field goal shooter, and a 36.2 percent three-point shooter. On the road, Forbes is a 42.6 percent field goal shooter and a 41.2 percent three-point shooter.
San Antonio’s offensive rating jumped nine points with Forbes on the floor while being away from the Alamo City, and his plus-minus dropped nearly four points from -8.7 to -4.9.
Sparty also had better individual all-around numbers, averaging a slight uptick in points from 11.1 at home to 12.2 on the road. Also, Bryn has both nine fewer turnovers and fouls while playing away from San Antonio. He also has seven more steals and fourteen more assists while playing on the road.
Analytically, Forbes plus-minus splits will never look right. With the lackadaisical season the Spurs’ have had, plus-minus isn’t the best stat to judge how good a player is or isn’t on this roster. I preface with that because the analytics will say Forbes is a -14.7 with him on the floor post-All-Star break. I disagree heavily with the sentiment suggested by that statistic.
Forbes’ post-All-Star break has been phenomenal in terms of efficiency in his nine games up until the NBA’s stoppage in play. During that nine-game stretch, he is average 12.2 points per game while shooting 48.6 percent from the field and 47.1 percent from deep. On tape, Forbes’ play during that stretch truly looked to go back to the basics in terms of his style and level of play.
The Spurs’ offensive rating jumped from 106 to 115 with him on the floor a Forbes started to settle back into the player he was last season. Bryn’s catch and shoot percentage improved mightily to fifty percent from downtown in those final nine contests. The stoppage of play put a halt in my opinion on a potential rebirth of the player that Bryn Forbes was last season.
Next: Atrocious defense offsets solid shooting
Bryn’s defense is still a detriment to the team
As we all know, guard defense can be tough in the NBA these days. Whether it be the lack of physical play or the fact that players are just too good these days to stop, defense can be very hard to come by in the modern game.
I’d like to preface my thoughts on Bryn’s defense with this: You didn’t sign Forbes to a long-term contract expecting an average defensive player. You signed him strictly for his shooting ability, and in all likelihood, he should not be a starting shooting guard in the NBA. I’ve mentioned he holds great value to a team, especially for the skill set that he has as far as his shooting can go, but when being matched up defensively against starting-caliber guards, Bryn puts your team at an enormous defensive deficit.
I mentioned “average defensive player” because Forbes hasn’t been that this season or anything close to it. He’s a small guard as it is, but when on the floor against teams with just a minimal size advantage as it pertains to length, height and or weight, Bryn is the guy on the floor they attack on many occasions. With that being known, Bryn has been mediocre at best as an on-ball defender all season. It’s been a big downwards spiral for him defensively, as he hasn’t had any sort of sustained defensive impact at all this season.
He’s never been a ball-stopping defender, but even in terms of team defense like knowing your rotation(s), dodging picks, playing passing lanes, taking a charge or just “making the right play” it seems all season that Bryn Forbes has been a step behind since the year began on that end.
His defensive woes became more magnified as his shooting struggles came along, as he truly was a minus player for the Spurs at all times. He struggles to stay in front of his man, or not get beat the easiest way in terms of mental lapses like a backdoor cut or a slow/wrong rotation. His defensive impact, or lack thereof, has hurt this Spurs team multiple times and the tape will prove it to you.
Next: Forbes took a step back in his two-way progression
Inconsistency is the starting two-guard’s the downfall
Before this season, Bryn Forbes shot 52 percent of his total amount of field goals from beyond the arc. His shot breakdown is pretty simple, as he doesn’t shoot what the NBA determines a “mid-range shot,” which is 10-16 feet. Every shot Bryn Forbes puts up is either from zero-to-three feet, which is “at the rim”, from three-to-10 feet or the “long-two” which is the 16-3pt line. Last season, nearly 48 percent of his shots came from those three areas excluding the three-point line.
This season, Bryn is shooting 65 percent of his shots from beyond the arc, and nearly 15 percent coming from the long two. That means the other three ranges of the court are essentially blocked off because 80 percent of his shots are coming from that zone. Defenses are ultimately forced to stay home and not collapse because they have no threat of Bryn taking a shot closer than that.
