It takes a special kind of player to be on the San Antonio Spurs. There haven’t been many Spur-worthy individuals, so we’ll be looking at 15 ‘Spursy’ players that never became part of the team.
In developing a comprehensive list such as this, one has to stick to a certain criteria in order to best evaluate the players that could have been valuable members of the franchise. Coach Popovich has been vocal about the type of individual he enjoys having on the team. He has said several times that a big-ticket item is that players need to get over themselves. Meaning that everything is not about them and their need to garner media attention, but instead a ‘Spursy’ player thinks about the higher purpose, and the team.
Let’s just have Coach Pop give us the criteria on this excerpt from Scott Davis through Business Insider.
On Friday, reporters asked Gregg Popovich what kinds of qualities the Spurs look for in players (and staff), and his response was long, enlightening, and, oddly, inspiring (via ESPN’s Baxter Holmes):
“For us, it’s easy. We’re looking for character, but what the hell does that mean? We’re looking for people — and I’ve said it many times — [who] have gotten over themselves, and you can tell that pretty quickly. You can talk to somebody for four or five minutes, and you can tell if it’s about them, or if they understand that they’re just a piece of the puzzle. So we look for that. A sense of humor is a huge thing with us. You’ve got to be able to laugh. You’ve got to be able to take a dig, give a dig — that sort of thing. And [you have to] feel comfortable in your own skin that you don’t have all the answers. [We want] people who are participatory. The guys in the film room can tell me what they think of how we played last night if they want to. [Former Assistant GM] Sean Marks would sit in on our coaches’ meetings when we’re arguing about how to play the pick-and-roll or who we’re going to play or who we’re going to sit.
“We need people who can handle information and not take it personally because in most of these organizations, there’s a big divide. All of the sudden, the wall goes up between management and coaching and everybody is ready to blame back and forth and that’s the rule rather than the exception. It just happens. But that’s about people. It’s about finding people who have all of those qualities. So, we do our best to look for that and when somebody comes, they figure it out pretty quick.”
This is the same sort of rhetoric that we’d hear at a military unit or squadron. Being part of the military is about being part of something bigger than ourselves – serving a much higher purpose, so every action is taken with our wingmen’s wellbeing in mind.
More from Air Alamo
- Is Gregg Popovich hiding Luka Samanic as a secret weapon?
- San Antonio Spurs News: More DeRozan trade talk from Chris Haynes
- Spurs fans show Dejounte Murray support, buy all the New Balance shoes
- Spurs: The Athletic posts conflicting Aldridge rumors minutes apart
- Spurs: Kawhi Leonard ironically complains over lack of “consistency”
The military also focuses on mission accomplishment, and runs through structure, discipline, and teamwork – some would even call it “a system.” Our military is not one accustomed to losing, and is always innovating trying to continue being the leading military organization in the world.
When encountered with budget constraints, we’ll also hear the military having to do more with less – again, with hopes to remain No. 1.
Same could be said about the San Antonio Spurs. They’re not accustomed to losing and have tried to remain the leading organization in the NBA. They’ve been the leading organization for the last 21 years, and Coach Popovich has gone on an incredible unprecedented winning run. The Spurs are constantly faced with budget constraints given the nature of being a small market team, and always seem to do more with less, which is the reason we won’t find many Hall of Fame caliber players on this list.
It’s no coincidence that the Spurs’ leader has a military background, and has instilled those principles in all members of the organization.
We’ll look at those ‘Spursy’ players based on the factors of (1)basketball skill, (2)efficiency, (3)hard-work and hustle, (4)teamwork, and (5)character.
Next: Steve Nash
Steve Nash became the player he was due to his hard work and dedication to the craft. He wasn’t the biggest or the fastest on the basketball court, but he garnered back-to-back MVP awards by dominating in many different areas.
Don’t want to take my word for it? Ask Coach Pop.
How will Gregg Popovich remember Steve Nash? As a "pudger" who made himself a player. pic.twitter.com/fjN7vN8Lgi
— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) March 24, 2015
The Spurs are an efficient team, and rely heavily on ball movement until the best shot has been found – Nash’s career efficiency numbers are impressive.
