San Antonio Spurs Are Model for Teams That Need to Develop Young Talent

Ethan Sherwood Strauss@SherwoodStraussNBA Lead WriterNovember 28, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 13:  Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs reacts to his charginfg foul in front of teammates Tiago Splitter #22 and Tim Duncan #21 during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on November 13, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  The Spurs would win 84-82.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The Spurs are old, decrepit, crumbling. It's the cycle of life, you know. Once you're on top for awhile, with no high draft picks to replenish your talent level, a team eventually fades.

Except, that isn't entirely the case with San Antonio. You see, the Spurs are simultaneously young while also being old. You may know them by Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, but San Antonio is grooming actors to take their place when retirement comes. 

Are you familiar with Tiago Splitter's work? What about the sharp-shooting and defense of Danny Green? Certainly, you've heard of Kawhi Leonard?  

Let's focus on Leonard, the youngest and most talented Spurs role player. He fell far in the 2011 NBA draft, then got scooped up by this famously crafty organization. In assistant coach Chip Engelland, San Antonio had a comparative advantage.

If you boast a coach who can make players shoot better, well, that really opens up your draft board. Kawhi Leonard had many skills, but shooting was not among them. At San Diego State, he was an athletic dogged rebounder, with superior length for an NBA wing. 

If only San Antonio could correct Leonard's sub-30 percent three-point shooting, they would have had the steal of the draft. Well, they did and they do. Leonard is shooting .370 from deep in his career so far, opening up his floor game and vaulting him to possible future All-Star status.

The fix seems simple enough. Leonard's shooting elbow used to jut out, now it stays closer to his torso. The Spurs just seem to have the right coaches for implementing such improvements—and it shows:   

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Related, the Spurs parted with Richard Jefferson to make room for  Leonard. So far, with the Warriors, Jefferson is shooting .167 from three. It could all be luck and coincidence, but it's hard to doubt San Antonio, considering the track record.

Usually, I pined for teams to play their young guys more often. This is part of "The Thunder model," as it's called. San Antonio does things a bit differently. Like an NFL team that drafts a quarterback and lets him learn under a veteran for a season or two, the Spurs ease young players into the rotation. Kawhi Leonard averaged 24 minutes per game last season. This year, he's at 29 MPG.

The same goes for Tiago Splitter, who's been excellent in his brief playing-time stints. It's harder to get the Brazilian big man on the floor, considering that Tim Duncan still possesses some wizardry in his old age, but at least San Antonio is prepared for Duncan's eventual exit.

Splitter plays less than half the game, but he's on his second consecutive season of averaging over a 20 player efficiency rating. In the meantime, his play became staggeringly efficient as he too shot better within San Antonio's system. From his rookie season to his sophomore campaign, Splitter went from shooting .529 from the field to .618. 

Finally, the Spurs found an unsung quality player in Danny Green. The UNC swingman was out of place on the Cleveland Cavaliers—a franchise that still possesses a great eye for talent. The Spurs rescued Danny Green from the D-League ranks and they're now putting him in a position to succeed.

Danny Green shot better with San Antonio (this is starting to sound like a broken record), and thrived with more playmaking responsibility. The Spurs also recognized Green's unused defensive talent and frequently put the long wing on smaller point guards.

In short, San Antonio found a talent, improved that talent and found a new use for that talent. It's par for the course in central Texas, where great basketball emerges from the woodwork of the hardwood.