Meet the Under-the-Radar Players That Make the San Antonio Spurs Awesome
Well, as long as mastermind Gregg Popovich is running the show, the answer is and always will be San Antonio's under-the-radar players.
Every basketball fan knows Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are the Spurs' core, but San Antonio's role players greatly influence the level of the team's success in the postseason—more so than many other teams.
Heading into the NBA Finals, there is no better time to introduce the workhorses potentially taking San Antonio to its fifth league championship in 15 years.
Kawhi Leonard, Small Forward
Kawhi Leonard is likely the most recognizable player of the group, but he is still underrated based on national recognition.
After two years without top defender Bruce Bowen, the Spurs traded for Leonard on draft day in 2011, and he has done the job remarkably well.
He has guarded the likes of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Mike Conley, Jr. in the previous two rounds of the playoffs. Looking ahead, Leonard's next assignments will be LeBron James or Dwyane Wade should the Miami Heat advance or Paul George if the Indiana Pacers get to the finals.
Leonard, however, is not a one-trick pony. He is an excellent rebounder and a solid three-point shooter with a .434 career mark from distance in 28 playoff games.
Someone who can guard superstar shooters and take rebounds from opposing centers is truly a rare breed, and Leonard excels in both areas.
Danny Green, Shooting Guard
Along with Leonard, Danny Green is a top-notch defender for the Spurs.
Facing the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs, Green had held Stephen Curry to 2-for-19 shooting at one point, a truly amazing stat. Whether Curry was spotting up from behind the arc, taking a mid-range jumper or driving the lane, Green was in position to disrupt Curry's shot.
Advice: Mentally prepare yourself for the "Screaming Spurs Fan" in the video.
Additionally, Green is a fantastic shooter from three-point range for San Antonio. In four selected playoff games, Green has shot the trifecta at 5-for-7, 8-for-14, 6-for-10 and 6-for-9.
Green's height (6'6") is undoubtedly his biggest advantage as he can further alter an opponent's shot simply by getting a hand higher in the air than a typical guard.
He was a part of the University of North Carolina's 2009 national championship team, and Green could very well be adding an NBA title soon.
Tiago Splitter, Center
Tiago Splitter was drafted by the Spurs in 2007, but he didn't make his way to the United States for professional basketball until the 2010-11 season.
During 2012-13, though, Splitter's value is finally being felt as he appeared in 81 games and started 58.
Though he missed two games earlier in the playoffs, Splitter has contributed valuable minutes in the post averaging 6.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 0.9 blocks per contest.
Splitter plays alongside Duncan and also gives the "Big Fundamental" some well-deserved time to rest on the bench. Keeping Duncan fresh and snagging rebounds are Splitter's two main jobs. While he has plenty of room to improve on the boards, Splitter is a serviceable center at this point in his career.
Matt Bonner, Professional Shooter
His technical position may be a power forward, but Matt Bonner has one job.
Shoot. The. Three.
Bonner has converted nearly 42 percent of his long-range shots throughout seven seasons in San Antonio. He even led the league in 2010-11 connecting on just under 46 percent of three-point shots.
A low-post presence is not Bonner's style; his sole duty is to make a weird-looking, yet effective shot from three-point land.
Look, anyone who stars in a trick-shot video knows what he is doing.
The "Red Mamba" shoots, and he—usually—scores three points for the Spurs.
Gary Neal, Point Guard
Gary Neal is in his third season with San Antonio, and each year he has filled the same role.
During the regular season, he eats minutes so Tony Parker can be well-rested for the postseason run. Neal, in turn, then plays limited time in the playoffs.
Neal excels from three-point range, but long-distance shots are not his entire game. He shoots the trifecta at slightly below 40 percent, yet converts on 46 percent of his two-point attempts for his career.
Whenever the Spurs' offense needs a spark, Popovich can utilize Neal's stellar mid-and long-range shooting to get momentum back on San Antonio's side.
A player with the ability to score 25 points and dish five assists in relief of Parker is a valuable asset to have on the bench, and Neal provides that depth for the Spurs.
Cory Joseph, Point Guard
Cory Joseph does not play many minutes and accumulates relatively no major stats, but his hustle shines brightly.
He has played fewer than 10 minutes per game in the Spurs' two most recent playoff series, yet Joseph's impact is seen in chasing down loose balls and not committing turnovers. The type of attitude he possesses focuses on intangibles and being a team player, something Joseph showed earlier this year.
Joseph requested to be sent down to the Austin Toros—the Spurs' Developmental League team—because as NBA.com's Ken Rodriguez notes Joseph said, “I could be sitting on the bench in San Antonio, or I could be getting better.”
The second-year guard earned Second Team All-NBA D-League honors in five stints with the Toros throughout the season, but Joseph has real potential to play big minutes for the big club.
Until then, he and the rest of the under-the-radar Spurs will keep working for a championship—one that is just four wins away.