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San Antonio Spurs

Bryn Forbes making case for rotation spot with prolific summer league

San Antonio Spurs' Bryn Forbes shoots around Philadelphia 76ers' Charles Jackson during the first half of an NBA summer league basketball game, Sunday, July 9, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
AP Photo/John Locher

All eyes are on the high-profile rookies in the NBA Summer League. But it’s often more experienced players who actually perform the best.

Bryn Forbes, a second-year San Antonio Spurs player who went undrafted in 2016, has been lighting up the scoreboards thus far.

Forbes led the Utah portion of the schedule in scoring, and is now doing the same in Las Vegas. On the whole, his numbers have been excellent: 25.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.3 steals in 30.1 minutes per contest on a 59.8 true shooting percentage.

Does this performance foreshadow a rotation spot with the Spurs for Forbes in 2017-18? Let’s take a look.

The first thing that stands out as a difference in Forbes’ game is his fearlessness in driving to the rim.

Just three of Forbes’ 99 field goal attempts last season for the Spurs took place within three feet of the basket. He made none of those shots. Additionally, he only got to the line for just six free throws all year.

Just watching the Spurs’ 99-85 victory over the Trail Blazers yesterday shows a stark contest in Forbes’ offensive approach. Here are some of the 23-year-old’s best drives from the contest:

 

Forbes’ free throw rate (free throws attempted divided by field goals attempted) in summer league is a whopping 35.5 percent. During the regular season, it was 6.1 percent, and it was 19.2 percent during last year’s summer league.

The former Michigan State standout is a bit quicker and more decisive with the ball; he’s also a whole lot more confident in his own ballhandling and finishing. Forbes has converted a lot of shots at all three levels (at the rim, from mid-range and behind the 3-point line), which bodes well for his offensive viability in the NBA.

However, I do have doubts about his slashing when it comes to playing against actual NBA competition. Despite showing improved quickness and confidence, his burst and strength are still mediocre for a guard, and he doesn’t elevate much or get creative with the ball around the rim. He doesn’t have an array of ballhandling moves to shake off defenders who are capable of staying with him step for step.

Right now, a lot of his driving success is coming as a result of poor pick-and-roll coverage, overaggressive closeouts and a general lack of sound defensive fundamentals that we often see at summer league. The above clips exemplify some of this.

Of course, this isn’t to say that Forbes’ improvement as a driver isn’t real. Even the best NBA players sometimes mess up on defense sometimes, and Forbes will do a good job taking advantage of that with his decisive moves. His new skills will help him become a situational penetrator, though, not a consistent one.

His 3-point shooting is still a legitimately elite skill, though. Forbes has gone 21-of-51 (41.2 percent) from downtown in summer league despite playing only 182 minutes. That means he’s hit one 3-pointer for every 8.7 minutes on the floor, which is close to Stephen Curry’s number in the category last season (one triple per 8.1 minutes).

Forbes makes all types of 3s. He can fire away off the dribble, off the catch, from a dead sprint and when a defender is draped all over him. His form is consistently impeccable:

 

He seems better than ever from the outside, which is a great sign for his Spurs future. 3-point shooting will continue to be what helps him stick as a rotation player, if he does indeed stick.

Ballhandling has been a significant issue, though, even in Forbes’ excellent performance this summer. He has coughed up the ball an average of three times per contest, mostly from failing to make good decisions as a dribbler. He doesn’t protect the ball well enough when he’s a primary initiator of the offense, and his playmaking is just OK.

As such, his best place is still off the ball in a J.J. Redick-esque role.

Defense is still going to be an issue for Forbes, though improved quickness and good hustle have helped him stay firmly out of the “liability” category in Utah and Vegas. At 6’3″ with a 6’5″ wingspan and just a slim 190-pound frame, he’s not able to cover most NBA 2s. He’s also not speedy enough to cover a decent chunk of point guards.

Will Forbes get more of a chance to show his stuff with the Spurs this year? Yes, but his minutes depend on whether Manu Ginobili retires and/or the team can retain Jonathon Simmons in free agency.

If both Ginobili and Simmons return, except a very small role that’s only a bit larger than last season. Dejounte Murray (despite a disappointing summer league performance), Patty Mills, Danny Green, Ginobili and Simmons would all be ahead of him in the rotation to start the year — expect about 50 appearances and a minutes average of 10 per game in this case.

If both Ginobili and Simmons are gone, the Spurs would surely bring in another guard but or two, but Forbes’s path to minutes would be easier. He could get a lot of burn with the second unit, maybe even getting as many as 18 to 20 minutes per game and a nightly rotation spot. He seems to be more NBA-ready than the Spurs’ first-round pick from this year, Derrick White, who has better tools but no elite skill, unlike Forbes.

Obviously, Forbes’ role would be somewhere in the middle of these two options if only one of Ginobili and Simmons stays.

Forbes has had a great summer league. But some of the areas the 23-year-old has improved in still won’t be huge strengths for him at the NBA level.

His physical limitations do prevent him from being a big-minute guy, at least until he gains more experience.

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