Ian Mahinmi Could Be Summer's Secret Prize
Well-known veterans will indeed get the bulk of attention come July 1. But there's a corps of young, relatively anonymous players up for grabs as well. One of the most mysterious in this set is 6'11 Spurs forward Ian Mahinmi. The Frenchman, 23, saw only spotty action in San Antonio this season, appearing in 26 games and logging more than 15 minutes in a game only twice. In that limited action, Mahinmi performed, shooting 63 percent from the floor and collecting more than 18 percent of all available rebounds while on the court.
That production syncs with his more extensive NBA D-League experience. Mahinmi played more than 1,300 minutes with the Spurs-owned Austin Toros in 2007-08, finishing the season third in the league in PER, top-10 in rebounds and blocks per game, fourth in effective field goal percentage, second in True Shooting percentage, second in Win Shares, and a first-team All D-League honoree. Basically, Mahinmi is what almost every team is looking for in the draft this June: an active, productive young big man.
But why, then, is Mahinmi such an afterthought heading into free agency? Why did the Spurs decline his cheap option for 2010-11? Why are the Spurs considered unlikely to make a strong effort to keep Mahinmi?
On the surface, Mahinmi simply hasn't played much lately, which could explain the lack of buzz. Mahinmi suffered a season-ending injury at the start of the 2008-09 season, limiting the Frenchman to just one game with the Toros and not a single minute with the Spurs. Mahinmi came back healthy for the '09-10 season and remained on S.A.'s roster for the entirety of the year. But the free agent addition of Antonio McDyess and the drafting of DeJuan Blair pushed Mahinmi down the pecking order. McDyess, the 13-year veteran, started 50 games for the Spurs, and Blair -- who many observers felt was underused -- averaged 18 minutes a night in playing all 82 games. With Tim Duncan continuing to anchor the frontcourt and Matt Bonner at the ready for "stretch-4" situations, Mahinmi struggled to get off the bench. While Bonner is a free agent and McDyess and Duncan continue to get closer to retirement, the potential signing of 2007 Spurs draft pick Tiago Splitter may keep the rotation too tight for Mahinmi to break through in San Antonio.
As so many prospects before Mahinmi have learned, building a reputation without opportunity is difficult. But at just 23 years old, Mahinmi has to worry just as much about his next contract as the one in play this summer. As such, Mahinmi and his agent have made noise about going to a team who promises to get the forward plenty of playing time. NBA teams rarely agree to such demands (especially for unproven players), which has me thinking Mahinmi is on his way back to Europe. That's unfortunate for NBA fans, because this kid can really play. But unless an NBA team can see through the fog and find a deal that works for Mahinmi (by providing a reasonable opportunity for playing time), joining an upper echelon European club makes the most sense for the Frenchman.
As a fan of Mahinmi, I'll continue to hold out hope some young team will convince him to stay in the States. While signing Mahinmi won't be as impactful as prying LeBron from Cleveland or Chris Bosh from Toronto, grabbing the Frenchman could wind up looking like the summer's most prescient move.