San Antonio Spurs: Ranking the Top 10 Underrated Moves in the Tim Duncan Era
The San Antonio Spurs have made a name for themselves by signing little-known journeymen and making the most of their low draft picks.
The Spurs are like that person who likes to hang out at garage sales—they find items that no one wants and make better use of them than anyone else could have. Head coach Gregg Popovich and general manager RC Buford have done an unbelievable job at finding these under-the-radar players and getting the most out of them.
Let's take a trip through memory lane. These are the Spurs top under-the-radar signings and draft picks throughout the Duncan Era.
10. Luis Scola
OK, Spurs fans, before you throw your laptop across the room, just hear me out on this one.
Though Scola never played a game in the silver and black, he still has to be classified as one of the great draft steals. The Spurs selected Scola in the second round in the 2002 NBA Draft.
This Argentinian product is not the fastest player, nor does he have the highest vertical. His game centers around his grit and high basketball IQ.
The Spurs traded Scola's rights to the Houston Rockets in the summer of 2007. RC Buford and Gregg Popvich felt that the Spurs were already set in the frontcourt at the time, with Robert Horry, Fabricio Oberto, Francisco Elson and Matt Bonner.
They also had to find a way to rid themselves of Jackie Butler's bad contract and including Scola's rights in the trade was the best possible solution. Now with the benefit of captain hindsight, this appears to be a bad move. Scola could've been a vital part to many of the Spurs' recent playoff runs.
In light of all the questions that face the Spurs about their frontcourt, Scola’s size and skill would have definitely been needed.
Ah, what could have been?
9. Michael Finley
Finley joined the Spurs after he was surprisingly waived by the Dallas Mavericks. He turned out to be one of the finest signings in the Duncan Era.
Finley came to the Spurs in hopes of winning his first championship ring and his clutch shooting and veteran leadership fit the Spurs’ culture like a glove.
One year later, he finally won that championship that eluded him for so many previous seasons.
Some of the Spurs' veterans even cited that getting a ring for Finley played a huge part in motivating the Spurs' title aspirations.
To watch him weep tears of joy as he clutched the Larry O'Brien trophy in the locker room just made everyone, from players to fans, happy that Finley was a part of the Spurs organization.
8. Devin Brown
"Downtown" Devin Brown tore up the D-League, averaging 16.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2 assists, earning him the NBDL MVP award in 2003.
After that, Brown played on the Spurs' summer league team and then he signed with the team,
In the 2004 NBA playoffs, Brown played a major role. In Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Los Angeles Lakers, Brown's energy sparked the team to come back from a 16-point deficit before ultimately losing the game in the final moment.
7. DeJuan Blair
Coming out of the University of Pittsburgh, Blair established himself as one of the most dominant rebounders in college basketball.
It is still hard to believe that Blair fell so low in the draft. Most NBA scouts predicted Blair as a mid-to-late first-round draft pick—some even went as far to say that he is a lottery talent. Then the concern among scouts about his knees surfaced and his draft stock plummeted.
Blair is an undersized big man who combines his grizzly rebounding skills with his seven-foot wingspan.
How do players like this always wind up with the Spurs?
6. Stephen Jackson
Jackson started off with the New Jersey Nets in 2002, but he was eventually cut, as he and Byron Scott didn't see eye to eye.
The Spurs signed him later that season, but Popovich didn't play him very much. It wasn't until 2003 that he received his opportunity when Steve Smith was injured.
Jackson took full advantage of this opportunity and eventually became a vital part to the Spurs 2003 championship run. It is a shame he wasn't with the Spurs longer, but hey, that's the nature of the business of the NBA.
Jackson is a sociopath on the basketball court. It doesn't matter if he made 10 shots in a row or missed 10 shots in a row, he will keep firing with no conscience. This type of attitude is why he is known around the league today as one of the more clutch players.
5. Gary Neal
Really, how do the Spurs always find players like this?
Neal is also one of those players who was kicked around different leagues overseas.
In the 2007 NBA Draft, Neal went undrafted. So he decided to take his talents overseas. He led the Turkish Basketball League in scoring, averaging 23.6 points per game. Then in 2008, Neal played for Benetton Trevis in the Italian League. In 2010, he played for the Spanish League team, Unicaja Malaga, where he averaged 12.6 points.
Neal started out playing for the Spurs summer league team last offseason. Now he is a vital piece to the team which currently owns the best record in the league.
Not only is Neal a shooter, but he is also developing into a scorer for the Spurs' second unit. And he isn't afraid to take big shots, regardless of how many he has missed in a row.
I recall a conversation I had with my friend (who is a Lakers fan) when Neal hit the buzzer beater at the end of the first quarter against them in the second regular-season meeting.
"Chris, how did Neal hit that? That was all luck and you know it."
"Oh well, Neal with it."
4. George Hill
The Spurs surprised many when they took Hill with the 26th-overall pick in the first round in the 2008 NBA Draft.
Hill was drafted for his NBA-ready defense and wingspan, which is that of a small forward. He was the starting point guard in last year's postseason and he was a big reason why the Spurs eliminated the Dallas Mavericks in the 2010 postseason.
In Game 4 he led the Spurs to a victory, scoring 29 points on a night when the Big Three were largely ineffective. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili shot a combined 9-for-34 from the field.
The Spurs' love Hill's athleticism off the bench and he looks like he will be part of the Spurs' when it is time to rebuild.
3. Bruce Bowen
Bruce Bowen started his career as a journeyman. He played for four different teams overseas and three different teams in the NBA before finding his home in San Antonio.
Bowen cemented his legacy as one the best perimeter defenders to play the game. Bowen had the length and the lateral quickness to bother some of the game's most explosive scorers.
He was clever and yet he had a bulldog mentality. He fought through screens as if his life depended on it-—he took it personal when a player scored on him. His method of defense has caused him to be the subject of controversy among opposing players and fans— many of accused him playing "dirty".
However, what made Bowen special is that he didn't try to be anyone's friend nor he did he care about how many enemies he made in the league. On the court, Bowen meant business.
2. Tony Parker
Parker was a relative unknown point guard out of France. In fact, in the draft, many experts felt that Jamaal Tinsley was a better player than Parker. Now Parker has become one of the NBA's most successful players, winning three championships. However, Popovich didn't start out as Parker's biggest fan.
In fact, Popovich was ready to send him away after he was overwhelmed by Spurs' scout Lance Blanks during the 2001 summer camp. Then Sam Presti showed Pop a mix of Parker's highlights which changed his mind, and the rest is history.
Oftentimes, San Antonio leans on Parker to attack defenses early with his blazing speed and to set the tone early.
It seems as though the French guard has been around forever. However, he is only 28 years old and he will be an integral part of the Spurs' future when Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili decide to hang up their sneakers.
1. Manu Ginobili
Even RC Buford and Gregg Popovich would tell you that they did not know what kind of player Ginobili would be in the future when he first joined the organization in summer of 2002.
The Spurs selected Ginobili with the 57th pick in the second round. At the time he was a relatively unknown prospect. In fact, when he was selected, his name was mispronounced. But it did not take him long to establish himself in the league.
Known for his ankle-breaking crossovers, unorthodox angles he takes to the basket and occasional flopping (sarcasm), this Argentinian has played a major role in the three of the four Spurs' championship seasons.
Ginobili is what I like to call a "no, no, yes" kind of player. What I mean by this is, he will make a play that looks like a totally bad idea that has you screaming,"no, no". Then, the play is successful and you're yelling "yes".
For example, pulling up for a three-pointer on a three-on-one fast break, wild reverse layups and crazy across-the-court skip passes.