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Spurs player review: Doug McDermott was solid, but not impactful

McDermott is a consummate pro who helps in specific ways, but he doesn’t move the needle, which makes him a questionable fit for a team like the Spurs.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Being a veteran on a young team can be a thankless job. The fan base would prefer to see a younger player getting minutes, while the coaching staff will likely expect mistake-free performances and leadership. It’s not for everyone, even though it can be lucrative.

Doug McDermott was up for task, which really helped the Spurs in many ways. San Antonio’s big offseason addition did a great job of leading by example and filling his role well. Yet, with the team still needing impact players, the question of whether the specialist should heavily feature in the franchise’s plans going forward remains.

Traits, expected role and stats

Doug McDermott is a 30-year-old 6’7” combo forward who joined the Spurs in free agency after having a career year with the Pacers.

He was expected to provide shooting to a team starved for it while manning one of the starting forward slots next to Keldon Johnson.

In 55 appearances, he averaged 11.3 points and 2.3 rebounds while shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc in his 24 minutes a night.

McDermott season review

One of the biggest challenges McDermott faced all season was staying healthy for long enough to develop some chemistry with his new teammates. The issues started early, as he missed the fifth game of the year and would only suit up for 13 of the first 20. To his credit, he was doing his main job of hitting outside shots at a high level, but it was tough for him to find ways to get to the rim on cuts at the rate he had in Indiana the season prior. The lack of a truly elite passing center and backcourt shooting made things even harder for him, but his resolve didn’t waver. The veteran never stopped moving in the half court and eventually started to get more opportunities near the rim. Unfortunately, another stretch of absences at the start of January momentarily stopped his momentum.

McDermott found some consistency upon his return, and looked as efficient as ever for the next 20 games, but while the offense came along nicely, his limitations on the other end and on the boards continued to be exposed. Despite being one of the oldest and better-paid players on the roster, McDermott ranked last in minutes per game in the clutch among rotation players last year since he was too big of a liability when switched onto smaller ball handlers and not a factor in other ways. His lack of an impact late in close matchups actually explains why the team didn’t really miss him that much in the last 15 games of the season, which he missed due to injury. While others might not have been as deadly from outside as he was, they made up for it with defensive versatility, which McDermott simply lacked.

Season grade: C+

The Spurs probably hoped for more from McDermott when they signed him, but it’s hard to blame the mildly disappointing year on him. Small injuries and a COVID-related absence cost him games early in the season, and an ankle sprain sidelined him for the last stretch, but he seemed in shape and willing to play, so he gets a pass for not being durable. Offensively, the Spurs simply didn’t have the personnel to allow him to replicate the success he had as an inside finisher in Indiana. The issues on defense and the boards were always there throughout his career, so expecting him to do well in a starting role was probably not very realistic to begin with.

Still, it feels unfair to give a player that only suited up for 51 games and was an obvious negative on defense one of the best grades on the team, no matter how well he filled his main role as a floor-spacer. McDermott wasn’t bad when he was available, but he wasn’t great either, which largely describes his entire career.

The future

McDermott will enter the second of a three-year deal he signed with the Spurs in 2021. He should be ready to go by training camp if he stays in San Antonio and could actually be a good trade piece if the front office decides to move on from him since his contract is not an albatross.

Everything should be on the table with Doug. Keeping him would be completely fine, especially if he can move to a bench role. As a starter, his shooting certainly helps, but if the Spurs can get someone with more size and defensive versatility to fill that spot, they should probably do it. It would be tough to find a power forward with those attributes who is also as good a shooter as McDermott, but as long as his replacement is enough of a threat from outside to keep the defense honest, the trade-off would probably be worth it. There would still be plenty of minutes for McDermott to help space units featuring Dejounte Murray and Jakob Poeltl, as well as enough opportunities for him in the second unit to come off screens and fire away. He can definitely still help.

A trade would also be acceptable, especially if the Spurs use their three picks in the draft on players that join the roster immediately. It seems unlikely that they will, since they already have nine players under contract for next season and a developmental project like Josh Primo around, but if there’s no way to package the picks or no draft-and-stash option that intrigues the front office, it could happen. Under those circumstances the Spurs would be going young in a hurry, and keeping a 30-year-old role player who’d help a contending team more than a rebuilding one might not make sense. Using McDermott to move up could also be a possibility, since one (or both) of the picks in the 20s and a proven shooting specialist could get San Antonio in the mid teens.

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what happens to McDermott, at least not in any significant, franchise-altering way. He’s never been a difference-maker and won’t turn into one here. He’s simply a solid rotation player with clear strengths and weaknesses that could helps most teams in the right role.

Whether the Spurs are the best fit for what he brings in unclear, but how the rest of the offseason goes could help them figure that out.

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