As a basketball organization, the San Antonio Spurs are the epitome of excellence and class.
They have amassed 5 NBA Championships in the last 20 straight seasons that they appeared in the playoffs. As if that is not impressive enough, the Spurs have clinched at least 50 wins for each of those 20 seasons, the longest streak for one franchise in NBA history.
The special exemption for them is the lockout-shortened 1998-1999 season, where they had a 37-13 record. However, that record holds a 74% winning percentage, which translates to 61 wins in a regular 82-game season. Heck, they still won 50 in the 66-game, 2011-2012 lockout season. They’re just that good.
But we all know the reasons why the Texan franchise has been at the top for so long. Gregg Popovich, David Robinson and Tim Duncan come immediately to mind. However, those are the no-brainer personnel – the people whom you just can’t lose with. It takes greater skills to complete a team than to start it out. The decisions teams make to round up the lower rungs of their payroll oftentimes determine which of them go on to succeed in the long run.
Of course, we have to give due credit to the team scouts who tirelessly work to, at the very least, lessen the chances of failure when gambling with lesser-known prospects. Whether it stemmed from luck or pure dedication to the art and science of statistics, here are some of the diamonds that the Spurs scouts churned out from the coal pile.
Manu Ginobili – 57th pick, 1999 draft
Three spots short of the last pick, the Spurs snagged an unknown Argentinian who would 19 years later make a game-winning block on an MVP candidate and send San Antonio closer to another championship opportunity.
Honestly, there is not much left to write about the 4-time NBA champion and the greatest sixth man of all time. Counted out time and time again due to his advanced age of 39 years, Ginobili continually proves that he can still hang with the best and that he has one last gasp of championship energy left in him. Whether he decides to retire after this season or not, he has solidified his status as a basketball legend in his own right. Not bad for a bottom-three pick, right, Isaiah Thomas?
Tony Parker – 28th pick, 2001 draft
Given the success they kept on having, the Spurs are understandably absent in every draft lottery in the last two decades. However, they’re the Spurs and they are good at everything they do, so they drafted a scrawny 18-year old Frenchman to handle the heaviest load on offense.
Of course, in true Spurs fashion, the pick blossomed into an offensive juggernaut who was crucial to the Spurs’ last 4 NBA titles, as proven by the Finals MVP award he nabbed in 2007.
Unfortunately for the Spurs, the 34-year old Parker has since suffered a quadriceps rupture, ending his playoff season and his NBA-record streak of 221 straight playoff game appearances. Despite this major setback, he can rest easy knowing he has a very capable substitute in his place. Speaking of whom…
Patty Mills – 55th pick, 2009 draft (from the Portland Trailblazers)
After an injury-plagued first stint with the Blazers, the Australian combo guard inked a cheap deal with the Spurs in 2012 and, as always, blossomed into a reliable backup who is capable of being the x-factor when needed. In his first game as a starter in the 2017 playoffs, he dropped 20 points in a team-high 43 minutes and almost won the game in regulation. The Spurs wound up winning 110-107 in overtime anyway, so all is well.
If Parker is set to miss extended time, let this be a preview of the 55th pick’s capabilities as a leader of the Spurs’ pass-happy offense. Safe to say that the transition will be as smooth as it can be.
Danny Green – 46th pick, 2009 draft (from the Cleveland Cavaliers)
Banished from the kingdom of LeBron James in 2010, this young knight was picked up by the Spurs and honed his talents to the point where he was relied on as a starting shooting guard with deadly shooting and perimeter defense.
In a true tale of redemption, Green toppled the kingdom of James in the 2013 finals against Miami with a highly-efficient performance of 9.5 points, 1.4 steals and 0.7 blocks per game on 49% shooting and a ridiculous 47% from three-point land in 23 games as a playoff starter. One could call him the Kingslayer, but there can only be one.
Kawhi Leonard – 15th pick, 2011 draft (from the Indiana Pacers)
The moment the Pacers selected Leonard with the absurdly low 15th pick in the 2011 draft, the Spurs did what they do best – see talent where others can’t – and traded their young prospect George Hill to get the silent and seemingly harmless small forward.
Little did everyone know that 3 years later at just 22 years old, Leonard would silently slay the reign of Miami as NBA Champions and become the youngest Finals MVP since the Hall of Famer Magic Johnson.
Just when most thought Leonard has established his niche as a defensive stalwart with decent offensive capabilities, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year would, still silently as ever, evolve into an emotionless offensive assassin who is currently averaging 27.8 points per game in the 2017 playoffs – nearly doubling his 14.3 points per game average during his 2013 Finals MVP stint.
Kawhi Leonard is just 25 years old. He has yet to hit his prime.
Here is a short list of players whom the Spurs originally drafted and would go on to have successful careers with other teams.
1. Luis Scola – 55th pick, 2002 draft (18.3 points, 8.2 rebounds per game in 2010 with Houston)
2. George Hill – 26th pick, 2008 draft (16.9 points, 4.2 assists per game in 2016 with Utah)
3. Goran Dragic – 45th pick, 2008 draft (20.3 points, 5.8 assists in 2016 with Miami)
Perhaps the Spurs should try their hand on finding actual gems buried in the earth next time, because they sure have the magic touch in finding gems here in basketball. It’s worth a shot. – Rappler.com
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