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San Antonio Spurs: Top 10 1st-Round NBA Draft Picks in Franchise History

By Rob Wolkenbrod
Feb 25, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (L) and center Tim Duncan (21) sit on the bench late in the second half against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. San Antonio won 96-78. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 25, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (L) and center Tim Duncan (21) sit on the bench late in the second half against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. San Antonio won 96-78. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
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San Antonio Spurs. Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; A general view of a video board displaying all thirty draft picks in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Who fills out the top 10 for the greatest first-round picks in San Antonio Spurs history?

The San Antonio Spurs have had a fair share of NBA Draft success. This includes second-round steals, international stashes, and successes at the No. 1 overall pick.

Regarding the Spurs’ first-round picks, they used to come every year, but have since become few and far between, due to the team’s success in the 2000’s. It hasn’t left them with poor picks, though, some of which helped fill out championship-winning teams.

With 40 years of draft history to look back on, let’s get into the top 10 first-round picks in franchise history. Who will top the list?

Note: This does not count draft picks the Spurs traded or acquired on draft night, like Kawhi Leonard.

10. Greg Anderson – 1987 NBA Draft, No. 23 Pick

The 1987 NBA Draft proved to be a great one for the Spurs, just based on drafting David Robinson at No. 1 overall. However, they had another first-round pick that year: center Greg Anderson.

While Robinson was away for his duties in the Navy, Anderson stepped in at center for two seasons, starting 111 games. He started with 11.7 points and 6.3 rebounds in his rookie season in 1987-88, providing a steady role in the frontcourt.

Anderson’s best season in San Antonio was in 1988-89, putting up 13.7 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. However, it turned out to be his last with the franchise.

Once Robinson returned, the Spurs traded Anderson away in a deal to get Terry Cummings from the Milwaukee Bucks. The Houston product never found his groove with the Bucks, along with the rest of his career, with the exception of the 1991-92 season, which saw average put up his one and only double-double.

Anderson’s impact for the Spurs was only as a stop-gap. It doesn’t make him a great first-round pick, but with San Antonio having a lopsided amount of successful high selections, it brings him into the top 10.

Next: Tiago Splitter

Jun 12, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; San Antonio Spurs center Tiago Splitter (22) high fives guard Manu Ginobili (20) during the third quarter of game four of the 2014 NBA Finals against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

9. Tiago Splitter – 2007 NBA Draft, No. 28 Pick

Tiago Splitter will never stand out as a top player from the 2007 NBA Draft, due to the role player-esque stats he put up in five years with the San Antonio Spurs. However, given the value the franchise got out of the No. 28 pick (and waiting three years for him), 10 years ago, he slides in at No. 7.

Splitter’s job was to mostly spell Tim Duncan at center or power forward, providing quality minutes off the bench, for the first two seasons. That changed when Gregg Popovich began starting the Brazilian player from 2012-2015, although never going beyond 58 games in the opening lineup.

The Per 36 numbers for Splitter were never eye-popping, but he showed potential in limited minutes, including putting up 10 points and 6 rebounds per game in 2012-13. Similar numbers were put up for his last two years in San Antonio, before leaving to get paid by the Atlanta Hawks.

The Spurs did miss out on Glen “Big Baby” Davis, who had a more consistent career than Splitter, as well as not drafting and stashing Marc Gasol, a tactic this organization has become well-known for.

Next: Johnny Dawkins

8. Johnny Dawkins – 1986 NBA Draft, No. 10 Pick

The 1986 NBA Draft was filled with players that made a lasting impact, especially from pick No. 24 and on. The middle of the first round was full of depth, too, including Johnny Dawkins going No. 10 to the San Antonio Spurs.

Dawkins was a star for Duke, putting up four straight seasons of 18-plus points per game. He helped lead them to the 1986 NCAA Championship Game, which resulted in a loss. These accolades helped him become a top-10 pick.

Dawkins didn’t immediately start at point guard for a full season, just playing 20 minutes per game and averaging 3.6 assists. However, once he got the reins in 1987-88, his numbers jumped. This included 7.4 assists per game in 61 starts, along with 15.8 points, which turned out to be a career-high.

One more season would be played with the Spurs in 1988-89, which saw Dawkins’ numbers slip a little, but still average 7 assists per game. He then got traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, in a deal wrapped around point guard Maurice Cheeks.

