With a handful of questionable contracts on the San Antonio Spurs roster, we’re going to rank the three best contracts excluding the rookies.
Sometimes, small-market teams have to pay a bit more than the average price of a contract in a medium-to-large market. This is the case for the San Antonio Spurs, who hand out loyalty contracts with big paydays for staying in the Alamo City. These are for players who commit to the organization despite it being in a city that a professional athlete might consider less appealing than somewhere like Los Angeles or New York.
Depending on the player, these contracts end up being worth their value in the long-run sometimes, but in many cases, they don’t pan out. Since the end of the Big Three era in San Antonio, there’ve been a plethora of mediocre contracts for the team to sort through. Instead of harping on those, we want to celebrate the contracts that work in favor of the team.
It’s not every day that the team holds on to contracts that hold to their value. That isn’t the case for the three players we’re focusing in on today.
We’re going to exclude the three rookies: Luka Samanic, Keldon Johnson and Quinndary Weatherspoon. It’s too easy to project ahead and say that these first-year players are going to outperform the values of their contracts, so we’re pushing them to the side. Their importance to the team compared to the value of their cap allocations can’t be determined based on a season spent in Austin.
The honorable mention that we have in mind is combo guard Derrick White, who’s making only $1.9 million this year and $3.5 million next season. Considering his value as a starting-caliber guard playing high minutes and contributing on both sides of the floor, this is a steal for the Spurs. Nonetheless, he’s a restricted free agent next offseason and we don’t know what his cap allocation is going to become beyond then, so we’ll wait before we make that kind of evaluation.
Next: 3. Trey Lyles
3. Trey Lyles – Two years, $11 million through 2021
This isn’t a very flashy pick, but it’s safe to say that the Spurs got their value back on this mid-level exception (MLE) pickup during the 2019 offseason. Lyles was never the team’s primary target, but after forward Marcus Morris Sr. reneged on his deal with San Antonio, they had to fill the roster spot and put that MLE to good use.
Only six players in the NBA have a rebound percentage greater than 15 percent and shoot at least 38 percent from beyond the arc (minimum 100 attempts). Those six players are rookie Michael Porter Jr., Christian Wood, Serge Ibaka, John Collins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Lyles. That’s great company to keep, especially on a two-year, $11 million deal paying him an even $5.5 million in each year of the deal.
San Antonio banked on its ability to help Lyles fulfill some of the potential he flashed coming out of Kentucky in the 2015 NBA Draft. He was a late-lottery pick for a reason, and just because things didn’t pan out in Denver or Utah doesn’t mean he can’t be the player that many draft analysts believe he could be.
Lyles has come extremely far in his lone season with the silver and black, averaging 6.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and an assist in a career-high 20 minutes per night. His effective field goal percentage is up 7.1 percent from his down year in 2019 and his Post All-Star splits show an even greater improvement than that.
During his last nine games between the All-Star break and the hiatus, Lyles is up to 48.2 percent shooting from the floor, a whopping 48.8 percent from three-point land and a 12.6-point, 6.3 board per game average. If that’s not a player who’s worth less than $6 million per season, then I don’t know what is!
Next: 2. Lonnie Walker IV
2. Lonnie Walker IV – Three years, $10.1 million
Now in the second season of his young career, Spurs wing Lonnie Walker IV is one of the most explosive athletes the franchise has ever seen. His high-flying antics and silky smooth shot-creating ability makes him one of the more enticing young players in the league despite flying way under the radar since being drafted at No. 18 in 2018.
We’ve seen plenty of Lonnie through the regular season, his days with the Austin Spurs and his dazzling displays during the Summer League that lead us to the conclusion that he’s going to be a very special player for years to come.
Walker is one of five players from his draft class who’ve logged enough minutes (600) to match the criteria that’s shooting at least 40 percent from three-point land. The most notable of the group is Miami’s sharpshooter Duncan Robinson but besides that, there’s no one with potential anywhere close to Walker’s. While Robinson is a fine player, he doesn’t scrape the surface of Lonnie’s potential as a two-way shot creator and pesky defender.
Considering how nicely he has emerged for the team up to this point, you could only imagine how well the next two years of his career are going to be for the organization. Walker is signed on for the next two years at a total of $7.4 million and will be a restricted free agent for San Antonio after that, meaning they can match any deal he’s offered by another team.
Even though it’s a rookie deal, we’re counting this as a huge win for the Spurs and their front office. This guy has legitimate potential to be the team’s leading scorer for years to come and they won’t have to dish out as much as eight-figures to keep him around through the next two years.
Next: 1. Dejounte Murray
1. Dejounte Murray – Five years, $66 million + incentives
San Antonio is rolling out a starting point guard who’s only making $2.3 million in the 2019-20 season and locked him into a longterm deal just before the start of the season. Coming off of an ACL tear that put him out of the 2018-19 seasons entirely, Dejounte Murray is back and on track to become a truly influential play for the silver and black.
Of guards with a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 17 who’ve played at least 1,400 minutes, Dejounte is the only one shooting better than 37 percent from three-point land. This places him above seven other players including the likes of Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and Devin Booker. Dejounte also has more steals than any of the competing qualifying players.
This level of efficiency compared with the all-around impact on their team is hard to come by in the NBA, and San Antonio just secured Murray for four more seasons without having to pay the max. The Spurs will pay Dejounte $14.3 million next year while Paul makes $41.4 million, Westbrook makes $38.5 million and Booker makes $29.5 million.
I’m not trying to say Dejounte is as good as those players yet, but he’s in the same range of importance to his team’s outlook for future seasons and has a lot more room to improve.
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For reference, the Rookie of the Year from Dejounte’s draft class, Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon, signed a four-year, $85 million contract with Indiana this offseason. Brogdon’s PER is greater than Dejounte’s by 0.7 this season despite him shooting worse from both the field and from three-point land and an entire steal less on average.
In the first year of his deal, Brogdon made $20 million and in the last year of his deal, he’ll make $22.6 million. In the last year of Dejounte’s deal, the 2023-24 season, he’s making $17.7 million.
Murray’s deal could bump up to as much as $70 million if he reaches certain incentives including 125 three-pointers in a season, exceeding a true shooting percentage of 58 percent and making an All-Defensive team. This is telling of the hopes and aspirations the team is trying to instill in their point guard of the future and by his performance in recent months, he’s likely to reach them. Even if this costs the Spurs some extra cash, it’ll be well worth their money.
Considering the trajectory he’s on and how he’s been this year, that’s a steal of a contract.