DeJuan Blair: Should He Stay or Should He Go?

I'm going to miss you, you big teddy bear - Cary Emondson-US PRESSWIRE

In the final installment of the SHSOSHG series we'll take a look at the man unanimously voted "least likely to return" of all the Spurs free agents, DeJuan Blair.

It's time to discuss DeJuan Blair in the Should He Stay or Should He Go series. There seems to be little suspense about DeJuan's future but let's take a look anyway.

Why should a player be re-signed?

This is an explanation of the parameters I'm using. You obviously re-sign someone because they can play but also because you can't find a better, or equal but cheaper replacement. And even if they can play, you don't re-sign them if there isn't a role they can fill for your team, or if their market worth outweighs their contributions.

Is DeJuan Blair underrated?

Don't worry, I'm not going to start that argument again. But if you read what other people -- and by that I mean non-Spurs fans -- think of the DeJuan Blair, you'll see that he has his admirers. He was part of the US Select team and in terms of raw production before this past season, the guy has been one of the best young big men out there. Look at this list of young players (up to 23 years old) that were on the court for more than 1,000 minutes in a single season and scored more than six points on at least 50% shooting while pulling down five boards since DeJuan entered the league. Blair qualifies in three of his four seasons, and he did it while getting less minutes per game than most of his peers.

So should Blair get paid like those guys? The problem with comparing DeJuan to this group of players is twofold: 1st, he was miscast as a starter, which helped him gets those numbers, and 2nd, and perhaps more importantly, we might have seen his peak performance.

Since DeJuan had some nice tools at his disposal entering the league, namely offensive rebounding and great hands, and the Spurs needed someone to sop up minutes, they used him as a starter early. Blair didn't embarrass himself or anything but his weaknesses (overall defense, lack of focus on boxing out) made him ill fitted for that role. The Spurs then realized it and replaced him first with Diaw and then with Splitter. As a result, Blair's raw numbers dropped along with his minutes, but he started helping the team more in some areas when he did manage to snag some court time. Most teams looking to sign him will consider him a back-up and will compensate him as one.

As for him developing further, I don't think that's likely to happen. There's a possibility that with a longer leash, Blair finally develops that jumper or his teardrop becomes more consistent. In terms of post offense and finishing at the rim Blair won't likely get much better, and he doesn't get to the line enough to make up for it. Still, he is not a bad offensive player. He understands angles and makes himself available whenever possible and he can get his shot off against non elite defenders. Plus, his passing and offensive rebounding are most definitely valuable assets.

Something similar happens with defense, as Blair just lacks the tools to be a plus defender. He can do a solid job on pick and rolls because of his long arms and anticipation, but his help defense is lacking. He can't protect the rim and face-up forwards can shoot over him. He uses his low center of gravity well in the post but lacks the fundamentals and height to really be a stopper there. He made strides in terms of boxing out on defensive boards but some players will still steal some offensive rebounds by simply going over him. We can expect some improvement as Blair gets more experienced but it's doubtful DeJuan will ever be an above average man or team defender.

Does he have value?

Even with all his weaknesses considered, most teams could use a guy like Blair off the bench for cheap. If Blair can come anywhere close to matching his individual production from his rookie and sophomore years, he could be a fantastic third big.

The major concern about DeJuan when he became a professional was how his knees would hold up. So far, he has been nothing but durable. While there's still risk, I expect Blair to have some good years left. For the money he will likely get, that's not a bad gamble. Again, Blair is productive, will probably be cheap and while he will likely never be a star, he can give some good minutes off the bench next to a solid defensive center.

Should the Spurs keep him then?

At this point I don't seen any chance that Blair will come back. Every year he's been in the league, Pop's demoted him before the playoffs. And this season, he capped it off by becoming the 5th big; relegated to playing little more than mop up minutes. This spring, Blair asked for a trade that didn't happen and the Spurs will have four other bigs on their roster next season (and that's not even counting Splitter). It will definitely be better for DuJuan if he leaves for a team that will use him more, and better for the Spurs to re-sign Splitter, or a replacement.

Verdict

Blair is an unrestricted free agent, which means he can deal with whomever he chooses and the Spurs have no rights of first refusal. So let him negotiate with other teams and (unless no one bites and he comes back for close to the minimum*) cut ties.

*Extremely unlikely

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