Keita Bates-Diop inking a two-way deal with the San Antonio Spurs during the 2020 offseason felt like an inconsequential transaction on the margins for a team fresh off its first draft lottery appearance in two decades. Most people had probably never heard his name, and older project players on a franchise full of young talent rarely command attention from fans.
The lanky forward suited up in just 30 games in his first go-round with the Silver and Black, but he made enough of an impression to earn a two-year audition on a veteran minimum contract. He continued seeing more action during his second season in the Alamo City, filling gaps in the lineup when injuries left head coach Gregg Popovich shorthanded.
Year three in the 2-1-0 brought more opportunities for Bates-Diop, and he has capitalized on his newfound minutes. With bumps and bruises leaving the Spurs shorthanded on most nights, they have again asked him to be a one-stop-shop for any absences in the starting rotation; A human canister of flex seal (props to Matthew Tynan), if you will.
The fifth-year veteran averaged 11.6 points, 5.1 boards, and 2.6 assists per game in 19 spot starts since January 25, looking like the sort of glue guy a playoff contender can use at the end of their bench. While those numbers may not hop off the page, his production has come with minimal errors, as Keita has committed a combined 2.2 fouls and turnovers during that span.
Bates-Diop has also posted admirable .489/.379/.763 shooting splits over his last 23 games, and it is no surprise he plays his best when functioning as a fourth or fifth option. This sample size might be too small to claim he can execute at this level for an entire season, yet that feels feasible when the team asks him to serve in an ideal complementary role.
Although he is not a self-creator, KBD is one of the best off-ball threats in San Antonio. He is second in overall efficiency (1.08 PPP) behind Devonte' Graham, ranking fifth in spot-up three-pointers and third in points off cuts and putbacks on the roster.
Keita relocates around the perimeter for stationary threes, divebombs the basket for layups when catching his man ball-watching, attacks closeouts to take advantage of uncontested driving lanes, and cleans the glass for a ton of second-chance buckets. He can even seal mismatches and convert high-low actions on precise entry lobs from frontcourt playmakers.
His midrange game is non-existent, limited athleticism makes it tough for him to score in transition, and Bates-Diop is far from a perfect player. But his willingness to make extra passes and fit where the Spurs need him on any given night makes him a positive contributor to their offense.
With that in mind, Bates-Diop holds most of his value on the other end of the floor. Although the Spurs have fielded a historically appalling defense this season, he has been one of their brightest contributors.
According to BBall Index, Bates-Diop is second on the squad in positional versatility and fourth in matchup difficulty. He welcomes every challenge the coaching staff throws at him, and he has been invaluable to the Spurs as they shift to a more switch-heavy scheme.
Keita has covered DeMar DeRozan, Jayson Tatum, Devin Booker, Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard, Jaylen Brown, Lauri Markkanen, and Jaren Jackson Jr. for 151.5 partial possessions. That eclectic group of All-Stars has gone just 16-of-48 (33.3%) when the high-motor wing is their primary defender.
Even if you zoom out and scrutinize all his man-to-man assignments from this season, he has held opponents to 45.1% shooting on a whopping 492 field goal attempts. If you were curious, that is good for the second-best DFG% in San Antonio after backup center Charles Bassey.
Shiftier guards with quicker first steps can get by Bates-Diop with relative ease, and he is at a disadvantage against most post players. However, his greatest strengths are his discipline and attention to detail. He makes on-time weakside rotations, communicates switches and assignments on the break, and digs to provide additional pressure in driving lanes.
Keita Bates-Diop will become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and other organizations may come calling with lucrative contract offers. While he is not the most substantial piece of this rebuild, the front office should sign him to a long-term agreement that keeps his services in San Antonio. He is an adaptable reserve who does the dirty work, and that investment could pay dividends once the Spurs are ready to chase the playoffs again.