Se we left off with the San Antonio Spurs having won their first NBA Title in the lockout shortened season of 1998-99. They had arguably the best big man in the game in Tim Duncan and an ageing veteran star in David Robinson surrounded by a bunch of discards and role players. Now they were going to show off their prowess in the front office…
Manu Ginobili was a star in multiple European leagues, winning MVP’s and championships of his own. The Spurs saw greatness in him by snaring him in the 1999 NBA Draft… with the 57th (and second last) pick! Clearly the rest of the NBA hadn’t caught up with the immense ability players possessed overseas, it was either someone from the NCAA or free agency. After the Spurs waved their magic wand on numbers occasions, the rest of the league began to take notice.
Ginobili stayed in Europe for 3 seasons after being drafted and carved out quite the short career, averaging 17.3 ppg, 4 rpg, 2.4 apg and 3.2 spg… give any college player those numbers at shooting guard and they are (most likely) a lottery pick. When you come from the other side a very large ocean it’s a bit of a different story. Even after playing as a rookie in the 2002-03 season he only played 20.7 mpg and average just 7.6 ppg, hardly eye popping. But by that point the Spurs had pulled the wool over the rest of the NBA with another cagey draft pick that would set up their continuing quest of championships.
Tony Parker was taken with the very last pick of the first round (28th pick overall) in the 2001 NBA Draft. He was a (very) fresh faced 19 year old from France who had played just 8 professional games, granted he did average 22 ppg, 6.1 apg and 1.6 spg but still! Now, for those that are familiar with the ring leader of their ‘dynasty’ (Gregg Popovich) you’ll know he’s not the first guy out there shoving his rookies into the spotlight. But in the case of Parker he started 72 of the 77 games he played and even though his numbers weren’t that of a superstar (9.2 ppg and 4.3 apg) the savvy Popovich knew he had something special in his young point
So, enter the 2002-03 season and you have 2
guys from Europe who many people would never have considered NBA quality playing integral parts in a team with their sights on another NBA title. Even players like Stephen Jackson (drafted 42nd overall in 1997 and started 58 games), Bruce Bowen
(undrafted but started all 82 games) and Malik Rose (drafted 44th overall in 1996 and averaged a career high 10.4 ppg) had all been bounced around the NBA prior to their stops in San Antonio but were vital to the team’s success.
The end result was a 60-22 record (ties for best in the NBA) and a 2nd NBA title for the Spurs in the last 5 seasons. Of course leading the way was Duncan and Robinson but their role players were as responsible for the championship as the stars. It was also a perfectly fitting farewell for Robinson who announced his retirement at season’s end. The keys to the team now belonged to Tim Duncan… and he knew just how to drive!
Led by Duncan with very able support from Parker and Ginobili the San Antonio Spurs won 2 more NBA titles in 2004-05 and 2006-07. The supporting cast had changed with former No 1 overall pick Glenn Robinson, “Big Shot” Robert Horry and Michael Finley among the ageing stars to jump onto the Spurs wagon. At the end of the 2006-07 season the Spurs had won 4 championships (from 4 tries) and Duncan had cemented himself as one of the very best to every play the game. Shaquille O’Neal aptly nicknamed Duncan “The Big Fundamental”… and he couldn’t have been more accurate! Talk about consistent, Duncan’s PPG average for his first 10 seasons ranged between 18.6 and 25.5, his RPG between 10.6 and 12.9 and his BPG between 2.0 and 2.9. He was a reliable as anyone in NBA history and his 4 rings (to that point) only backed that argument up.
But this group wasn’t quite done. The following 6 seasons all produced at least 50 wins, 2 trips to the Western Conference Finals and an NBA Finals but a 5th title was kept from their grasp. As the 2013-14 season approached not even the most optimistic of Spurs fans would think that they had any chance of another ring prior to Duncan retiring. Not that there was any sign that his leaving the game was close but with Indiana and Miami in the East and Oklahoma City and the LA Clippers in the West, it was always going to be tough.
Guess someone forgot to tell Pop, Duncan and the Spurs! They rolled through the regular season with a 62-20 record, best record in all the NBA and guaranteed home court throughout the playoffs. The Spurs “Big 3” of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker were 37, 36 and 31 years old respectively with a LOT of miles behind them. Luckily for them they had support from yet 2 other sterling moves on draft day. With taking Danny Green (46th overall in 2009) and up and coming superstar Kawhi Leonard (15th overall in 2011) they had arguably their most rounded team since Duncan was drafted. Even guys like Boris Diaw (3 previous teams) and Patty Mills (55th overall in 2009 and average 10.2 ppg off the bench) were vitally important when the stars needed a break.
The end results was a playoff run that was almost executed in the first round when the Dallas Mavericks pushed them to 7 games. The Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder was then shoved aside to set up the dream return matchup from the 2013 NBA Finals… LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Only problem was… they ran into Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs…
HUH?!?!? Did you say Kawhi Leonard? Yep, you read me correctly. I don’t think the NBA viewing audience took the skills of Leonard seriously (he was good, don’t get me wrong) but he was trusted with the seemingly impossible task of trying to defend LeBron James… on his own… by himself… 1 on 1! No problem, says Leonard. Now people are going to look at LeBron’s numbers (28.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 57.1 FG%, 51.9 3PT%) and say “what are you talking about, LeBron killed it”! On the surface, that may be true. But Leonard being able to at least stay with LeBron meant that nobody else was free to do what they would normally do when LeBron gets double and triple teamed. As a result, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh both had sub par Finals performances and weren’t able to damage the Spurs the way they would’ve liked. Oh, Leonard also averaged 17.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg and 1.6 spg to win the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player.
So, there you have it. A (more drawn out that first planned) breakdown of the San Antonio Spurs and their rather extraordinary success over the last 19 seasons. If it is that Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili depart the NBA at the end of this season, they will have left behind a legacy few will be able to match. Undoubtably Hall of Fame bound they showed the NBA and the world what great team play and smart coaching can lead to, something a lot of people overlook for the search of the next Sportscenter Top 10 play.
In conclusion, all I have to say is… you will be missed.