What If? Pondering Spurs with Marcus Morris, Davis Bertans & Trey Lyles

On July 6th, the San Antonio Spurs sent Davis Bertans to the Washington Wizards for a trade exception in a three-team deal involving the Brooklyn Nets. With the trade exception, the Spurs were able to receive DeMarre Carroll from the Nets.

This trade allowed the Spurs to sign Boston Celtics free agent forward Marcus Morris to a two-year, $20 million deal. Although Morris verbally agreed to sign with the Spurs, a few days later Morris broke his agreement and signed with the New York Knicks.

Morris’ reversal put the Spurs between a rock and a hard place. As a contingency plan, the Spurs signed former Denver Nuggets forward Trey Lyles to a two-year deal as an attempt to replace Bertans and what they hoped to have gotten from Morris.

What Marcus Morris is Doing for the Knicks

With a young core of RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson, it was strange to see the New York Knicks add multiple veteran big men this offseason. Coming off a career year in New Orleans last season, many saw the Knicks’ Julius Randle signing as a positive. Then they went out and signed Bobby Portis and Taj Gibson before stealing Morris from the Spurs’ grasps. With four new bigs joining the rotation, the Knicks decided to play Morris at the small forward position more and thus far it has paid dividends.

Seventeen games into the season, Morris is leading the Knicks in scoring while averaging a career-high 19.3 points per game and shooting an electric 51.0% from three. He’s providing the Knicks with much-needed veteran leadership and scoring in the starting lineup. Morris has outplayed his contract thus far and he’s also outplaying Randle, Portis and Gibson. Although Morris has arguably been the Knicks’ best player this season, he may end up just being a trade piece for the 4-13 Knicks as they look to continue their perpetual rebuild.

What Davis Bertans is Doing for the Wizards

Trading Davis Bertans was not ideal in itself, but the deal provided the Spurs an opportunity to sign Morris. Bertans, not surprisingly, has turned out to be a great pickup for the Wizards. He is playing more minutes in DC, averaging career-highs with 13.0 points per game while shooting 44.3% from three-point territory. For a trade exception, he has been an absolute steal.

At 6-foot-10 with a quick trigger, Bertans is a problem for opposing defenses, as Spurs fans are well aware. Defenders can run him off the three-point line but Bertans uses a pump-fake, dribble and one-step pull-up from midrange to combat that.

On the defensive side of the ball, Bertans hasn’t really improved. He isn’t a bad athlete for his size, but he doesn’t move well laterally. His lateral movement has been compared to a baby deer on ice skates and it is not an unjust comparison. Advanced stats suggest Bertans is a replacement level NBA defender. Considering what he provides on offense, that is more than enough.

What Trey Lyles is Doing for the Spurs

Trey Lyles has quietly been a positive for the Spurs. Most were surprised to see him begin the season as a starter. One concern for Lyles this year has been his passiveness. Lyles is taking less shots in San Antonio than he ever did in Denver or Utah. While his confidence has grown since the beginning of the season, Lyles needs to be more aggressive.

Lyles is probably best suited in his new role coming off the bench. He has had his moments on defense this year, but the real surprise with him has been his rebounding prowess on both sides of the floor. Lyles is averaging an impressive 1.5 offensive rebounds and 5.0 defensive rebounds in 17.9 minutes per game. Per 36 minutes, Lyles is the best rebounder in the Spurs’ rotation.

How Losing Marcus Morris and Davis Bertans has Impacted the Spurs

In retrospect, the Spurs must really regret losing Bertans. The Latvian is shooting more than seven threes per game this season and the Spurs obviously have missed his production on offense and his ability to spread the floor. While Lyles is shooting the ball well, he just doesn’t provide the firepower that Bertans does.

In this case, it is unfair to blame the Spurs for losing Bertans. Knowing what they knew, the Spurs made the right move going after Morris. Compared to Bertans and Lyles, Morris is a very versatile and effective defender and would have been a seamless fit in the starting lineup next to LaMarcus Aldridge. The Spurs really could have used his shooting, scoring ability, leadership, toughness and overall versatility. As I’ve previously mentioned, “fit” is the aspect the Spurs’ current roster construction lacks most.

Lyles has filled in admirably in the role that should have belonged to Morris or Bertans. However, even though they’re not the ones at fault, the Spurs clearly lost out on this entire ordeal. Will Lyles fade out of the rotation completely or will he continue to improve and help the Spurs and their fans forget about what they lost in Morris and Bertans?