For San Antonio Spurs forward Keita Bates-Diop, the numbers do not jump out, the play is not flashy, and he is unknown among pretty much all NBA fans outside of San Antonio. Heck, even some in San Antonio too. Nonetheless, Bates-Diop has quietly shown to the coaching staff in his limited minutes this season that he just might deserve a spot in the rotation next season.
In Sunday's impressive performance against the Phoenix Suns, Bates-Diop showcased his versatility and smooth-style play on offense, scoring eight points to go along with seven rebounds and two assists in just under 30 minutes. He also hit what should have been the game-winning bucket off a missed free throw with just ten seconds left if not for E’Twaun Moore's three the following possession that put the Spurs away for good.
It’s hard to make this argument using stats and numbers. If you pull up his averages per game this year, they are not that impressive, as he's averaging just 2.4 points and 1.5 rebounds in what was mostly garbage minutes. Right now, he is probably considered to be an afterthought for most Spurs fans.
However, if you look at what the Spurs need and what he can provide given a larger role, there may be a mutually beneficial relationship here for Coach Popovich and the 25-year-old forward from Illinois.
What exactly do the Spurs need? Long answer short, a lot. Even if they somehow make it into the playoffs after the play-in tournament is all said and done, the Utah Jazz will likely expose every weakness the Spurs have as they have already done three times this season.
The obvious one is guarding the 3-point line and needing better/more 3-point shooting. The Spurs have ranked amongst the worst in the league in those categories. Some of the quieter needs are versatile forwards that can defend multiple positions from smaller guards to larger forwards.
Bates-Diop just may provide a little boost there next year should the Spurs look to him. Standing at 6-8 and weighing in at 230, Keita could help fill a void next year at the forward position should Rudy Gay walk and we see another year of Luka Samanic on the bench (but hopefully that won’t be the case). His size and strength could be a big bolster to the bench unit which has seen its fair share of struggles this year.
Bates-Diop has shown promise in limited minutes with the San Antonio Spurs
In games where Bates-Diop played fifteen minutes or more, his numbers, while not jaw-dropping, show he can be a productive, efficient player when given a chance. In such occasions, he averaged six points, four rebounds, one assist, and a steal on 51 percent shooting while knocking down half of his threes (5-for-10). It’s also fair to point out that he is only in his third season in the NBA and who knows, maybe the San Antonio development machine pulls another rabbit out of the hat with him?
This offseason may just be the biggest offseason since 1997 in which we saw the newly-anointed Hall of Famer Tim Duncan drafted 1st overall. Are the Spurs going to draft another franchise-changing player or sign one in free agency? Probably not. But as far as direction goes, this summer could significantly change that.
DeMar Derozan, Patty Mills, and Rudy Gay are all off the books after this season and could all be moving on to different teams. Should all parties decide to part ways, the Spurs' front office will be sitting with a solid young core, $50 million in cap space, and a lottery pick. There are worse places to be in for rebuilding franchises. Should the Spurs choose to keep Bates-Diop going forward, he just may have a spot with this team for the near future.
Please, don’t misconstrue. I am not saying Keita Bates-Diop is the answer to all the San Antono Spurs’ problems. Nor am I saying he will lead the franchise to another championship or even the playoffs anytime soon. After all, he is still on a two-way contract and might be gone after the season along with fellow two-way contracted teammate Quinndary Weatherspoon.
But if given the chance, he could turn into a very serviceable role player that can be of great value to the Silver and Black in the years to come.