Bryn Forbes’ NBA career is undeniably a great story. He was lightly scouted out of high school and finished his college career as a role player at Michigan State. To rise from the depths of the undrafted to become a fixture in the starting lineup for the San Antonio Spurs for the last two seasons is worthy of applause. However, if the Spurs are wise, they will let him leave in the offseason as an unrestricted free agent. This is where the tale should end.
Back in mid-November, it became obvious that starting Forbes was a mistake. On defense, the 6-foot-2 shooting guard lacks the necessary size and strength to avoid being a liability. Even though he knows where to be and when to be there, it’s impossible for him to compensate for his physical shortcomings. Offensively, his constant need for screens to be effective and his lack of natural play-making ability limit his upside on that end of the court as well.
Unfortunately, head coach Gregg Popovich stuck with Forbes in the starting lineup all the way up until the NBA season was suspended. The Spurs consistently struggled as they stumbled to a record of 27-36 — and it remained obvious that their starting shooting guard was a leading problem. Advanced statistics agreed with what the eyes perceived, as San Antonio remained at their best when Forbes was on the bench.
At a point in time between the suspension of the season and the restart inside of the bubble, Popovich and the coaching staff arrived at what should have been a no-brainer in mid-November — if not in the preseason. In the scrimmages prior to the restart, the Spurs went with the backcourt of Derrick White and Dejounte Murray, with Forbes moved to the bench.
During the scrimmages, Forbes suffered a quadriceps injury and ended up missing the entire restart. With Forbes out, Popovich mostly went with a rotation of White, Murray, Lonnie Walker IV and Keldon Johnson at the guard positions.
San Antonio stunned the basketball world — and even Popovich himself — by playing very well inside of the bubble, even though they were without three starters: LaMarcus Aldridge, Trey Lyles and Forbes. The Spurs were 5-2 (and it could have easily been 6-1) prior to being eliminated from playoff contention minutes before their final regular season game.
While the improved play was, of course, a result of multiple factors including improved play from their young players, the absence of Forbes is one factor that shouldn’t be overlooked. In fact, when digging into the advanced stats, it becomes impossible to ignore.
Prior to the suspension of the season, the Spurs outscored opponents by 3.5 points per 100 possessions when Forbes was on the bench. After the restart, the Spurs outscored opponents by exactly 3.5 points per 100 possessions.
In other words, San Antonio’s improved play in the bubble can be completely explained by Forbes’ absence, as the Spurs simply performed how they had been performing all season when Forbes was on the sidelines.
Bryn Forbes is No Longer a Fit on the Roster
While not having Forbes’ presence weighing the team down might be the easiest explanation for why the Spurs improved after the restart, that clearly wasn’t the only reason why they played better. For example, in the bubble the coaches better adjusted to today’s league by utilizing smaller, faster lineups that weren’t timid about hoisting three-pointers. Derrick White and Keldon Johnson, specifically, also deserve credit.
But though it’d be unfair to lay all the blame on Forbes for what ailed the Spurs this season, it remains obvious that he was a large part of the problem and isn’t part of the solution.
If the Spurs re-sign Forbes, even at an affordable salary, the risks are too great. If he finds his way back into the starting lineup for a third consecutive season, the campaign would be doomed before it even begins. And with how the roster is composed, even a bench role makes no sense.
Forbes is a shooting guard and that’s by far San Antonio’s deepest position. Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker IV and Keldon Johnson can all play shooting guard — and you can even argue that all four are best at the shooting guard position. Patty Mills is a shooting guard at this stage of his career. Even DeMar DeRozan would primarily play shooting guard on most teams in the NBA.
There’s just no space for Forbes. Those four younger players alone could eat up all the guard minutes next season. With Mills already under contract, he can fill whatever bench role the Spurs could imagine for Forbes — and at a higher level.
Forbes is 27 so it doesn’t make sense to bring him back in a deep bench role or as a mentor. To be clear, I think he’s an NBA player in the right situation. For example, a team with a certified superstar that creates enough spacing to take advantage of Forbes’ proven marksmanship from the perimeter could allow him to carve out a workable niche. But that situation isn’t in South Texas.
Why Not Re-signing Bryn Forbes Might Be Difficult
With only basketball in mind, it’s impossible to make the case that the Spurs should re-sign Forbes. He very well could be the seventh best shooting guard currently on the roster. Yes, he’s a good or even great shooter — but there’s more than enough proof that Forbes doesn’t help the Spurs on either end of the court and that San Antonio is better off without him.
That said, I’m far from confident that the Spurs will make the right call and let Forbes walk in free agency. Popovich and RC Buford have halted interviews and interrupted press conferences to extol his virtues. By all accounts, Forbes is a great teammate, an even better human being, works incredibly hard, has a team-first attitude and is always there to help out the young players behind the scenes.
Popovich and Buford see Forbes as a player who is cut from the same cloth as Patty Mills. They see him as a great fit for the culture and Popovich has publicly talked about Forbes’ contract status and how San Antonio wants him back.
Now, this isn’t to say that Forbes is certain to be brought back. Popovich and the coaching staff came into the restart ready to move away from Forbes in the starting lineup. They also sat him for all eight games in the bubble even though his injury wasn’t considered to be serious.
This will be a litmus test for the organization as the Spurs head into their first rebuild in more than two decades. Do the Spurs do the right thing and let Forbes walk or re-sign him despite all of the contrary evidence? If it comes down to it, someone like general manager Brian Wright has to make sure the Spurs look beyond personal relationships and supposed cultural fits to instead make the right basketball move.