Nash averaged a ridiculous .491 from the field for his career. That’s good for .566 effective field goal percentage, which is mostly unheard of for smaller point guards, and his career Player Efficiency Rating (PER) was 20.0. By comparison, Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas had a .452 field goal percentage (FG%), a .465 effective field goal percentage (eFG%), and 18.1 PER. Hall of Famer Jason Kidd had a .400 FG%, a .464 eFG%, and 17.9 PER for his career.
His respect for Coach Popovich became a topic of discussion when Nash called him the best coach in the league when defending Phil Jackson’s claim in 2010 that he carried the ball in penetration. Here’s a bit of the story by ESPN Baxter Holmes written for the Los Angeles Times.
“I don’t think I’ve fully made it until I’ve been drawn into a war of words with Phil,” Nash joked. “Everybody knows what he’s up to. I think it’s fun. I think the fans and the media get a kick out of it.”
But then Nash threw a slight zinger back at Jackson when he referred to San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich as the NBA’s top coach, a title some feel rightly belongs to Jackson.
“The best coach in the league, Gregg Popovich, didn’t have a problem with it last week,” Nash said, alluding to the Suns’ sweep of the Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals.
Nash would’ve been an excellent Spur if given the opportunity as he fit well with Pop’s culture.
Next: Grant Hill
Grant Hill nearly ruined the Spurs in the year 2000 as he tried to entice (almost successfully) Tim Duncan to join him in Orlando. If Grant Hill was good enough to make Orlando an intriguing destination for Timmy, then he’s got enough ‘Spursy’ qualities.
Luckily for us, that did not happen. Duncan stayed a Spur, and all remained good in the world. Hill went on to suffer some significant ankle injuries and was not able to fulfill his desire to play for the Magic during his prime.
Hill found a way to remain in the NBA, he reinvented himself in Phoenix and flourished as a role player alongside Steve Nash. Hill never reached the level of play we all saw from his days with the Detroit Pistons, but he showed tremendous heart and resiliency in dealing with those injuries and remained determined in being a valuable player in the NBA.
Our friend at SB Nation’s Pounding the Rock, J.R. Wilco, makes the comparison between Grant Hill and Manu Ginobili and wonders at the possibility of Hill donning the Silver and Black.
Manu Ginobili sums up Grant Hill in nine words: “What a career, what a story, what a guy."
— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) June 2, 2013
Hill’s numbers as a member of the Pistons were noteworthy, and illustrates his dominance in all aspects of the game.
Grant Hill stats (6 seasons as a Piston) 21.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 1.6 steals per game.
Next: Scottie Pippen
Just like Steve Nash, Scottie Pippen is a Hall of Fame player. His basketball skills were undeniable, but he’s best known for his defensive abilities and hustle. The Spurs would’ve loved a player like him, someone who was extremely efficient and wasn’t too much into himself – allowing Michael Jordan to take all the credit and be the team’s indisputable leader.
Pippen averaged 2.0 steals per game for his career, and was a true defensive nightmare for opposing players.
If we were to ask sports fans about Scottie Pippen, we’d probably get a response regarding him being Jordan’s sidekick or role player. Pippen was Jordan’s first and only All-Star teammate (Dennis Rodman had been a previous All-Star with Detroit, but not as a member of the Bulls) so his impact as a member of the Chicago Bulls was immense, but seems like he never gets much credit for that success.
— Scottie Pippen (@ScottiePippen) July 11, 2016
Which makes him a perfect Spur. Pippen didn’t seem consumed with the idea of being the main guy with the Bulls, he simply wanted to win, and make sure he handled his side of the basketball. He was determined to stop the other team from scoring and helped facilitate the offense by involving other players around him.
In both seasons that Pippen played in Chicago without Jordan, he became a legitimate MVP candidate (ranking 3rd behind Olajuwon and Spurs’ own David Robinson in 1994, and 7th in 1995). Here are his numbers from those seasons:
Scottie Pippen in 1993-1994: 22 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 2.9 steals per game, and 1.1 blocks per game. Scottie Pippen in 1994-1995: 21.4 points, 8.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 2.9 steals per game.
