San Antonio Spurs: Three underutilized players who are free agents in 2020

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 28: Torrey Craig #3 of the Denver Nuggets and Rudy Gay #22 of the San Antonio Spurs compete for a loose ball at Pepsi Center on December 28, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 28: Torrey Craig #3 of the Denver Nuggets and Rudy Gay #22 of the San Antonio Spurs compete for a loose ball at Pepsi Center on December 28, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images)
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PORTLAND, OR – FEBRUARY 07: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs works against Maurice Harkless #4 of the Portland Trail Blazers in the first quarter during their game at Moda Center (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
PORTLAND, OR – FEBRUARY 07: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs works against Maurice Harkless #4 of the Portland Trail Blazers in the first quarter during their game at Moda Center (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Free agency in the 2020 NBA offseason is going to provide the San Antonio Spurs a chance to snag some players who would benefit from a change of scenery.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, as the idiom goes. NBA free agency always draws the allure of big-name players who can dramatically transform the trajectory of an organization, but that’s not to undermine the importance of medial signings to flesh out a roster. After all, it takes a full 48-minute effort to win a basketball game and depth always ends up being crucial to the greatest success stories in San Antonio Spurs history.

The 2020 free-agent class isn’t the strongest with the Spurs’ own DeMar DeRozan being the most sought-after player in the group. Considering Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis is more than likely going to re-up with the team he fought so desperately to get traded to, the other players who might hit the market are center Andre Drummond and restricted free agent Brandon Ingram.

Even though there aren’t many All-Stars entering the pool, there are going to be some highly underrated players floating around that San Antonio will look at when deciding what comes next. For many teams competing in the playoffs, it’s not feasible to hang on to all of the pieces that fill out their rotation due to financial restrictions and lack of opportunity.

This is where the Spurs can pounce given that they have an open roster spot and a handful of players entering free agency this season as it is.

I looked primarily at frontcourt players for this exercise because that’s where the Spurs need the most help. They’ve already got a ton of guards clogging up the rotation and a hybrid small forward/power forward who can play some defense and slot in at different roles would be pivotal to success moving forward.

Next: An underrated Nugget

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – JANUARY 24: Torrey Craig #3 of the Denver Nuggets reacts after scoring a three-pointer during an NBA game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Smoothie King Center (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – JANUARY 24: Torrey Craig #3 of the Denver Nuggets reacts after scoring a three-pointer during an NBA game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Smoothie King Center (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

1. Torrey Craig, Denver Nuggets

A 29-year-old standing at 6-foot-7, Denver Nuggets small forward Torrey Craig has spent three seasons in the league and continues to get better with time. The South Carolina-native posted the highest effective field goal percentage of his career this year at 54.8 percent and continues to assert himself as a strong, gritty defensive player at every step of the way.

While Craig’s three-point percentage wouldn’t indicate it at 33 percent on the season, his three-point percentage skyrocketed in his last 15 games before the hiatus. In that span, he hit 45.5 percent of 2.9 triples per game and 51.9 percent of his total field goal attempts. He hit his stride in a bigger role once the team traded another solid player in Malik Beasley over to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

San Antonio would be banking on the fact that Craig has the makings of a solid floor spacer from the three-point, getting him to work with famed shooting instructor Chip Engelland to find his stroke and become more comfortable from range. However, the main appeal of bringing along a player like Craig is his diligence on defense.

Craig is a skilled defensive player with light footwork and a solid frame, listed at 215 pounds. He ranks third on the Nuggets in block percentage and is tied for first in blocks per 100 possession (1.8) with center Mason Plumlee. He’s a nice anticipatory defender who knows when to peek in for some help and rotates around the perimeter well given his impressive mobility.

This is the kind of restricted free agent the Spurs could offer some of their Mid-Level Exception to draw away from a playoff competitor. Besides, Denver will likely try to open more of those minutes for rookie Michael Porter Jr. as he finds his rhythm in the NBA.

Next: Nabbing one of Orlando's many lengthy wings

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 18: Wes Iwundu #25 of the Orlando Magic looks on during the first half against the Golden State Warriors at the Chase Center (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 18: Wes Iwundu #25 of the Orlando Magic looks on during the first half against the Golden State Warriors at the Chase Center (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

2. Wesley Iwundu, Orlando Magic

Restricted free agent Wesley Iwundu‘s statistics from this season would lead you to think I’m crazy for suggesting the Spurs throw some money at this young fella, but there’s more than meets the eye. Though Iwundu began the third season of his career on a wicked cold streak, the 25-year-old came along really nicely as the season progressed.

In 26 games since the start of 2020, Iwundu has brought his averages up to seven points and 2.8 boards per game in 20.6 minutes per game. His numbers on the season are 39.7 percent from the field and a measly 31.3 percent from three-point land, but he bumped that to 45 percent from the field and 40.8 percent from deep since the beginning of the decade.

Of qualifying players on the Magic, Iwundu ranked third in plus/minus per 100 possessions, meaning his team played significantly better with him on the floor. Defensively, he’s still figuring it out, but coming over to a system like San Antonio’s and learning from the best would put him in a position to fulfill the potential that his college statistics and build would suggest.

Since the Magic already have a handful of wings clogging up their rotation, letting go of Iwundu likely isn’t at the top of their priorities. Re-signing second-leading scorer, Evan Fournier, is probably their top mission this offseason and it’ll be what they focus on early into free agency, so taking a swing at Iwundu early in the period would be a good way for the Spurs to kick things off in the summer during which they’ll need to make a lot of decisions regarding what’s next.

Next: Mo money, Moe Harkless

PHILADELPHIA, PA – FEBRUARY 27: Maurice Harkless #3 of the New York Knicks controls the ball against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA – FEBRUARY 27: Maurice Harkless #3 of the New York Knicks controls the ball against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

3. Maurice Harkless, New York Knicks

Being that free-agent forward Maurice Harkless is from Queens, he might not want to leave the city that groomed him since he was young. Still, we all know that the Knicks aren’t a good basketball situation for just about anyone and at 26-years-old with a decent bit of playoff experience and a strong knack for two-way hustle, Harkless’ skills would be better suited elsewhere.

After being traded from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Knicks at the trade deadline, Harkless saw a sharp decline in both field goal and three-point percentage playing for the lowly Knicks. He had the lowest usage rate on the team during his 12 games there, which is surprising for a solid, veteran player coming into a team that needs guidance and maturity.

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Harkless is a multi-positional defender who can switch on screens to deal with positions two-through-four with strong instincts. He ranked fourth on a poor defensive team in Defensive Box Plus/Minus, filling in where he’s needed and doing the dirty work to help a team in dire need of a boost in that category.

Before the trade to the Knicks, Harkless was up to 51.6 percent from the field and 37 percent from three-point land as a 38-game starter for Los Angeles. He went to battle with guys like Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell who only respect players who put their hearts and bodies on the line when they play. If you have the seal of approval from that triumvirate of heartfelt players then you can probably fit in anywhere.

And yet, the Knicks severely underutilized him during his time there and effectively plummeted his free-agent stock by souring his statistics.

Next. Spurs should go all-in on Brandon Ingram in FA

Luckily, the Spurs should be smart enough to see past that and it would be wise to offer him a deal using their MLE to bolster frontcourt depth and add versatility at the small forward.

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