Ranking San Antonio Spurs' Greatest Role Players Since Tim Duncan Was Drafted

Alec NathanFeatured ColumnistJune 17, 2013

Ranking San Antonio Spurs' Greatest Role Players Since Tim Duncan Was Drafted

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    Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs have qualified for the playoffs every season since The Big Fundamental was selected No. 1 overall in the 1997 NBA draft. 

    The Spurs collected four titles over Duncan's first 15 seasons and have a shot to add one more in his 16th season with an NBA Finals victory over the Miami Heat

    Throughout the 2013 postseason we've seen role players come up large for San Antonio, whether it's been Gary Neal, Danny Green or Kawhi Leonard. 

    With Green on the brink of capturing an NBA Finals MVP, it feels appropriate to look back and see which role players have thrived the most during Duncan's tenure with the Spurs. 

    For the purposes of this slideshow, players' careers with the Spurs during Tim Duncan's tenure with the team were evaluated. 

    Note: All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference, unless noted otherwise.  

Honorable Mention: Manu Ginobili

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    While the bulk of this list will focus on players who are one-dimensional, role players can be so much more. 

    Manu Ginobili is just that. 

    A multi-dimensional threat off the bench, Ginobili hasn't just provided energy as a sixth man and starter, but has scored, rebounded and passed selflessly. 

    Comprising one-third of the Spurs' trinity that also boasts Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, Ginobili differs from his veteran comrades in that he has seamlessly adapted to a role as the team's first man off the bench. 

    Ginobili started 227 games from 2003 to 2008, but has done so just 114 times since the start of the 2008-09 season, including zero starts in 60 appearances in 2012-13. 

    The Argentinian marvel flashed his superstar capabilities when he received the starting nod in Game 5 against the Miami Heat (24 points and 10 assists on 57.1 percent shooting), but it's his selflessness that's made him the model of what every role player should strive to be. 

    However, due to the fact that Ginobili does possess star power, he's exempt from the criteria necessary to qualify for the list. 

    Ginobili was a major component of the Spurs' titles in 2003, 2005 and 2007, and although his role has diminished slightly over the past few years, his complete body of work exceeds that of a conventional role player. 

10. Brent Barry

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    Brent Barry and Steve Kerr were both considered at No. 10, primarily because they played similar roles and captured the same number of championships (two) with the San Antonio Spurs. 

    Ultimately, it was Barry who won out due to his superior production during four seasons alongside Tim Duncan. 

    Barry averaged 24.1 minutes per game during the Spurs' title run in 2005, posting 6.1 points a night on 42.4 percent shooting from three. 

    At age 34, Barry's postseason production ticked up, as the three-point marksman averaged a career-best 7.8 points per game on 50 percent shooting from three in 13 playoff games (two starts). 

    The 1996 Slam Dunk Contest champion only appeared in 16 of the Spurs' 20 playoff games during their 2007 championship run, and he saw his role decrease as he logged just 11.8 minutes per game. 

9. Malik Rose

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    A combo forward who signed with the San Antonio Spurs the same season Tim Duncan was drafted by the franchise, Malik Rose was a gritty, consistent contributor. 

    Rose—who now serves as a commentator for his hometown Philadelphia 76ers—won two titles with the Spurs (1999 and 2003) and had a steady role with the team from 1997 to 2005, when he was eventually traded to the New York Knicks

    Rose was never a statistical beast—averaging 6.2 points and 4.1 rebounds per game for his career—but was an excellent team player who fit coach Gregg Popovich's system. 

    The 6'7'' forward's best postseason came in 2001-02, when he started three games and averaged 12.9 points and 7.9 rebounds before the Spurs were bounced by the Los Angeles Lakers

8. Stephen Jackson

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    Stephen Jackson's tenure with the San Antonio Spurs was fragmented and brief, but that doesn't make his contributions any less significant. 

    Stack Jack's biggest impact as a Spur came during the 2003 postseason, one that would culminate with Duncan capturing his second ring. 

    At 24 years old, Jackson started all 24 of the Spurs' playoff games en route to the '03 title, recording 33.8 minutes of run per night. 

    It was during the '03 run that Jackson emerged as a dependable player from end to end, registering 12.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.4 steals per game (on 41.4 percent shooting and 33.6 percent shooting from three). 

    Jackson is best remembered for his role in the Malice at the Palace of Auburn Hills, but his under-the-radar contributions in a supporting role with the Spurs shouldn't be forgotten. 

7. Avery Johnson

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    If you're a younger fan of the game, you may not know Avery Johnson as anything more than the former coach of the Dallas Mavericks and Brooklyn Nets

    Johnson played for six franchises over the course of his career, but he found the most success with the San Antonio Spurs, whom he played with in 1991-92 and then again from 1993-2001. 

