There are players who lack consistency but make enough dazzling plays to make up for it, and there are others who just quietly do their job most nights without standing out. Spurs forward Keita Bates-Diop belongs to the latter category.
The 26-year-old forward didn’t wow anyone on either end this past season, but his defense was solid, and he made up for his limited skillset on offense by being smart and hard-working. In a way, he was a very Spurs-y player.
But as the team tries to reinvent itself, should they be giving minutes to guys that don’t seem to have a lot of potential? Let’s take a look at KBD’s performance and try to figure that out.
Traits, expected role and stats
Bates-Diop is a 26-year-old combo forward who earned a guaranteed contract after spending the 2020/21 season with the Spurs on a two-way deal.
He was expected to provide depth at power forward and to defend the bigger wings while contributing on offense without the ball in his hands.
In 59 games, Bates-Diop averaged 5.7 points and 3.9 rebounds while playing 16.2 minutes a night.
Despite being essentially a depth player who was never expected to become a heavy minutes rotation piece, Bates-Diop had some pressure on him to show he deserved his spot on the roster after the Spurs waived former first round pick Luka Samanic over him. Due to a lack of untapped potential, he would need to fill his role almost to perfection for the decision to keep him around to make sense. He did just that by being extremely aware of his strengths and weaknesses and never attempting to do more than he should.
Bates-Diop is not a stopper, but he can slow down good offensive players and fill the gaps at the team level, and that’s what he did. Defensive metrics can be misleading, but they paint him as at least an average player on that end, and the numbers say the team was at its best with him on the court and its worst with him resting. The eye test mostly agrees. Offensively KBD is an extremely limited player, but he knows it, which is important. He finished a combined 18 possessions in the post, in isolation and as the pick-and-roll ball handler across the entire season, according to Synergy Sports, and a combined 183 in put-backs, transition and cuts. The man understands what he can and cannot do.
There were some standout moments for Bates-Diop, like a 30-point game against the Lakers, but for the most part what characterized his season were consistently solid, if unspectacular, stretches of play whenever he was needed, whether for 30 minutes or 10. He lost ground to Josh Richardson post-trade deadline after having to sit out a few games, but when he was asked to give the team some good minutes in the final games, he did.
It’s important to remember that these grades refer to how well players filled their expected role, not how good they were in general or relative to their teammates. Bates-Diop was a deep bench guy who was deployed for rotation minutes in certain matchups and sat on the bench for others, but that’s what he was supposed to be. He didn’t help the team in any significant way on his own, but he didn’t hurt them, either. The Spurs wanted a defense and effort forward who knew his place on offense, and Bates-Diop provided exactly that. Had he shown a little more progress on offense, his grade would be even higher.
Bates-Diop is on a small non-guaranteed contract for next season, which means he could be back if the Spurs decide to operate as an over the cap team instead of carving up space for a free agent signing. He’s a fringe NBA player who isn’t overpaid, and he fills a need by providing depth at power forward, so it wouldn’t be the worst thing to see him back. But it would likely be better to use the roster spot on someone who actually has the potential to be more than a 15-minute player on a decent team.
Bates-Diop scored in double digits just 10 times in the entire 2021/22 season and he hit at least one three in just 11 games. It’s a testament to his motor and instincts as a cutter that he was even playable at all, considering his lack of range and shot creation, but his ceiling is low. Combo forwards who can’t shoot and don’t have any elite skills are rare in the NBA for a reason, and Bates-Diop doesn’t have the length or the rebounding chops to be a small ball center. For some reason the Spurs seem to love that archetype, as evidenced by the fact that Dante Cunningham and Trey Lyles have been starters in recent years, but it’s time to rethink that approach.
There’s a small chance KBD develops a league-average outside shot, but even then he’d be more of a glue guy for the second unit than someone who should actually get big minutes. He’s done a great job of filling the very modest role he’s been asked to play, but it’s hard to imagine the 26-year-old becoming anything more than a reliable eighth man. Is that the best use of a roster spot for a team that could add three rookies, if they use all three of their first round picks? It doesn’t seem like it.
If Bates-Diop is on the roster next season, he’ll probably get another good grade in the offseason player review that follows it because he works hard, does the little things well, and knows his limitations. Guys like that have value, but a rebuilding team desperate for an upgrade at the power forward position should probably want more.