If Dawkins had played for the Spurs longer, his impact would have been greater. It doesn’t help that they missed out on fellow point guard, Mark Price, who was the second at his position, taken after Dawkins.

Next: George Hill

Nov 4, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz guard George Hill (3) dribbles up the court during the first half against the San Antonio Spurs at Vivint Smart Home Arena. San Antonio won 100-86. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

7. George Hill – 2008 NBA Draft, No. 26 Pick

The No. 26 pick of the 2008 NBA Draft saw the San Antonio Spurs select George Hill out of IUPUI, a school that rarely gets anyone picked. He had a chance of being the point guard of the future, but ended up being the piece that got the franchise, Kawhi Leonard.

Before that happened, Hill flashed starter potential through three seasons in San Antonio. He got the opportunity to play full-time for half of 2009-10, showing the ability to shoot and distribute, looking like a combo-guard.

Hill put up similar numbers in his second and third seasons, nearly touching 3 rebounds, 3 assists and hovering around 12 points per game. Given his youth and the possibility of greater stats as a starter, it led to the Spurs trading him for the No. 15 pick, and other selections, in the 2011 Draft, which turned out to be Leonard.

The Spurs succeeded in taking Hill at No. 26, a spot where it can be difficult to hit on players out of college. However, they did miss on DeAndre Jordan, just nine picks later. He played a position the team didn’t need, though, so did it mean much?

Next: Willie Anderson

6. Willie Anderson – 1988 NBA Draft, No. 10 Pick

The year after taking Greg Anderson, the San Antonio Spurs selected Willie Anderson in the 1988 NBA Draft. He had a successful collegiate career with Georgia, putting up 15-plus points in his junior and senior seasons, along with displaying a knack of being able to distribute the ball.

The Spurs took Anderson, with the No. 10 pick, and hoped to continue building a roster that would get David Robinson in one year’s time. Anderson looked like a player of the future at the wing position, and while he had a quality career for the franchise, he peaked in his rookie year; it saw this member of the 1988 Summer Olympics Basketball team have 18.6 points per game on 49.8 shooting, which is remarkable.

After this, everything started dipping for Anderson, who averaged double-digit points for three more seasons, before injuries took over in 1992-93. He nearly played a full season in 1993-94, but didn’t look the same then and never again in the NBA.

However, the only players of significant the Spurs missed out on were Dan Majerle and Rod Strickland, as this turned out to be a lopsided draft. So the team got value, but not enough to sustain much, beyond three seasons.

Next: Alvin Robertson

5. Alvin Robertson – 1984 NBA Draft, No. 7 Pick

Alvin Robertson had a quality career for the San Antonio Spurs. He put up four years of 11-plus points per game and never shot below 46 percent. The 3 steals per game in four of his five seasons were fantastic, too, giving the team a stat sheet-stuffer.

When looking back on the 1984 NBA Draft, Robertson’s name is rarely brought up, and probably for good reason, since it was the year that featured Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and John Stockton — all of whom are in the Naismith Hall of Fame. Sam Bowie, one of the biggest busts in draft history, is even mentioned more.

Robertson was never a bad player for the Spurs. In fact, he looked like a top-10 shooting guard for a few years. So if this was any other draft, everyone would maybe be talking about the Arkansas product more.

Eventually, Robertson got moved to the Milwaukee Bucks, in a deal that sent Terry Cummings to San Antonio. He played three more solid seasons, before the injury bug hit.

It will probably hurt that the Spurs missed Stockton, who went nine picks afterward. It won’t help that Olajuwon, Jordan and Barkley went in three of the previous six picks, either. However, the Spurs still got a player who provided quality minutes in a time where the team struggled.

Next: Sean Elliott

4. Sean Elliott – 1989 NBA Draft, No. 3 Pick

The 1989 NBA Draft saw the San Antonio Spurs climb to the No. 3 pick, getting their second top-five selection in three years. They would nab Sean Elliott, who became one of the best players in franchise history.

Elliott never turned into a superstar, but became one of the best players in this draft. He was a model of consistency from 1989-93 and 1994-2001, having eight seasons of 10-plus points per game; five of these were 15 points or more, along with peaking in 1995-96, averaging 20 points.

