San Antonio Spurs: An abrupt history of the NBA Draft Lottery
By Rob Wolkenbrod
The San Antonio Spurs, for every good reason, do not have a deep history in the NBA Draft Lottery.
As things stand on Mar. 15, the San Antonio Spurs sit out of the playoff picture at No. 9. They have the same record as the Utah Jazz (38-30), who own the tiebreaker for No. 8 and the final postseason spot in the Western Conference. With 14 games left, it’s down to crunch time for the Spurs to win and continue their postseason streak of over two decades.
If the 2017-18 season ended before Thursday’s game vs. the New Orleans Pelicans, however, the Spurs would not advance and be stuck in the NBA Draft Lottery for the first time since 1997. Blame continued success and five championships on that.
When the Silver and Black have reached the lottery, it provided franchise stalwarts and future Pro Basketball Hall of Famers. That’s through just three lottery selections, too, over the span of three decades.
David Robinson: 1987 NBA Draft, No. 1 overall
San Antonio’s first lottery pick came in 1987, with the selection of Navy center David Robinson. The team just completed a brutal 28-54 season, with a young Alvin Robertson, aging Artis Gilmore, a hurt Mike Mitchell and Johnny Moore. So it set up the top selection in the 1987 NBA Draft, and allowed the organization to draft one of college basketball’s most dominant centers.
However, due to Navy commitments, Robinson would not join the Spurs until the 1989-90 season. Thus, they battled through two losing seasons, before a 35-win turnaround in the aforementioned campaign.
From there, the Admiral enjoyed a Hall of Fame-worthy career in the Alamo City. This included a dominant run in the 1990’s, two championships and the chance to groom a young Tim Duncan, who overtook him as the greatest Spur of all time soon after.
Sean Elliott: 1989 NBA Draft, No. 3 overall
Due to Robinson’s absence, as noted, the Spurs struggled to win games. This gave them another lottery pick, in the 1989 NBA Draft, to select Sean Elliott, a small forward that grew into one of the team’s top scorers.
Elliott blossomed in his sophomore season once San Antonio played him more. It led to a consistent 15-20 point scorer, who played a strong second fiddle to Robinson, and eventually became a catalyst of the franchise’s first championship.
Aside from 1993-94, Elliott was a Spur for life and remembered as one of the organization’s best players. He also succeeded as a top-picked player, even though players like Nick Anderson, Shawn Kemp Glen Rice and Tim Hardaway followed him.
Tim Duncan: 1997 NBA Draft, No. 1 overall
Another Robinson absence caused a top-flight pick. This time, it was due to injuries in the 1996-97 season that took him out for all but six games and crashed the Spurs at the bottom of the standings. The reward was the top pick in the 1997 NBA Draft: Tim Duncan a four-year power forward from Wake Forest.
Duncan, of course, grew into one of the NBA’s greatest power forwards of all time — maybe within the span of a few years. His knack for consistency of 20-point, 10-rebound averages marked an incredible, regular-season run that immortalized the Big Fundamental with the all-time greats. This included, and arguably exceeded, Robinson.
From 1997-2010, Duncan averaged a double-double, along with winning four championships. He secured a fifth title in 2014, even at 37-years old and still as one of the team’s best players.
Duncan’s career almost goes without saying. It was a marvelous run in 19 seasons, and cut off any chance the Spurs had at a lottery pick.
Next: Top 25 players in Spurs history
With this history of lottery picks, if San Antonio misses the playoffs, who will join these three?