The Spurs have reportedly signed veteran forward Sam Young. In all likelihood we are talking about a non-guaranteed camp contract, which means the Spurs will get to assess whether or not Young is a fit over the next few weeks and then make their decision. Even if it is a fully guaranteed contract it will be for the veteran's minimum, as the Spurs don't have anything else to offer. That means the risk is minimal either way. And yet I can't bring myself to like this signing.
Young has been a terrible offensive player
Young was horrid on offense over the last couple of seasons, averaging 37% from the floor, 30% from beyond the three point line and 60% from the free throw line since leaving Memphis. As a spot up shooter last season he hit 16 of the 51 shots he took from outside the arc and he wasn't much better inside it. He doesn't seem to have the explosiveness needed to be a good enough cutter to offset his lack of range and he was a below average finisher at the rim. His only saving grace on offense was his offensive rebounding, which admittedly could come in handy. But as I'm sure everyone is aware of by now, the Spurs don't emphasize that area.
Some might be inclined to say the Spurs don't really need offense; there are other guys that can handle that. But having such a terrible offensive player on the court would inevitably hurt those other guys as well, as the defense wouldn't have to account for Young. The spacing suffers from the lack of shooters and creators, the offense stagnates and has to settle for a bad shot. Young can't create, can't finish, can't spot up and the worst part is that everyone around the league knows it. If Young does a good enough job on defense to earn some playing time, his offensive ineptitude will be featured on every scouting report.
Can he get better? Everything is possible, but Young is 28, was in college for a good while and has been in the league for four years. So he's not raw. I'm sure he has tried fixing that shot before and while Chip Engelland is a great shooting coach, he is not magical. I checked MySynergySports to see if Young had at any point in his career been an adequate three point spot up shooter and found that he has never shot over 34% in those situations. For comparisons sake, Nando De Colo, who is not known for his shooting prowess, shot 39.3% this past season. There is absolutely no reason to think he will somehow become a marksman when he joins the Spurs, and that's the only area of his offensive game in which improvement is even somewhat realistic.
Of course that would not be as damming to his prospects of becoming a contributor if he was a lock-down defender. Tony Allen can't shoot but his impact on a defense vastly outweighs his offensive limitations. But there is a reason the Grizzlies kept Allen and let Young walk. And that's because...
Sam Young is not that good of a defender
Young is a good positional defender with a high enough BBIQ to understand team defensive principles. That's valuable, as there are a lot of guys out there that have all the tools to be good defensive players but never figure out how to apply them in a team setting. He closes out on time and understands rotations. He values positioning. The Pacers defense was only slightly worse when he was on the court and the same was true for the Grizzlies in his time there. I feel confident lobbing this praise Young's way: he doesn't hurt you on defense. But he doesn't help you in any meaningful way either.
Young is not the type of lock down defender Bruce Bowen was and he's not at all disruptive, averaging 1.2 steals and 0.5 blocks per 36 minutes for his career. He is only 6-6 and is not all that quick, which limits his upside. He basically tries to stay in front of his man and bother shots. A younger team in search of a defensive identity could obviously benefit from the presence of someone like Young but when a team is already as disciplined and as good on that end as the Spurs are, he is simply redundant. The Spurs don't need someone that merely does things correctly on one end while hurting them in the other -- unless they bring an elite unique skill, like Bonner does with his three point shooting. If someone gets playing time because of their defense alone, they better be truly great defensively. Young simply isn't.
The risk of Pop succumbing to the Keith Bogans Syndrome is too great
Young will come in, play solid defense and look like an NBA veteran because that's what he is. He will probably make fewer mistakes on the defensive end than Nando De Colo or someone like Hollis Thompson or Deshaun Thomas would make. He will work hard at practice and always be ready to go when called upon. Because of that he will be on the coach's good side and even probably get a few minutes here and there. That's how it starts, anyway.
Some players unequivocally hurt a team on offense but play defense "the right way," which endears him to coaches and fans. They are not great defenders, mind you -- just adequate. But since "defense wins championships," and not everyone grasps defensive systems quickly enough, these guys keep getting gigs despite being a net negative. I call it the Keith Bogans Syndrome but DeShawn Stevenson or Damien Wilkins are other examples that fit. Those are players that don't really bring anything unique to the table or have an elite skill but have continued getting jobs over more talented players on their incorrectly perceived defensive impact alone.
And once again, that's fine, as long as they are practice bodies or get limited minutes only when the situation calls for it. But the very nature of this type of player makes it hard for the coach to not give them minutes. Pop was susceptible to Bogans' charms in the 2009/10 season despite the team being significantly better with him off the floor (7.4 net rating) than on (1.9 net rating). Frankly, I'm scared to death of the mere idea that a guy like Young could get minutes that could be going to one of the back up PGs or Marco Belinelli in small lineups, just because he allows fewer back cuts. Yet I can absolutely see it happen because he plays "hard nosed D" and "is more physical" that his more talented teammates.
And that's why I can't be happy about this signing. The Spurs can use a wing for training camp and Young is a pro, which is always welcomed. Bringing in someone that is content to be played sparingly, but stays ready just in case, is unfortunately not easy. I still would have preferred to see the spot go to a younger player that has a semblance of an offensive game. But if Young is essentially a deep bench guy that only gets playing time when someone gets hurt, or in for mop up duty when the situation clearly calls for it, I'm on board.
But if I've learned one thing about Gregg Popovich, it's that he likes his fundamentally sound defenders. So if Young consistently gets ten minutes a game and kills the offense while Mills, De Colo, Joseph and Belinelli watch from the bench, don't say I didn't warn you.
Stats via MySynergySports and NBA.com/Stats