This season, Forbes is shooting 43.5 percent on long-twos. Last season, he shot 16.4 percent of his shots from that zone and made 50.8 percent of them. He shot 11.5 percent of his shots from the three-to-10 foot zone and hit them at a near-42 percent clip. This season, Bryn is shooting barely eight percent of his shots from there at a 40.4 percent mark.
Lastly, Bryn’s shooting near the basket, on paper, looks to have improved from inside the paint. He’s shooting 67.5 percent from zero-to-three feet and last year, he shot 62.2 percent from inside the paint with 10.4 percent of his shots coming from there.
WATCH: @FOXSportsSW @BrynjForbes | @spurs | #GoSpursGo pic.twitter.com/ASvYktu1v0
— FOX Sports Southwest (@FOXSportsSW) February 27, 2020
The thing is, he’s only shooting 6.9 percent of his shots from inside the paint. So this metric could be skewed because he’s taking a lower volume and making the few he takes. Or, he could’ve truly improved at making shots inside the paint and, for some reason, isn’t going with what works!
I’m not saying he has to turn into your favorite 2K center build, the preverbal “Paint Beast,” but it’s been proven before when he’s efficient at certain areas on the floor and is willing to take those shots. They open up the Spurs’ floor spacing and his overall impact immensely.
His inability and overall lack of offensive awareness as his shot selection goes has been a killer for the Spurs all season. Either one pass too many, one pass too late, or just an overall bad shooting decision. Just a multitude of bad offensive possessions at times from No. 11 has hurt the Spurs and himself this season.
This brings me to my next point: Forbes has been inconsistent all season. I preface that statement with the fact that since he is a role player and you have to expect that. Not only is it unfair to him, but it’s unfair to the team to expect somebody to shoot 42 percent from three along with an abundance of other things in every single game.
With that being said, his inconsistencies have been on display even more so than they normally would be with Spurs vastly underachieving this season. In November and January, Forbes shot an average of 33.9 percent from deep. Those two months just so happened to have the highest total games played. So as the games continued to go on, Forbes’ play throughout those months declined at a rapid pace.
Continuing on his shooting, Bryn shot 33 percent or worse from three-point land in 31-of-82 games. This season, Forbes has had 27 games where he’s shot 33 percent or worse from three out of only 63 games.
As it pertains to his offense, the consistency at home versus on the road is a bit alarming too. Shooting five percent worse and two percent worse from the field at home isn’t what you’d expect from a bench player, let alone an actual starting shooting guard. His play this season at home just reeks of player who should come off the bench at 12-16 minutes a night. On the road, he’s still that same bench player that can go 18-21 minutes a game based on the matchup and if he has the hot hand.
As mentioned above, the defensive woes have been evident all season, and while there’s been a couple of smart defensive stretches Forbes has shown, there’s been a vast amount of blunders and things to forget from his play on that end of the floor.
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Overall, his play on both ends has been a huge step down from where Bryn was at this time last season. The additions of Dejounte Murray and Trey Lyles into the starting lineup might’ve taken a bit away from Bryn’s effectiveness in the open court and as his overall feel for the offensive and spacing goes, but all-in-all, it’s been a very rocky road for the four-year veteran in his contract year.
Bryn’s 2019-20 season up to the hiatus has been a forgettable one. I don’t think this is the Bryn Forbes you should expect over the rest of his career, nor should the overall failure of this Spurs team this season should be placed on the shoulders of Bryn.
He hasn’t been very good this year, but then again, the entire team hasn’t. As stated before, I believe with the losing the Spurs have suffered has magnified and exaggerated how bad he’s been. He’s still somebody who can get hotter than Stone Cold Steve Austin in the late ’90s from deep, and in this era of basketball, shooters are welcomed and needed at every step of the way.
With that said, Bryn Forbes was a bit exposed here in 2019-2020, really showing what he can excel at. But, his glaring weaknesses on the floor are a bit too much to overcome as a full time starting shooting guard.