The San Antonio Spurs have developed a reputation over the years for finding undervalued role players, putting them in their system, and having them play well. That tradition has continued this season with Keita Bates-Diop and Jock Landale.
Bates-Diop, a former late second-round pick who's bounced around the NBA, has found a consistent role with San Antonio. That's also been the case for Australian big man Jock Landale, who joined the Spurs after playing professionally in the NBL.
While their newfound roles may come as a surprise to fans, perhaps they shouldn't. Let's examine why Bates-Diop and Landale have been able to carve out a role in the rotation and look at their possible future with the team.
Why Bates-Diop has found a spot in the rotation
Bates-Diop joined the Spurs last season on a two-way contract and managed to make an impression in limited minutes. Still, when he was re-signed in the offseason, it was apparently with the intention of having him compete with former first-round pick Luka Samanic for the final roster spot. After a solid preseason, he earned the final spot on the roster, leading to Samanic surprisingly being cut.
Since then, Bates-Diop has become a reliable rotation player in the regular season and it's increasingly clear what the Spurs saw in him. For starters, he has a unique frame, standing 6-8, with a massive 7’3 ½ wingspan, to go along with solid mobility. That allows him to play and defend multiple positions. Despite that, he struggled to find a role with other teams before joining the Spurs.
This is likely a result of him being shoehorned into playing small forward, where his lack of a consistent outside shot hurt him. Fortunately, San Antonio has wisely played him at power forward, where his limited perimeter skills are more of a bonus and less of a liability.
Offensively, Bates-Diop's game is largely based on taking what the defense gives him. He gets buckets via cuts, rolls to the basket, catch-and-finishes, and off of putbacks. It's not flashy but it's been effective. He’s averaging 5.8 points on 51.5% shooting and even had a 30 point game against the Lakers.
On defense, he has the size to guard traditional power forwards and the length to challenge bigger wings. Just recently, he matched up against Kevin Durrant and played solid defense against one of the league's best scorers. That versatility is certainly useful and probably a key reason he’s been able to crack the rotation.
While Bates-Diop has been a pleasant surprise, he’ll likely lose some playing time to Zack Collins once he's healthy, but I'd doubt that he falls out of the rotation. A lot is also dependent on how well Collins plays and whether he can actually stay healthy over the remainder of the season. In the meantime, Bates-Diop has time to further cement himself as a rotation player with the Spurs.
Jock Landale spent much of the first two months of the season riding the bench but has surprisingly emerged as the team's backup center after Drew Eubanks' ineffective play. He's made the most of the opportunity and has been an upgrade thus far.
While he was known as a stretch five in the NBL, since joining the Spurs, he's been on and off with his threes but has also shown off other skills including offensive rebounding, passing, and finishing around the rim. All of these skills fit well with what the team needs in a backup center.
On the defensive end, he's slow moving his feet, which is an issue, but he also plays physically in the paint, which helps to compensate for his lack of quickness. While he's limited as a defender, as the season progresses, he should continue to improve not only on defense but offensively as well. Assuming that's the case, he could even lock down the backup center role for the rest of the season.
As for next season, that's still up in the air. Both Eubanks and Landale are on cheap contracts next season, and roster spots are limited, making it unlikely that both will return. Therefore, Landale has a lot riding on his play over the remainder of the season.
Overall, both Bates-Diop and Landale were able to crack the rotation after initially appearing as though they'd only have small roles this season. Now that they're in the rotation, they still have a lot to prove going forward or they risk being replaced in the offseason.
Despite that, they both have played well enough so far, and like with many previous rotation players for the Spurs, should only get better as they become more familiar with the system. Spurs fans should definitely keep their eye on them as the season progresses.