The Spurs have made their first move of the offseason. Veteran forward Doug McDermott has agreed to terms with San Antonio on a three-year, $42 million contract.
It’s hard to get too bullish about this type of addition before seeing what else the Spurs have up their sleeves, but on its own, it’s a good signing. An average of $14 million for a 29-year-old forward who might not start could seem a little excessive, but shooting is expensive, and the contract is short enough that it shouldn’t become a problem down the line, when more of the Spurs’ young players will need to get paid. The move doesn’t move the needled in terms of raising the team’s ceiling all that much, but it does bring balance to the roster, and it essentially gives the Spurs a replacement for the likely departing Rudy Gay.
Looking more closely at what McDermott could do for San Antonio is a little more exciting. One of the things the Spurs have lacked in recent years is a reliable outside threat from the forward position. Gay tried to fill that role and did a decent job when it came to spot up shooting, but he’s not really at his best on the move. McDermott, on the other hand, is a master at pressuring defenses away from the ball. He can shoot off screens and handoffs, and he’s become a fantastic cutter. That makes him not only a shooter but an elite floor-spacer that opponents always have to account for, which is something that could only be said about Patty Mills and Bryn Forbes in the Spurs’ teams of the past few years.
The fit on offense is nothing short of perfect. McDermott is the rare veteran who won’t take the ball out of the young players’ hands and will actually make life easier for them by always giving them room to work with or a target to hit. He could start next to Keldon Johnson and take the less demanding defensive assignment while providing spacing or come off the bench to hopefully help recreate the constant movement identity that San Antonio’s second units have had over the years. Whether he’s punishing Jakob Poeltl’s man for playing off him by setting up a quick handoff three or flying all over the court with a bench mob that should feature athleticism and shooting, McDermott should help hugely on offense.
The concerns are mostly on the other end. McDermott is not a terrible defender, but he’s not an on-ball stopper or off-ball disruptive force, so at most he can be expected to be a neutral presence. San Antonio has good defensive forwards in Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell, but they might have to pair one of them up with McDermott for most of the time he’s on the floor, which could limit lineup flexibility. McDermott is also a passable rebounder for a small forward, but if the Spurs envision him playing at the four for stretches, the team might struggle on the boards. Maximizing McDermott is easy to do on offense, but in the other aspects of the game, he’s limited. He’s good enough to not get a team killed in any specific area, but he needs to be surrounded with the right talent.
Beyond the on court fit, it’s fair to question if spending on a 29-year-old combo forward makes sense for a team that was seemingly ready to rebuild. It’s not an egregious decision simply because bottoming out never seemed to be a route the Spurs would take, but adding players who can get the team an extra win or two at the expense of not having enough minutes for the young forwards is at least questionable. The glass half full view is that in order to figure out how good the guards are, the Spurs needed to put shooting around them. Just as you don’t judge a young big man who’s never played with a proper point guard, it’s unfair to dismiss Dejounte Murray’s and Derrick White’s ability to be high volume creators without giving them the spacing they need.
Overall, the McDermot signing is fine. It’s not particularly inspiring, but it does address a need the team has had for a while, and it should help the ball handlers while taking pressure off the young forwards. It’s not the type of addition that really moves the needle in terms of wins and losses on its own, but it could have a positive effect across the roster if things go according to plan.
It also makes it clear that the Spurs are not ready to go fully in on their youth movement yet and that they probably knew they couldn’t make the big swing most fans were hoping for. Whether the path they are choosing is the right one or not, the front office’s goal appears to be to remain competitive while developing players slowly, and this signing should help San Antonio do just that.