Sports seem to be on its way back, but as of now, fans around the world are still waiting with bated breath for the return of NBA basketball.
During this stoppage, one area of the Spurs’ organization that has not stopped working is the front office. Franchises are always looking towards the future in one way or another, and executives are constantly trying to make sure that either have the right pieces to maximize their rosters or are in position to acquire them.
So far we have looked at the Spurs’ guards and wings. Today we’re moving on to centers and will walk through what the future likely holds for each player in a Spurs uniform.
(Note: All stats come from NBA.com, Basketball-Reference, or Cleaning the Glass)
Contract: Signed thru 2021
Even 14 seasons into his career, Aldridge is one of the most effective scoring big men in the NBA. He’s an elite scorer from the mid range, and if you somehow take that away, he can always get his way on his preferred left block. While not very dynamic, Aldridge is a decent team defender who has transitioned pretty easily to guarding centers after holding out for most of his career.
After YEARS of pleading by coaches and fans alike, Aldridge seems to have finally converted a decent number of his long twos into three pointers. In December and January, he took approximately 3.5 threes per game and made 45% of them. While those numbers dipped significantly over his last 10 games, the willingness to stretch the floor and increase shot efficiency should help his status entering a contract year.
As the Spurs seem to go younger, Aldridge’s assumed goal of an NBA championship seeming further out of reach, and rumors of a return to Portland increasing, it seems likely the parties will go their separate ways in 2021 at the latest. Plenty of playoff teams would love to have someone of Aldridge’s pedigree and skill set on their roster, so if the right package comes around, fans could see Aldridge gone before then.
Contract: Signed thru 2020 (Rookie Deal)
When you think of the most underrated players in the NBA, most people throw out names such as Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, etc, but they are All-Stars. One of the true underappreciated names in the NBA is Jakob Poeltl.
Poeltl’s value begins on the defensive end, where he has been one of the NBA’s most effective rim protectors. Despite his size, Poeltl is surprisingly mobile on the perimeter and a decent defensive playmaker with a 1.3% steal rate. Obviously, no one wants him switching onto guards regularly, but he can make do in a pinch. Poeltl is not the most versatile player offensively, but he’s effective as a screen setter and a good-not-great finisher in the pick-and-roll (shooting 68% at the rim), and he has shown flashes of touch in the mid range.
Despite being a part of arguably the biggest trade of franchise history, Poeltl does not seem to have been given the full opportunities needed to succeed. Poeltl’s play as a rim protector, team defender, and in the pick-and-roll is good enough to warrant a starting spot as a low usage big on a decent number of teams. However, his fit with Aldridge is a bit clunky on both sides of the ball, muddying his short term outlook with the team.
He is set to become a restricted free agent this summer, and the hope is that no teams give him a large offer sheet this summer and San Antonio is able to keep him on a manageable salary until he can finally get a larger role and showcase his talents.
Contract: Signed thru 2020 (Not guaranteed for 2021)
Left without an NBA ready power forward after losing out on Marcus Morris and trading away Davis Bertans as a result, the Spurs scrambled and signed Lyles, who had come off an uninspiring four years with Utah and Denver. To many’s surprise, Lyles has been given a larger role than expected this season, starting 53 of the 63 contests he has played in. But has San Antonio’s gamble paid off?
Offensively, he can’t score inside and is a non-factor as a playmaker. Technically, his numbers suggest that he can shoot, but looking at his attempts in game context, Lyles only takes threes when wide open. No team will treat him as a serious threat. On the defensive side of the ball, Lyles is a good rebounder for his size and theoretically switchable, but he makes too many mental lapses to personally trust him.
Even after watching a decent amount of Lyles’ games with the Spurs, I cannot really pinpoint what he provides that a replacement level player cannot. He is a decent shooter and a very effective rebounder, but the amount of “goodness” is not high enough to give real impact. He projects more as a decent end-of-rotation piece rather than a starter (even if he is only playing 20 minutes per game). I would understand the logic behind San Antonio bringing him back as a stop gap for the next player on this list, but Lyles’ spot in the rotation will need be upgraded significantly at some point.
Contract: Signed thru 2021 (Team Options for 2022, 2023)
It’s tough for most players starting out in the G-League, let alone a 20-year-old kid who has just arrived in a new country, but Samanic’s rookie season in Austin offered a lot of promise. While his scoring percentages went through a bit of a roller coaster ride this past season, he showcased a translatable ability to finish inside the paint, in the pick-and-roll, as well as from deep. Defensively, he has worked hard to improve his strength, but he will still need time in the weight room. On the bright side, his IQ carried him well this past season. Both on and off the ball, Samanic seems to understand what to do and where to be for the most part and is mobile enough to switch onto some guards. He’s still a bit of a 4/5 tweener, which might limit his upside as a starter, and his turnover issues still need significant attention, but his skill level is high enough to overcome those deficiencies.
Samanic’s draft position alone should warrant him a roster spot for the next few seasons. When you add the potential skillset he can bring for a big and his development arc, San Antonio should be excited to see what kind of player he can be for the team in a few years.
Contract: Signed thru 2020 (Not guaranteed for 2021)
An athletic freak who seems to still be developing an NBA skill level, Chimezie Metu has been putting up numbers with the Austin Spurs. His ability as a floor runner and vertical threat is obvious when you see him play. Over his two years in Austin, he has shown some promise and taken a significant leap in his development this past season. If Metu cleans up defensive lapses and shows that his 38% shooting from three is real, he could turn into an interesting backup big.
Metu performed well in the G-League but has not been able to get meaningful opportunity at the NBA level. So where does he belong? Due to the pecking order of prospects ahead of him (Poeltl, Samanic), it is tough to find an opportunity. I’m sure San Antonio would like to keep Metu due to his production, but a player’s NBA clock is only so long. Most likely, Metu will look to another opportunity, whether it be another NBA team or overseas, where he can finally get a chance to showcase his improvements.
Contract: Signed thru 2020 (Two-way Contract)
Most two way players do not get to start for teams loosely in playoff contention, but the injuries to San Antonio’s big men led to the insertion of Drew Eubanks into the starting lineup late in the season, where he averaged just around 4 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in just under 17 minutes per game. While not eye popping numbers to say the least, the fact that he got a starting nod in the first place shows the level of trust the Spurs’ coaching staff has in him and his skills.
Eubanks uses his vertical to his advantage as a play finisher and rim protector. His strength allows him to set solid screens, and once he dives, his athleticism gets put on display. Despite being undersized, his anticipation, IQ, and athleticism helps provide defensive value as a rim protector.
As a player on a two-way deal, Eubanks has provided more value on the court than I would have expected. However, it is tough to see how an undersized back to the basket center who cannot shoot, guard the perimeter, or pass can succeed in the NBA. Especially considering that he cannot be brought back under another two way, San Antonio allocating a full time roster spot to Eubanks should only occur in a depth role.