San Antonio Spurs: Top 5 point guards in franchise history
By Rob Wolkenbrod
The San Antonio Spurs had a handful of talented point guards lead the way, but who are their five best ever?
The point guard position acts as the floor general on the basketball court. This player calls the plays, directs traffic, and gets the offense flowing for their respective team. It’s become one of the most talented — arguably the most talented position — in the NBA. Players like Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, and Russell Westbrook are the leaders of the point guard pack in 2017.
For the San Antonio Spurs, their best player has mostly been at the big man spots in their decades-long history. However, they’ve still received consistent production and had some very good players hold the point guard position.
Over the past 30 years, the one spot has been used to feed the Spurs’ talented big men. David Robinson and Tim Duncan received plenty of touches, which were taken from the team’s point guard. This was part of the way the team guided itself to victory, including five NBA championships with Robinson and Duncan featured in some or all of them.
The Spurs have a potential Pro Basketball Hall of Famer at point guard right now, who’s nearing the end of his career. How high will he rank?
Before him, there were notable names to hold the position in the 1980’s and 1990’s. One of them even went on to be a NBA and college basketball head coach.
The Spurs had a handful of interesting names fly through their franchise’s storied tenure. Who ranks in the top five?
Next: James Silas
5. James Silas
James Silas beats out John Lucas, who spent just one year with the San Antonio Spurs and fell off due to cocaine issues. His body of work is crushed by Silas, who was part of the original Spurs that merged into the NBA in 1976.
Silas started on the Dallas Chaparrals in the ABA, who became the Spurs in 1973. His best years came in the ABA, with 18.2 points, 4.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds per game through four seasons in the now-defunct league. This was highlighted by 23.8 points, 5.4 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in the last year of the ABA’s existence.
Through Silas’ first two years in the NBA, he played a combined 59 games. He didn’t average double-digit points or average above 2.5 assists or rebounds. They were lost years at age 27 and 28, which are supposed to be a player’s prime.
However, Silas finished his Spurs career strong. He put up three consecutive years of 16 points per game or more. These all came during George Gervin’s peak (they played together from 1973-81) and formed a steady duo at the top of the team’s seasonal production.
In 1984, Silas became the first player in Spurs history to have his number retired. It cemented his legacy as an original Spur and someone who should be remembered for his work over 30 years later.
Next: Rod Strickland
4. Rod Strickland
Rod Strickland’s NBA career only wrapped up in 2005, but it began all the way in 1988. He played for eight franchises and may have been one of the league’s most underrated players of the 1990’s.
However, before Strickland put up solid numbers on a handful of teams, he broke out on the San Antonio Spurs. This came through three seasons, from 1989-92.
Strickland was overshadowed by David Robinson, the team’s face of the franchise for the 1990’s, and Sean Elliott, who went No. 3 overall in the 1989 NBA Draft. In the meantime, the DePaul product quickly rose into the team’s top ball distributor when the New York Knicks swapped him for an aging Maurice Cheeks, who was on the downside of his career.
Upon arrival, Strickland averaged 8.0 assists and 14.2 points in the 1989-90 season. He kept up similar numbers for back-to-back seasons, including 8.6 assists in 1991-92. It was sixth-best in Spurs history.
After three seasons, Strickland signed with the Portland Trail Blazers after their failed attempt at the 1992 NBA Finals. He stuck with them through Clyde Drexler’s departure, before having career years in Washington and becoming a backup on a handful of teams.
Strickland played second or third fiddle throughout the 1990’s, but was one of the NBA’s most consistent point guards. His three years in San Antonio gets him in at No. 4.
Next: Johnny Moore
3. Johnny Moore
After James Silas, the original point guard for the San Antonio Spurs, departed, the job went to Johnny Moore for nearly the entire 1980’s decade. He received a full slate of playing time from 1980-87, before playing just four times in 1987-88 and returning to San Antonio for a brief go-around in 1989-90.
Outside of John Lucas, Moore had the Spurs’ best assist-per-game numbers of anyone in franchise history. He had five consecutive years of 9.0 or more assists and 2.0 or more steals, which brought him into the elite level of point guards in the 1980’s. It was behind the game’s all-time greats like Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas, but Moore still deserves credit for the consistent work he did.
Injuries hampered Moore from adding to this, however. In fact, he played 70-plus games just four times, before succumbing to ailments in 1985 that drastically limited his on-court time.
Despite this, for Moore’s first five seasons in the Alamo City, he rose to the occasion and became one of the top point guards in the NBA. His acts as a distributor and on defense were among the best at his position. Playoff performances can’t be forgotten, either, including a stand-out 22.5 points and 14.6 assists per game in the 1982-83 postseason.
Moore’s No. 00 is one of the six retired numbers in Spurs history.
Next: Avery Johnson
2. Avery Johnson
Three times the charm, right? That’s how many stints Avery Johnson had with the San Antonio Spurs. And, in each one, he put up better numbers and had plenty of championship success by the end of the third go-around in the Alamo City.
After two-and-a-half years total in Seattle and Denver, Johnson was waived during the 1990-91 season and signed with San Antonio. He took a backup role for parts of the next two seasons, playing behind Rod Strickland.
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In 1992-93, Johnson returned for another run at point guard, and found the most success of his short career. He started a career-high 49 games, shot 50 percent and averaged 7.5 assists.
After one year with the Golden State Warriors, Johnson came back for the grandest Spurs stint of them all in 1994. This one stuck until 2001, and with good reason.
For the next seven years, Johnson spiked his career averages in assists to the highest they’ve been. This included 9.6 in the 1995-96 season, along with 13.1 points. He continued ballpark production for the next three years, until the Spurs won the 1999 NBA championship and gave the New Orleans native his first major accolade.
Johnson stuck around for two more seasons as he went into his mid-30’s, and saw his production decline. He still played a part in the team’s excellent years of 1999-00 and 2000-01, both of which were stopped by the Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant Lakers.
Johnson’s No. 6 sits in the rafters at the AT&T Center.
Next: Tony Parker
1. Tony Parker
By a wide margin, the top spot goes to Tony Parker as the best point guard in San Antonio Spurs history. With all he’s accomplished, it far exceeds James Silas, Rod Strickland, Johnny Moore, and Avery Johnson. Like Johnson, Silas, and Moore, Parker should find his jersey number in the rafters, whenever he retires.
Parker came in as the No. 28 overall pick of the 2001 NBA Draft, and from the start, he looked nothing like a rookie. Gregg Popovich made this 19-year-old the team’s starter at point guard and found immediate success. By Year 2, however, his stats took off into double-digit point production.
From 2002-14, Parker never averaged below 15 points per game and 5.0 assists, except for 2003-04 (14.7 points). The numbers topped out at 22.0 points and 6.9 assists in the 2008-09 season at age 26.
As for the accolades, the Frenchman took home the 2007 NBA Finals MVP award for his dominant play against the Cleveland Cavaliers. On top of that, he took home four NBA championships (2003, 2005, 2007, 2014), with more to potentially come if the Spurs renew his deal after the 2017-18 season.
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When Parker calls it quits, his spot as the best point guard in Spurs history should remain for years to come. It will take someone to provide as consistent of production as he did for as long, which may not happen for years, decades, or ever.