Elliott played with the David Robinson-led teams that consistently played a role in the 1990’s Western Conference. He was able to rebound, pass when needed and stay efficient for the prime years. It got the Arizona alumnus two All-Star Game appearances and a championship in 1999-00, the second-to-last season of his career.

Quality layers like Glen Rice, Mookie Blaylock, Tim Hardaway and Shawn Kemp, all went behind Elliott in the ’89 Draft. However, it’s difficult to argue with this pick, and how it turned out for the Spurs.

Next: Tony Parker

Feb 24, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) in action against the Los Angeles Clippers during the third quarter at Staples Center. The San Antonio Spurs won 105-97. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

3. Tony Parker – 2001 NBA Draft, No. 28 Pick

Out of all the first-round picks made by the San Antonio Spurs, Tony Parker is the biggest steal. A case can even be made for him as the best player to come from the 2001 NBA Draft.

Parker broke into the league at age 19 and started producing immediately, putting up 9.2 points and 4.3 assists in 72 starts. These numbers only took off in his sophomore season, which set the tone for one of the best careers in Spur history.

Along the way, Parker put up 15 or more points per game and 5 assists from 2002-14, being a consistent force for Popovich’s team. He has been part of four championship teams with the Spurs, including the 2014 season that saw them crush the Miami Heat.

In 2007, Parker not only made his second All-Star Game, but won the NBA Finals MVP Award, which only added to his already long list of accolades at age 24. He would go on to make four more All-Star teams and be a steady contributor in the “Big 3,” with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.

Parker is now fighting to get back from a torn quad, which will keep him out until 2018. It may represent the beginning of the end of an era in San Antonio. If so, let’s see how much longer he’ll stick around.

Next: David Robinson

2. David Robinson – 1987 NBA Draft, No. 1 Pick

Even though the San Antonio Spurs had to wait on David Robinson for two years in the Navy, they still took him at No. 1 overall, in the 1987 NBA Draft. To say he was worth it may be an understatement.

Robinson dominated the moment he stepped onto the court, and only got better with age, despite entering the league at age 24. He averaged at least 24 points and 10 rebounds from 1989-96, making the All-Star Game in all of these seasons. Throw in that the Admiral was an elite rim protector, putting up 3.3-plus blocks per game in each year, and it gave the NBA one of its best players of the 1990’s.

At the time, Robinson was the greatest Spur of all time. He was someone always part of teams that never got over the hump, until a man named Tim Duncan got drafted in 1997. A few years later, Robinson won his first of two NBA championships.

Robinson is now a Naismith Hall of Famer and goes down as one of the best big men to play basketball. If he hadn’t needed the two years in the Navy, who knows how gaudier his stats may have been, potentially giving everyone an even more positive look at the career of this 10-time All-Star.

Next: Tim Duncan

Dec 18, 2016; San Antonio, TX, USA; Former San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan’s jersey is unveiled during a ceremony to retire his No. 21jersey after an NBA basketball game between the Spurs and the New Orleans Pelicans at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

1. Tim Duncan – 1997 NBA Draft. No. 1 Pick

In 1997, the San Antonio Spurs selected Tim Duncan, a power forward out of Wake Forest, with the No. 1 overall pick. As soon as Duncan stepped onto the court, he proved no transition was needed, and immediately became one of the best big men in the NBA.

Duncan formed a dynamic duo with David Robinson, the second-best player in Spurs history. They were two tremendous rim protectors that were almost impossible to get around, both of whom could also put up a double-double at any given point. However, the Big Fundamental’s dominance stretched far beyond his time with Robinson, as he morphed into the following:

  • 10-time All-NBA First Team
  • 8-time NBA All-Defensive Team
  • 5-time NBA champion
  • 15-time All-Star
  • 2-time MVP

Those are just some of the dozens of awards and accolades Duncan received in his career, which only wrapped up in 2016. It’s a laundry list of praises that makes him one of the best power forwards of all time.

Then, there are the numbers behind the awards. From 1997-2010, Duncan averaged a double-double, never going below 17.9 points in a season. He also went 10 straight years with averaging at least 2 blocks per game.

Next: Ranking Every Spurs NBA Championship Team

Soon, Duncan will become a first-ballot hall of famer. It will be a celebration of everything he did for the Spurs franchise, being immortalized in basketball history.

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