The Spurs entered the season with a lot of young prospects, some reclamation projects and a few veterans destined to be moved before the end of the season. One of the few players who didn’t fit into any of those labels was Keita Bates-Diop. The combo forward was too old to be a potential core guy, too tested to have untapped potential and not desirable enough as a target to have a market. It was fair to wonder if he should have been on the roster in the first place.
Now that most of the season is gone, it seems hard to imagine it playing out without KBD. He was never in the spotlight but he was always there to fill in the cracks when called upon for a team that lacked any type of consistency and needed able bodies.
It’s easy to underrate how big of a part of the 2022/23 Spurs he has been but a quick look at the numbers shows the big role Bates-Diop has played. He’s fourth in games started among players still on the Spurs’ roster and seventh in total minutes played. He ranks fourth in steals and blocks and fifth in rebounds. As modest as his stats are, KBD is having a career year, posting highs in minutes, points, assists and steals per game as well as three-point percentage. Bates-Diop had the opportunity to get minutes on a terrible rebuilding team that needed bodies and has made the most of it. That much is undeniable.
What’s harder to determine, which is a theme for the Spurs this season, is whether what he’s done means anything for the future. The team has clearly valued keeping some veterans around and Bates-Diop seems like the type of low-maintenance guy who they could hold on to at least for a while longer. He’s a master at moving without the ball, his outside shooting has improved (albeit in a low amount of attempts) and his defense and rebounding are solid. Despite this good season, he should be a cheap option in the summer, when he will become an unrestricted free agent, and he will have three seasons in San Antonio under his belt. If the idea is to maintain a sense of continuity among inevitable roster turnover, KBD can help there.
On the other hand, his limitations and his lack of upside are too noticeable to ignore. Bates-Diop is a jack of all trades, which helps when a team needs something different from him every game, but it’s hard to see him fitting a role on a more well-rounded roster. He’s not a stopper, a floor spacer, or a scorer. The Spurs will have three picks in the next draft and while they might choose the stash or two-way contract route with their second rounders, they will have at least 11 players on their roster unless they made trades in the offseason, three of whom play the same position as KBD. If Sochan stays healthy and the Spurs don’t continue to sit players regularly next season, Bates-Diop might have more of a symbolic role, like Gorgui Dieng had this year, than an active one. He might not be happy with that considering his age.
No matter what happens, the fact that Bates-Diop has done so much with so little in San Antonio to make a discussion about his future with the team worthwhile is impressive. The Spurs first brought him on as a two-way player and he survived the last cuts against two draft picks in Luka Samanic and Joe Wieskamp. He’s always been ready to play when called upon and has by all accounts been fine with not getting many minutes when the team has been healthy. He’s improved as a shooter and scorer in general while still bringing the intangibles and defensive effort. From almost out of the league to playing over 1,000 minutes in a season for the first time in his career, KBD has fought for a place in the league on a team that changed courses when he was around.
Bates-Diop’s success story might be a minor one but it’s still worth celebrating, especially in a Spurs season that has not featured a lot of victories. He might not join the Bruce Bowens and Avery Johnsons of the past in the pantheon of journeymen who found a home and great success in San Antonio but he does deserve some credit for doing as much as he could for the team in difficult circumstances.
It’s impossible to know what will come next for Keita Bates-Diop after this season, but hopefully he has done enough to find a role either with the Spurs or someone else, because he’s definitely put in the work to get his career back on track.