    The Spurs' starting point guard during the first three seasons of Duncan's career, Johnson was rock solid from both scoring and passing perspectives. 

    Winning the only championship of his career during the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, Johnson averaged 12.6 points and a team-high 7.4 assists per game over the course of 17 playoff games. 

6. Michael Finely

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    Michael Finley joined the San Antonio Spurs shortly before the start of the 2005-06 season, and made his presence felt with a steady stroke from beyond the arc. 

    One year after joining the Spurs, Finley put together one of the most efficient postseasons of his career, scoring 11.3 points per game while shooting 41 percent from the floor, 41.9 percent from three and 89.7 percent from the charity stripe. 

    Perhaps more notable is that at age 33, Finley started all 20 games during a run that saw the Spurs sweep the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2007 NBA Finals. 

    The 2007 playoffs also saw Finley tie his career-high for offensive rating during a postseason (118), while he simultaneously posted a defensive rating of 106, according to Basketball-Reference

5. Kawhi Leonard

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    Kawhi Leonard is 21 years old, which makes his performance in the 2013 NBA Finals even more frightening. 

    If we revisit these rankings in a few years, Leonard could very well be ranked among Tim Duncan's top three sidekicks ever.

    Like Bruce Bowen, Leonard is an expert at hounding offensive talents (see: James, LeBron) and has been consistent on the offensive end to the tune of 12.2 points per game in the finals. 

    Leonard has the sort of engine teams covet, and his effort on the offensive glass throughout the postseason is indicative of a team-first approach. 

    Thus far in the playoffs, Leonard ranks second on the team behind only Duncan in offensive rebounds, 45-44. 

    With just a couple of years under his belt, it's difficult to evaluate Leonard in the context of Duncan's 16-year career. 

    However, if he can sustain this production over the next few years, he'll be well on his way to taking charge of the Spurs and capturing a few rings as the team's star. 

4. Danny Green

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    If it weren't for the 2013 NBA Finals, Danny Green may have been absent from this list. 

    However, Green is arguably the biggest reason why the San Antonio Spurs hold a 3-2 series edge over the Miami Heat. 

    Once waived by the Spurs, Green has grown into his own and now has a shot at capturing an NBA Finals MVP—a feat that would be unprecedented for a player of his caliber. 

    Green's offensive game is hardly diverse, but it doesn't need to be. Soon to be 26 years old, Green has exploded this postseason, averaging 11.8 points per game through 19 appearances. 

    The sharpshooter also broke Ray Allen's three-point record for an NBA Finals in Game 5 as he knocked down his 25th trey of the series. 

    For the finals, Green is shooting 65.8 percent from deep, improving his already staggering playoff three-point percentage to 42.9 percent. 

    With another big season or two, Green could find himself the future of the franchise alongside Leonard. 

3. Robert Horry

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    Robert Horry wrapped up his career with the San Antonio Spurs, and he did so by winning his sixth and seventh titles in 2005 and 2007, respectively. 

    A career full of clutch performances on the game's biggest stages has Horry entrenched as one of the game's most cold-blooded performers, even if his numbers weren't particularly gaudy. 

    Big Shot Bob's most memorable game in black and silver? That would be Game 5 of the 2005 NBA Finals against the Detroit Pistons

    In Game 5, Horry not only posted 21 points (7-of-12 shooting) and seven rebounds off of the bench, but he drained the game's decisive bucket when he converted on a three from the left wing with time running down in overtime. 

2. Sean Elliott

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    A two-time All-Star, Sean Elliott would have ranked more favorably had his prime coincided with the start of Tim Duncan's career. 

    Although his best days were behind him by the time Duncan was drafted in 1997, Elliott was a crucial piece of the San Antonio Spurs' 1999 championship team, averaging 11.9 points per game on 44.4 percent shooting from the field and 40 percent shooting from three. 

    But what really stands out from that title run was Elliott's shot famously known as the Memorial Day Miracle

    Down two to the Portland Trail Blazers in the waning moments of Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, Elliott tapped his toes on the sideline like a wide receiver trying to stay in bounds, pulled up and knocked down the game's decisive basket from the right corner. 

1. Bruce Bowen

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    Bruce Bowen wasn't an offensive maven by any stretch, but his air-tight defense over eight seasons with the San Antonio Spurs made him one of Tim Duncan's most valuable role players during that time. 

    Often labeled as a dirty player, Bowen took on all comers, including the game's most fearsome scoring presences. 

    Known for his pesky defense, Bowen quickly converted himself into the league's preeminent defensive specialist under the tutelage of Gregg Popovich. 

    Bowen won three titles (2003, 2005, 2007) in San Antonio, and during the 2002-03 season, he led the NBA in three-point field-goal percentage with a mark of 44.1 percent. 

    Since calling it quits, Bowen has had his No. 12 jersey retired by the Spurs.