The Spurs recently agreed to terms with a sharpshooting veteran guard who is coming off a season converting 45 percent of his three-pointers for the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks. With Patty Mills gone, San Antonio needed some outside shooting and secured it in what has to be a small contract.
Normally the consensus would be that it’s a smart addition, but the player is Bryn Forbes. Because of that, the reaction from most fans ranged from “why?” to “oh, no.” That’s how bad of a taste his last stop left in the mouths of the faithful.
To some degree, the visceral response is valid. Despite being a success story as an undrafted player who stuck around through hard work, to many Forbes became the avatar for everything that was wrong about the post-Kawhi Leonard Spurs. Forbes played atrocious defense and lacked upside, but he still got playing time. Even in his second season as a high-minute player, when his shooting regressed, essentially making him one of the worst starters in the league, Forbes stayed in the rotation. A 26-year-old impending free agent was ahead of the younger, more exciting Lonnie Walker IV, which at that time had many convinced he was primed for stardom. Forbes was just the perfect scapegoat.
We know now that the Spurs were not bad because of Forbes, and it wasn’t the player’s fault that he ended up in a much bigger role than he was suited for because basically nobody else in the roster could shoot threes in volume. Forbes did his job on offense and, as it turns out, wasn’t really blocking the emergence of a star, since Lonnie Walker IV struggled in similar ways when he became a starter as he did when he was a low-minute backup. Clearly Forbes is not someone who should play 25+ minutes a game on a good team, but the Spurs really weren’t one. Bryn was only one of the many flawed pieces they had.
So why was the news of his signing still a little unsettling? Because there is a chance things go back to how they were the first time around. The fear that Forbes will get big minutes while someone else with more promise sits is real. Pop likes his veterans, and the Spurs will need shooting. With Keldon Johnson, Doug McDermott and Thaddeus Young around, the minutes at forward will be mostly spoken for, so guys like Walker and Devin Vassell will have to play some shooting guard to get playing time. The path for them to get enough minutes was clearer when Forbes was not around. It’s terrifying to imagine the Spurs, which seemingly were ready to move forward, taking a step back into a time in which they were both mediocre and uninspiring.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though.
We know that in a smaller role, Forbes has value, at least in the regular season. He was still bad on defense in Milwaukee at the individual level and didn’t help at all at the team level, but his shooting made up for it, most of the time. The team did well at scoring with him on the court, and his percentages returned to elite level. He only started a couple of games and was benched when the matchup was a bad fit for him. He was treated as a deep rotation guy, a specialist that plays a lot when it seems he might help and sits when he probably wouldn’t, especially against elite opponents. In a suitable role, Forbes wasn’t a drain. That’s the blueprint for using him that the Spurs should follow next season, and the fact that they brought him back now after letting him go a year ago suggests they know it.
Along with McDermott, Forbes could provide the type of constant off ball movement that opens up things for the guards. In a reserve role, he likely won’t get hunted as much on defense, and if he does, he can simply be benched. As long as Pop doesn’t treat Bryn as the key piece he considered him to be when the team started two non-shooters in Dejounte Murray and DeMar DeRozan and instead uses him as a nice specialist to deploy for stretches, Forbes could be a good addition. It will all depend on how he’s used, but maybe there’s no need to fret about the signing of a high-character veteran shooter that would go largely unnoticed if not for the bad memories.
The Spurs didn’t need to sign Forbes, and he won’t move the needle either way. In any other roster he’d be just a guy, the type of forgettable veteran journeyman that joins young teams, does his best to help and moves on. In San Antonio, he won’t be able to be that anonymous, but hopefully he’ll be put in the position to avoid drawing too much attention to his shortcomings.
This upcoming season signals a new beginning for the Spurs. Hopefully they won’t repeat the mistakes of the past, and Bryn Forbes will have a chance to win the fanbase over as the underdog specialist he was always supposed to be.