Over the past two seasons, Bryn Forbes emerged as a surprising lightning rod for criticisms among Spurs fans. As a homegrown talent that far exceeded initial expectations, the undrafted guard first was celebrated, but the honeymoon phase didn’t last long. The more Gregg Popovich relied on him, the more obvious his shortcomings became and the less patience the fanbase had for him.
It’s fair to say that the complaints against Forbes were warranted. After all, he had the worst net rating out of any regular rotation player two years running, so calls for him to sit more were not unfounded. At the same time, it’s easy to argue that a specialist like should not be getting 2,000 minutes a year and in a smaller role he could actually be helpful.
Now that he’s entering free agency, the Spurs must decide whether there’s a place for Forbes in their future. So let’s try to determine if he should be re-signed or let go.
Why Bryn Forbes should stay
Forbes can shoot. Despite starting his career making only 32 percent of his three-pointers, four years in his average is 40 percent. His improvement in efficiency didn’t come at the expense of volume. On the contrary, his number of attempts per minute has increased every season since becoming a rotation player. Not only can Forbes hit spot up threes but he can also sink them after a one dribble pull up or coming off screens.
That versatility as a shooter combined with a minuscule turnover percentage makes Forbes the prototypical floor spacing guard. He doesn’t need a lot of touches to be effective, he won’t pass up shots and he won’t cough the ball up trying to do things he’s not capable of doing. Forbes will never offer much in the way of defense or shot creation, but there’s value in knowing your limitations and he definitely understands that. The Spurs have traditionally valued that type of self awareness from role players.
It helps Forbes case as a potential piece for the future that the rest of the guards on the roster can supplement the skills he lacks while his one strength is rare among the young backcourt prospects. Forbes shouldn’t start or play 25+ minutes, but he could help balance units that will desperately lack shooting until the ball handlers become consistent outside threats. Finding young veterans that can complement the young players and help them reach their potential just makes sense, and Forbes could do that on a smaller, more defined role.
Why he should go
Forbes is a pure shooter in that he doesn’t do anything else to justify his minutes. His passing is not terrible, but because of his limited quickness and ball handling, he can’t really break down the defense and create for others. Defensively, he’s simply too slow to defend point guards and too small to hang with wings. Forbes works hard and and tries to avoid making too many mistakes on both ends, but he simply lacks the tools to be effective at practically anything other than hitting outside shots and the occasional runner.
There could be a case for keeping such a player around if the Spurs didn’t have a better version of him in Patty Mills. Mills is a comparable shooter who is friskier on defense, can create in a pinch and brings along leadership skills, making him a superior option. Unlike Forbes, he’s also under contract but only for one more year, which should be long enough to help the coaching staff figure out what it has in the the young guards. Unless the front office truly believes that unlike the older Mills the 27-year-old Forbes is part of the future, why keep him around?
So is Forbes potentially a long term piece next to Derrick White and Dejounte Murray? His play so far suggests that he isn’t. Both White and Murray posted insanely better net ratings when Forbes was off the court as opposed to on, and White’s counting stats per 100 possessions were better too when he didn’t share the floor with Forbes. What that means is that despite in theory complementing the young guards, the team doesn’t do well when Forbes is around them and at least in White’s case, Forbes presence doesn’t help with his production. If he’s not a fit, there’s no reason to re-sign him.
Verdict: He should go
There’s a definitely a place in the NBA for Forbes, who has been often unfairly maligned by Spurs fans for not being able to fill a role he was never supposed to be slotted on in the first place. His shooting is valuable and he’s a hard worker who doesn’t need touches, so he could provide spacing off the bench for a team in need of depth.
Unfortunately, he just hasn’t been good enough with the Spurs to warrant a long term investment, so a change of scenery could be the best for everyone involved. Unless the uncertainty surrounding this year’s free agency makes Forbes available for close to the minimum and on a short term deal, San Antonio would be better off giving his roster spot to someone else and his minutes to its prospects. The spacing will probably suffer as a result, but last season showed that Forbes can’t solve that issue on his own.
Bryn Forbes is a success story for the Spurs’ developmental program and will likely have a good career going forward. However, it should probably not be in San Antonio. A cluttered backcourt, a limited skill set and a low ceiling makes him to awkward a fit on a team that should look for upside and at some point will need to balance its roster.