With late picks, the Spurs were able to snag foreign players Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. They also drafted Luis Scola late in the second round, who they later traded to Houston.
In 2007, the Spurs drafted Tiago Splitter and waited until the 2010-11 season for him to leave his Spanish team and join the NBA.
He showed flashes of talent in his first season with them, and in his second year, the young big man has improved and become a key component to their roster.
As one of the younger members of the team, Splitter may very well end up one of their star players after veterans such as Duncan retire.
While he has not been a star yet for the Spurs, there are many reasons to be excited about the foreign big man. Here are a few:
Splitter's rookie season was fairly humdrum. Averaging just 4.6 points and 3.3 rebounds in 12.3 minutes, the transition to the NBA proved to be difficult for Splitter.
This year, coach Gregg Popovich increased Splitter's role for the team, and the forward/center has given fans a lot to be excited about.
In the first 30 games, Splitter's playing time has increased to over 20 minutes and with it, his overall stats. He is currently averaging 9.7 points and 5.4 rebounds, which are only getting higher as the season progresses. In his last 10 games, Splitter has averaged 10.4 points and has scored double figures in 12 of his last 16 contests.
If this continues, Splitter could be a force to be reckoned with by the end of the season, as well as a star player in later seasons.
Splitter's skill set fits in nicely with the San Antonio Spurs' system. Very much like Duncan, Splitter's inside game and defense are his best attributes.
With a variety of post moves, Splitter's limited offensive game works best in the paint. His athleticism and hustle in the paint makes up for his lack of ability when it comes to scoring from other parts of the floor.
Unlike Duncan, Splitter does not have a dominant mid-range jumper, but can create for other players with his strong passing ability. His height and wingspan help him be a dominant force on the boards.
His physical defensive play helps the team shut down opponents and makes up for any offensive struggles he may have.
Most importantly, he has become a true "Spur" with his hustle and work ethic. In just his second season, these skills combined have worked nicely for the team, and once they are full developed, could become deadly to opponents.
When it comes to learning the game, few big big men would choose a mentor other than Tim Duncan. Duncan is considered by most to be the greatest power forward of all time. He has won four championships, three NBA Finals MVP awards and two regular season MVP awards. He has been elected to nine All-NBA First Teams, eight All-Defensive teams, and 13 All-Star games.
Splitter has struck gold by landing a spot on the Spurs, where he will be mentored by Duncan. Splitter's game is similar to Duncan's with a focus on defense, post moves, and passing. Duncan will help to develop these certain skills as well as improve ones that aren't already strong.
Duncan may not even be the most important mentor for Splitter however. While Duncan may retire soon, coach Gregg Popovich may have many years left with the Spurs.
Popovich is widely considered to be one of the best NBA coaches of all time. He has led his squad to four titles, and constantly boasts a top record in the league. He has been a prime contributor to the Spurs success, and despite setbacks, always finds a way to win.
He has developed Tim Duncan into the player he is today, as well as other late picks who have proved to be stars. Splitter could very well be next on Pop's list, which could result in Splitter being a star.
Splitter has drawn comparisons to many other players who have become dominant in the league. Luis Scola, another foreign big man who was drafted by the Spurs has been the most discussed comparison.
Splitter's skill set has also been compared to the likes of teammate Tim Duncan, and while we don't know if he will be as good as the G.O.A.T., this does give us a taste of his potential.
Splitter has also been compared to another foreign player, Pau Gasol. Gasol may be a bit out of reach, but they are similar players. Their inside moves are dominant, and both are terrific passers in terms of big men. If Splitter can develop scoring abilities similar to Gasol, then expect Splitter to tear apart defenses similar to the way Pau can.
If Gregg Popovich is excited than you should be too.
He and the Spurs waited patiently for Splitter to come to the NBA, and now that he's here, Popovich is confident that they made the right choice.
“I think Tiago has to be a linchpin for our future here, because he has the size, the length, the toughness, the grit, the consistency,” Popovich said. “He’s going to be a stalwart of this team going forward.”
He is confident that Splitter's role with the offense will be similar to the one of Fabricio Oberto, who was a part of the 2007 Championship team.