Getting to Know San Antonio Spurs' Role Players (And Likely Future Heroes)
Kawhi Leonard has officially joined the ranks of the San Antonio Spurs' Big Three. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili now have an heir to pass their legacy on to, and he looks every bit up to the challenge.
But as we've learned about the Spurs this season (and last), it's less and less about the big names—and more about everyone else.
San Antonio's bench led the league in scoring and assists this season. Starters Danny Green and Tiago Splitter have certainly done their parts as well. This is an ensemble collection of quality professionals, each ready to step up and do his job when called upon.
They may not have the household name recognition, and they don't always get the lion's share of the credit, but anyone who follows the Spurs will tell you: This supporting cast is awfully good.
It might just be good enough to overcome the wildly talented Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. Head coach Gregg Popovich will need help from all corners of his rotation, and the good news is that's exactly what he's gotten thus far in the postseason.
And all season long before that.
Let's get to know the Spurs' five most pivotal role players. They'll be on the world's stage soon enough.
Position: Shooting guard
2013-14 Salary (per HoopsHype): $3,762,500
Green has slowly but surely emerged as one of the very best role players in the league. He's earned that reputation as San Antonio's go-to marksman, making 41.5 percent of his three-pointers this season. During the playoffs, he's been even more deadly, cashing in 48.1 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.
Though it won't stand out as much, Green's defense is also exceptional. When head coach Gregg Popovich elected to put Kawhi Leonard on Russell Westbrook during the conference finals, it was Green who ended up defending Kevin Durant. He did as much as anyone could have done against the MVP.
The North Carolina product began turning heads during the 2013 NBA Finals. He scored 27 in Game 3 and another 24 in Game 5, both wins for the Spurs.
Green has continued garnering attention during these playoffs, scoring a combined 37 points in Games 1 and 2 of the conference finals.
If there's a knock on Green, it's that he sometimes disappears on the road. That's often par for the course when dealing with supporting casts, but it's also worth noting this is really only the third season Green has been heavily relied upon on the big stage.
All things considered, he's acquitted himself quite nicely.
Green could also work on his in-between game a bit, but he's developed a somewhat reliable floater along with the willingness to actually put the ball on the floor when defenders close out on the perimeter. As he continues to diversify his game, there's little doubt Green's name recognition will grow.
The North Carolina product averaged 9.1 points per game this season, sharing time with Marco Belinelli in the starting lineup.
2013-14 Salary (per HoopsHype): $10,000,000
Though Splitter struggled to find his footing against the Thunder, he was one of San Antonio's best players in the first round against the Dallas Mavericks. For the series, he averaged 10.7 points and nine rebounds, posting 17 and 19 points in Games 5 and 6 (respectively).
The first thing you need to know about Splitter is that he operates extremely well in pick-and-roll situations. For a big man, he moves off the ball with ease and finishes around the rim with all kinds of finesse.
If there's a complaint about his interior game, it's that he's not especially explosive. He's definitely a fan of going up with the soft stuff.
But in a league where reliable centers are increasingly rare, the Brazilian has been a nifty find for the Spurs. They elected to sign him to an extended contract that doesn't expire until 2017. That gives you just a little insight into how valuable he is to the franchise.
Whenever Tim Duncan retires, the Spurs can rest assured they have at least one solid big collecting rebounds and setting screens.
For the season, Splitter averaged 8.2 points and 6.2 rebounds. Those numbers won't jump out at you, but they speak to strong consistency from a player who had to share quite a few minutes with Duncan and Boris Diaw.
Position: Power forward
2013-14 Salary (per HoopsHype): $4,702,500
Head coach Gregg Popovich recently discussed Diaw's virtues, telling reporters, "He's such a versatile player, I'm still learning how to use him." That versatility has been instrumental during the postseason. The Frenchman can score from all over the court; he can pass; he can defend several positions.
In short, he's the perfect jack of all trades to have coming off the bench.
Diaw was especially helpful in the conference finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He averaged 13.2 points for the series and dropped 26 points in the decisive Game 6.
Tim Duncan subsequently sang his praises to the media, saying, "Boris was amazing. He's had an unbelievable series all around. He's played well and he's found away to be effective when they went small, against their small guys in the post. He's attacked Serge real well the entire series, shot the ball well, tried to pull Serge away from the basket."
Though not known for his scoring in particular, Diaw can do damage in a number of ways. He's a pretty reliable three-point shooter and has an endless repertoire of crafty moves in the paint. He can back opponents down or face up against them and isn't afraid to put the ball on the floor.
Diaw has increasingly gained the confidence to do all of the above. Whereas he previously seemed to feel more pressure to defer, he's now looking for his own offense when the opportunity arrises.
CBS Sports' Matt Moore thinks Diaw is as responsible as anyone for San Antonio taking another step forward this season: "The biggest improvement, however, is Boris Diaw. Yes, the ex-Bobcat consistently mocked for his rolly-polly shape has become the difference maker for San Antonio."
Position: Point guard
2013-14 Salary (per HoopsHype): $1,133,950
San Antonio's backup point guard was a model of efficiency this season, racking up an 18.80 player efficiency rating according to ESPN.com. Mills scored 10.2 points per contest and gave the Spurs a speedy jolt of offense off the bench.
His defense isn't bad, either. Mills picked up 0.8 steals in just 18.9 minutes per game by pressuring ball-handlers and playing passing lanes with his top-shelf quickness.
Outside of Manu Ginobili, Mills was San Antonio's closest thing to a sixth man—a quintessential spark plug capable of swaying momentum the Spurs' way.
Mills' postseason hasn't exactly been steady. He especially struggled to find a rhythm against the Oklahoma City Thunder, making just 30.8 percent of his field-goal attempts for the series. The conference semifinals were a different story, though. Mills averaged 11 points per game on 55 percent shooting.
Even when Mills isn't totally on top of his game, he remains a threat. He can shoot from virtually anywhere and loves pulling up off the dribble. That keeps defenders honest and forces them to stay close to him on the perimeter.
The Australian has long been known as the bench's most vocal cheerleader—and towel waver. He wasn't playing many minutes during 2012-13, but that didn't deter him from remaining engaged. Between his bench antics and his increasingly strong play, Mills has become a fan favorite.
Position: Shooting guard
2013-14 Salary (per HoopsHype): $2,750,000
The Spurs signed Belinelli to replace Gary Neal on the bench. Given the premium the team places on spacing the floor with shooters, there's always a need for a swingman who can drain threes.
Besides winning All-Star Weekend's Three-Point Contest, Belinelli has proven a more than capable long-range assassin during game action as well. He made 43 percent of his three-point attempts during the regular season, averaging 11.4 points per game.
Belinelli's minutes and production have declined during the postseason, but he scored a combined 32 points during the first two games against the Portland Trail Blazers in the conference semifinals. Were it not for Danny Green's success down the stretch, we'd probably be seeing more of Belinelli.
The Italian actually started 25 games for the Spurs this season and had the best all-around shooting campaign of his career. His smooth stroke and quick release make him a dangerous threat when coming off of screens from just about anywhere on the floor. To that end, his movement off the ball is also exceptional.
Belinelli is a shooter in the Reggie Miller and Ray Allen mold. He never stops running around without the ball in his hands.
The Spurs also have Belinelli under contract for the 2014-15 season.