Welcome to Pounding the Rock’s 2022-23 player reviews! The series will look at all 16 players that finished the season with the Spurs (minus Khem Birch since he never suited up), so we won’t be reviewing players like Stanley Johnson or Isaiah Roby. In the next edition, we will be taking a look at Keita Bates-Diop’s performance and his outlook for the future.
2022-23 Stats: 67 games, 9.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 39.4% 3P
2022-23 Salary: Veteran’s minimum ($1,878,720)
Contract Status: Unrestricted free agent
Keita Bates-Diop is the type of player that should have no place in the modern NBA. A tweener forward with limited athleticism, a questionable jumper and good but not elite defensive chops should be close to unplayable. That’s why he found himself on a two-way contract with the Spurs when others didn’t want him back in the day. However, in his time in San Antonio and especially last season, he showed that there was more to his game than originally thought.
The solid defense was always there and that didn’t change in 2022-23. Bates-Diop is not a stopper or an off-ball menace, but he always does his job. His effort and smarts earned him a spot over the years on the Spurs’ roster and the rotation over more heralded players because the coaching staff clearly values how hard he plays and how well he sticks to the game plan. He closes out hard, fights through screens and plays physically inside. As someone who can guard wings and bigger players, he offered a level of versatility that most of his teammates couldn’t provide, which made him the perfect plug-and-play option in a lot of lineups in a season in which the Spurs needed every able body they could get.
While the defense and versatility kept him on the floor, it was KBD’s improvement on offense that transformed him from just a break-in-case-of-emergency player into a valuable contributor. Maybe it was because he had more freedom to look for his shot than in the past, or maybe he actually developed a more well-rounded offensive game, but Bates-Diop showed some shot-creation for the first time in his career. He was already a fantastic cutter, but he suddenly became a great post threat, especially when guarded by smaller players. He’d get the ball in the mid-post, bully his way inside and finish over the top of or around his defender. He also flashed the ability to get the ball while spotting up, putting it on the floor and getting closer to the rim to score or find an open teammate.
Averaging 10 points and 1.5 assists per game might not seem impressive, but those career highs showed growth on the offensive end for a guy that was known as a defensive-minded effort player. In a year that was all about development, arguably Keita Bates-Diop showed the most growth out of anyone.
The old version of Bates-Diop survived in San Antonio for longer than anyone could have anticipated. He went from a two-way contract to guaranteed money, and the Spurs actually waived a former first round pick still on his rookie contract to make room for him at one point. Now that he’s actually a better player, it would seem like he’d be a shoo-in to return, even if he gets a little pricier, provided he doesn’t look for greener pastures in free agency.
It’s a tricky decision for the franchise, though. KBD is already 27 years old, and the Spurs have two forwards, Keldon Johnson and Jeremy Sochan, who are part of their core. Doug McDermott is still around, at least for now, and they have three picks in the upcoming draft. They might simply not need another veteran. There’s also the very real concern that Bates-Diop’s career year from beyond the arc could have been a fluke. Before this past season, KBD was a 30 percent shooter from downtown on just 4.4 attempts per 100 possessions. In 2022-23 he made almost 40 percent of his threes while seeing a small uptick in attempts. He shot 47.5 percent on wide open looks but when an opponent was within six feet of him, he only shot 28.3 percent. With both Sochan and Johnson struggling from the outside, is he the right backup? It’s worth pondering it.
What could end up being the deciding factor is the off-court stuff. Bates-Diop never complained, as far as we know, and was always ready to step in when needed. He’s been nominated for the NBA Cares Community Award, which shows the type of high character the Spurs love. If Gorgui Dieng is gone in the offseason, bringing KBD back to provide some continuity to the roster and guidance for the younger players could be smart despite his age, the concerns about the sustainability of his offense, and a likely bigger contract.
April 6 vs. the Trail Blazers: 25 points on 11 shots (2-for-4 from outside, 9-for-10 from the line), six rebounds, four assists.
Final grade: B+
Up next: Jeremy Sochan