If the offseason proceeds as expected and the San Antonio Spurs re-sign Rudy Gay, the next step could be to sign a free agent power forward or center using the $9.2 million mid-level exception, as that is definitely an area of need. A number of restricted free agent big men could fit the bill for the Spurs. However, only a handful are realistic targets with just the MLE at their disposal.
Bobby Portis, Potential All-Star
The most ambitious restricted free agent big man the Spurs could conceivably sign is Bobby Portis. The 24-year-old began last season with the Chicago Bulls before being traded midway through the season to the Washington Wizards.
What makes Portis so interesting for the Spurs is his upside. While he’s traveled a bumpy road thus far in his NBA career, the 6-foot-11, 250-pound power forward has definite All-Star potential. His production last season, even though he split time between two dysfunctional teams, was nearing elite status: 19.7 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.0 assists per 36 minutes played.
Portis’ fit in San Antonio’s offense would be virtually seamless, in large part because of his outside shooting ability. Last season, he hit 39.3% of his three-pointers on a high volume for a big man (7.0 attempts per 100 possessions). Due to his shooting prowess and overall offensive talent, the spacing with Portis at power forward and LaMarcus Aldridge at center would be much improved over any big man combination the Spurs put on the court during the 2018-19 campaign.
With the Spurs likely looking to push the pace next year with Derrick White, Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker IV leading the charge, Portis is also a fit due to his mobility. Despite his impressive size, he’s a fluid run and jump athlete who’d be a natural fit on the fast break.
The Punch Heard Round The World
So, if Portis is such a good prospect, what’s the catch that could make him attainable for an MLE contract? Firstly, it’s quite possibly — and even probably, depending on who you believe — that Portis will get priced out of San Antonio’s range. Rumblings indicate he wants a contract starting at more than $15 million per season. If a team like the New York Knicks strikes out on big name max free agents, Portis could be their consolation prize. Plus, even if the Spurs offer Portis the entire MLE — $39 million over four years — the Wizards would have 48 hours to match due to his restricted free agent status.
Along with attainability questions, there are other issues regarding Portis. The Spurs won’t smile at the fact that he hasn’t been a good defender at any point in his career. In fact, advanced stats point to him being a really poor defender.
Moreover, Portis may be best known for punching teammate Nikola Mirotic during a Bulls practice. The punch broke Mirotic’s face and led to an eight-game suspension for Portis. While he’s not generally regarded as a bad person or problematic personality, Portis’ punch could be impossible for San Antonio’s front office to overlook.
Other Restricted Free Agent Big Men The Spurs May Target
While a step below Portis, there are four more restricted free agent big men the Spurs could look to sign: Maxi Kleber of the Dallas Mavericks, Trey Lyles of the Denver Nuggets, Luke Kornet of the New York Knicks and Daniel Theis of the Boston Celtics.
These restricted free agent big men have a lot of similar traits. They each split their time between power forward and center but their skill-sets are closer to that of a power forward. Each has three-point range, which is obviously a positive trait for a team like the Spurs who need all the three-point shooting they can get.
Here’s how these restricted free agent big men compare on a per 100 possession basis:
Daniel Theis, The Bruiser
Theis is the best rebounder of the bunch, has the highest three-point percentage and is the second best scorer. However, he’s by far the lowest volume three-point shooter and his foul rate is through the roof, which could be a nonstarter in a foul-averse team like the Spurs.
Luke Kornet, The Unicorn
At 7-foot-1, Kornet is the tallest of the bunch. He’s definitely intriguing in that he is an extremely high volume three-point shooter with impressive rates of blocks and steals. You just don’t see that combination very often. Also, he also has a healthy assist-to-turnover ratio, which would fit in San Antonio’s style of play. His two weaknesses: Kornet is a poor rebounder for his size and his two-point shooting percentage is woefully low.
Trey Lyles, The Forgotten
While Lyles was lost on Denver’s deep roster, these numbers point to him having a high ceiling. His scoring was by far the highest despite having a poor three-point shooting season. Lyles actually shot 38.1% on threes the prior season, so he could be due for a bounce-back. He gets to the line, rebounds and passes. Other than his three-point shooting percentage, the two areas of concern are his lack of blocks and his abundance of turnovers.
Maxi Kleber, The Completed
Kleber is the oldest of the four and played the most minutes last season. He’s relatively strong across the board according to these statistics, which makes sense because he’s the one who appears to be the most plug-and-play ready of the bunch. With the Mavs looking to create salary cap space, it’s quite possible that Dallas loses this German-born big man.
Restricted Free Agent Big Men And The Spurs, The Conclusion
Looking at the real plus-minus (RPM) of these five restricted free agent big men, Lyles grades out the second worst at -1.95, ranked 70th for power forwards. The worst? It was actually Portis one spot lower at 71 with an RPM of -1.96. As previously mentioned, advanced stats say Portis is a bad defender — and that’s exactly what hurt his RPM. His defense is ranked 90th out of 94 power forwards in the NBA.
The other three are all in the top 20 for power forwards: Theis is 13th at +1.77, Kleber is 17th at +1.53 and Kornet is 18th at +1.46. RPM suggests each of these three are starting quality players at their position.
All in all, if the Spurs use half of their MLE on one of these four restricted free agent bigs, it appears as it’d be a worthwhile investment. The safest pick is Kleber, as he does everything well enough. Lyles or Kornet are gambles with higher upsides compared to Kleber. Theis is the worst fit but if he can curb his fouling and add range, he could work.
And then there is Portis. Can the Spurs overlook his defensive reputation and the punch that broke a teammate’s face? If so, everything else points to him being worth a full MLE offer.