Title: Spurs Role Players the Key
Date: February 10, 2009
Original Source: Hoops Addict
Synopsis: This was a Hoops Addict article that took a look at how the San Antonio Spurs constantly find strong role players to fill out the roster beyond Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili. It holds true still, three years later, as their dynasty can’t stop, won’t stop.
As strong as the Spurs leadership has been at the very top, a great deal of their success over the past decade must be attributed to the smaller moves that go unnoticed. It is a constant supply of high-character role players, not just the incredible Duncan-Popovich duo, which has been paramount to building what might be sports’ last true dynasty.
12 years after winning the draft lottery, the Spurs are still going strong with number one pick Tim Duncan and head coach Gregg Popovich. They are the two faces of the franchise, have enjoyed four championships together, and have been together as a player-coach tandem longer than all but four other tandems in history. They are, separately, one of the greatest power forwards and greatest coaches in NBA history. Together, they are the foundation of one of the most successful sports franchises of the past two decades.
But one cannot just look to Duncan and Popovich as the reason the Spurs have been so successful. The explanation extends further than the other two faces of the franchise, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, as well. Yes, the Spurs have been blessed with some luck (the lottery), franchise commitment, and the extremely savvy RC Buford/Gregg Popovich combo in the front office. The foresight to see great potential in unheralded late draft picks like Ginobili and Parker has long been a key strategic element in San Antonio.
But one piece of the Spurs that sometimes goes unappreciated is the constant supply of quality role players the team employs. Again, you can point to the front office magic of Popovich and Buford; after all, no team does as good a job of bringing in high-quality, high-character players year after year as the Spurs do.
We have seen Robert Horry transformed from an appreciated role player into Big Shot Rob, one of the greatest playoff performers of all time. Bruce Bowen flourished as a defensive stopper who was asked to do excel at just one thing. In addition, Michael Finley accepted a significant downgrade in his role to become a contributor for San Antonio, Kurt Thomas was deemed worthy of two first round picks because of his contributions and Nazr Mohammed got paid after he left San Antonio because of his success there. Avery Johnson, Vinny del Negro, Hedo Turkoglu, Rasho Nesterovic, Brent Barry, and Sean Elliot have done it, too. The list goes on, with the emerging theme being that players do what they can to contribute to the Spurs and, in many cases, contribute far more there than they were capable of elsewhere.
The current incarnation of the Spurs is proof positive of this strategy. Roger Mason Jr. has gone from journeyman cast-off to three point shooting machine, with a defensive mean streak and the title of starting guard. Matt Bonner was dealt for Rasho Nesterovic from his beloved second home in Toronto, and has since flourished as a versatile big man that shoots the three better than almost any other player in the league. George Hill was largely forgotten about on draft night, coming from little known IUPUI, and filled in admirably while Parker and Ginobili were out. This trio combines for 71 minutes a night, pours in 27 points, and spreads the floor extremely well, allowing the three-headed monster to dominate the paint through post-ups and dribble penetration. Teams can choose to double team or fill the paint at their own peril.
Foremost, you can give Popovich credit. I’ve always felt the hallmark of a good coach was not leading superstars, but getting the most out of his lesser players, and nobody does this better than Popovich. You also have to tip your hat to Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan for having the confidence in these players, confidence that provides them opportunities to succeed and gives them confidence of their own.
This is a history that must truly be appreciated. Gregg Popovich would be the first to tell you that there must always be five players on the floor, your best players can’t play 48 minutes a night, and the season is a marathon, not a sprint. All things considered, you simply cannot rely on one (or three) great players and a good coach to build a perennial Championship contender. Popovich and Buford have embraced this and made a conscious effort to commit, in terms of playing time and confidence, to high-character players who they deem fit a specific role with the team. The beauty of a strategy like this is that it is highly repeatable – there will rarely be a shortage of inexpensive role players to be had – and as long as the vision of the coach and the franchise remains the same, these players can continue to produce. It also allows your team to have a top-heavy salary structure, keeping a balance of superstars and role players in perpetuity.
For over a decade, the Spurs have been favorites for the NBA Title. While Duncan and Popovich are one of the greatest player-coach combinations of all time, the franchise’s success runs much deeper than the talent of these two future Hall of Famers.