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Addressing the elephant in the Spurs living room: Bryn Forbes

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Pick any stat you like: Forbes is not a starting caliber guard in the NBA, but what are the best options the Spurs have to replace him?

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Most of us know the story of Bryn Forbes by now. It’s a good story to be sure, though I must admit that I’ve never fully understood the affinity Gregg Popovich seems to have for him. Pop compared him to Stephen Curry once upon a time, and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t being ironic.

Last season Forbes stepped up when Dejounte Murray went down in the preseason. He started in 81 out of the 82 regular season games and all seven games of the Spurs’ first round series against the Denver Nuggets. His regular season shooting numbers of 45.6/42.6/88.5 were spectacular. He also showed up in the playoffs, shooting 49 percent from distance during a series in which very few players on the Spurs’ roster played well.

Despite those excellent counting numbers, Forbes still ended up with the worst net rating (-0.3) out of all Spurs’ main rotation players. His advanced statistics were always a bit of a red flag. He must shoot lights out when playing against opposing starters just to keep from being a complete negative on the court. Beyond spot-up shooting, Forbes is not a creative play-maker on the offensive side of the court.

Everything Forbes does on offense is predictable and simple to scheme against. I’ve compared his game in the past to that of paint-by-numbers. I can almost hear him going over the next step in his head. He’s prone to standing around until he receives the ball, and once he does have it, it’s easy to know what he’ll do next. If he’s open, he’ll shoot. If his defender over-commits, depending on where other defenders are on the court, he’ll penetrate and pull up for a midrange shot, take a floater in the paint, or try to score right at the rim. If the defender closes out properly, Forbes will pass the ball back to the ball-handler and the offense will reset. He’s also good for a turnover per game despite not being a frequent ball-handler.

This season Forbes’ shooting numbers have plummeted to 40/36.3/87, and his offensive game has become even more predictable, which isn’t good for a player with an already limited skill-set. Last season, Forbes averaged 1.1 shots from the restricted area, 1.3 shots from the non-restricted painted area, and connected on those shots at 57.4 and 44.3 percent, respectively. This season, those attempts have dropped to 0.8 shots from the restricted area and 0.9 shots from the non-restricted painted area. Even more concerning than the frequency of these shots is the efficiency. This season he is only shooting 53.6 percent from the restricted area and 33.3 percent from the non-restricted painted area.

All of his other traditional statistics on offense are very much in line with last season, and there’s no evidence of any kind that his defense has improved. Because of this, it should come as no surprise that Forbes once again has the worst net rating (-7.4) out of all Spurs’ players in the rotation.

Though the starting lineup of DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Trey Lyles, Murray, and Forbes have had more success recently than they did at the beginning of the season, much of this has been due to the elevated play of DeRozan and Aldridge, as well as overall weaker competition. DeMar and LaMarcus will be in the starting lineup as long as they are on the team. The Spurs have committed themselves to Murray, so starting him and allowing him to learn on the job makes sense. Lyles is probably not a starting caliber player, but the Spurs have very few options at the four since Pop clearly prefers Rudy Gay coming off the bench, and seems to have committed to platooning Aldridge and Jakob Poeltl since they’re the only two centers on the roster.

Forbes is the only one in the starting lineup that’s a bit of a head-scratcher. One could argue that any one of Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV, or Patty Mills would be a better option than Forbes at this point. The idea of a floor spacer to run alongside Murray, Aldridge, and DeRozan makes sense, but a few things have transpired on the court lately that are quickly making Forbes irrelevant in the starting lineup.

The first thing is he is simply not playing well this season. Forty percent of a season is a large enough sample size to know that the Forbes of 2018-19 isn’t walking through that door. Secondly, Aldridge — and to a lesser extent DeRozan — is letting it fly from deep much more frequently. DeRozan has had his moments (if he would stop stepping on the line), but Aldridge has been great from distance lately. With both Aldridge and Lyles able to draw their defender outside the paint, DeRozan has had a lot more room to get to his sweet spots, and he’s excelling as a result. Finally, Walker IV has proven capable of being both willing and able to hit the outside shot, not to mention his offensive and defensive skill-set is far greater than that of Forbes, giving him a much higher ceiling.

There’s not enough data to know whether replacing Forbes with Walker IV in the starting lineup would solve many of the Spurs’ issues, but Pop would have to be willing to bench Forbes first. So far, that doesn’t seem to be the plan, and at times it can be hard to understand why — especially in games like the Thunder loss, where Forbes received heavy minutes despite his shot being off all game and the fact that he was completely over-matched on defense against a hot Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Moving forward, what options are at Coach Popovich’s disposal?

  1. Pop could continue starting Forbes and in the hope that he starts to shoot like he did last season. This could give the Spurs continuity, which is something the Spurs value. But at what point is the sample size large enough to suggest it’s not going to happen?
  2. Pop could replace Forbes with Mills, though it’s hard to see Mills as a solution at this stage of his career. He will play better defense than Forbes through sheer effort, but he’s still too undersized to handle most of the starting guards in the NBA. Plus, he is so great off the bench it might not be worth breaking up that chemistry.
  3. Pop could replace Forbes with Walker IV, though this would complicate the bench unit. While Walker IV can play the three, none of White, Mills, or Forbes can for anything besides extreme spot duty, making it difficult to put together lineups without massive staggering of minutes between the starters and the bench unit.
  4. Pop could replace Forbes with Walker IV and remove him from the regular rotation altogether. Either he or Marco Belinelli could get occasional minutes if the team is in need of an injection of outside shooting. Maybe look to move Forbes before the trade deadline if the Spurs can get any offer of worth. With Mills still under contract next season, Murray, White, Walker IV, and possibly Keldon Johnson all taking on expanding roles, I don’t see Forbes (who will be an unrestricted free agent) being a part of the Spurs’ plans after this season.
  5. Pop could replace Forbes with White if he feels starting Walker IV would shake up the rotation too much. This has the potential to work as Mills, Forbes, and Walker IV have a +28.6 net rating in 14 minutes this season and White and Murray have a +12.2 rating in 21 minutes. Actually, the only person on the team Forbes has a positive net rating with is Mills. This option is definitely worth consideration if Pop is simply unprepared to give up on Forbes.
  6. Pop could replace Forbes with DeMarre Carroll and move DeRozan back to his natural SG position, although there has been zero sign he’s ready to give Carroll the time of day, let alone start him.

What do you think, Pounders? Which option makes the most sense to you? Option 4 would be my vote, though I feel option 5 is most likely.

Poll

How should Pop handle Forbes moving forward?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    Keep Forbes in the staring lineup.
    (46 votes)
  • 1%
    Replace Forbes with Mills and move Forbes to the bench.
    (14 votes)
  • 31%
    Replace Forbes with Walker IV and move Forbes to the bench.
    (415 votes)
  • 16%
    Replace Forbes with Walker IV and remove Forbes from the rotation altogether.
    (222 votes)
  • 26%
    Replace Forbes with White and move Forbes to the bench.
    (354 votes)
  • 18%
    Don’t care, just get Forbes out of the starting lineup.
    (250 votes)
  • 2%
    Other. Please explain in the comments section.
    (30 votes)
1331 votes total Vote Now