It may sting a little, but Pippen resembles a certain player who has recently departed from the Spurs franchise on this clip.
Next: Dell Curry
Dell Curry became the ultimate bench player who garnered NBA Sixth Man of the Year honors in 1994. He wasn’t a key defensive weapon, but was someone with offensive numbers comparable to those of Danny Green – only more efficient.
Danny Green NBA career: 8.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists per game, while shooting .418 FG%, .395 3P%, .538 eFG%, .815 FT%, and 13.2 PER. Dell Curry NBA career: 11.7 points, 2.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists per game, while shooting .457 FG%, .402 3P%, .513 eFG%, .843 FT%, and 16.0 PER.
As I said … Danny Green is Dell Curry + Dikembe Mutombo.
— Jared Wade (@Jared_Wade) June 19, 2013
Curry’s numbers indicate that he embraced his role as a bench player, and was never consumed with securing a larger role – which tells us he made sacrifices for the betterment of the team. Curry’s behavior never resembled one that would have disqualified him from fitting in as a Spur, and would have been a great bench addition.
There’s an interesting fact regarding Toni Kukoc and what became of the San Antonio Spurs. Here’s an excerpt by Bruce Jenkins from the San Francisco Chronicle recalling the events.Gregg Popovich
was exploring the roots of his Serbian heritage when he experienced a worldly premonition, well ahead of its time. Today, we find it to be the very essence of the
Popovich had just finished his first season as an NBA assistant coach, under San Antonio’s Larry Brown, when he traveled to Zagreb, in the former Yugoslavia, to witness the 1989 European championships. In retrospect, it sounds like a can’t-miss event. There were six future NBA players on the Yugoslavian roster, including Drazen Petrovic, Vlade Divac and Toni Kukoc. The powerful Soviet team featured Arvydas Sabonis, Sarunas Marciulionis and Alexander Volkov. As far as American interests were concerned, though, it was a veritable ghost town.
One could almost say that the eventual success of the San Antonio Spurs is partly attributed to Toni Kukoc. Those players in that tournament planted an idea in Gregg Popovich’s mind to begin focusing on foreign talent.
Kukoc was drafted with the 29th pick of the 1990 NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls (the Spurs drafted Center Dwayne Schintzius with the 24th pick). Had Popovich been in control of the franchise, you bet your house that he would’ve drafted the Croatian Sensation.
Kukoc had comparable numbers to former Spur Boris Diaw, although leaner and more athletic. On the video below, we can see one particular play where the Bulls wanted Kukoc to have the ball at the top of the key in order to exploit a mismatch against Shaquille O’Neal. Although they were nearly the same height, the team knew he could either drive past him or pull up from deep – Kukoc pulled up from three right in Shaq’s face and gave the Bulls their first lead of the game in overtime.
Boris Diaw NBA Career: 8.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.8 turnovers per game, while shooting .493 FG%, .336 3P%, .524 eFG%, .717 FT%, and 12.9 PER. Toni Kukoc NBA Career: 11.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.8 turnovers per game, while shooting .447 FG%, .335 3P%, .492 eFG%, .729 FT%, and 17.3 PER.
Next: Dennis Scott
Dennis Scott makes this list mainly based on three-point lethality and overall shooting efficiency. Ironically, Scott goes by the nickname “3-D” which is now widely used to describe those desirable players who possess both excellent 3-point shooting and defensive abilities. Scott was not a great defender, but some say he revolutionized the 3-point shot, and was the first player to make 11 threes in one game.
Scott’s rebranding of the 3-point shot kickstarted what we’re seeing in the game today. The Spurs would have benefitted from a pioneer such as 3D.
Dennis Scott finished his career averaging .397 3P%, .502 eFG%, and 13.4 PER.
So far there’s been a specific pattern to these ‘Spursy’ players. Yes, the three-point shooting has been a recent attraction for the organization, but mainly these players represent individuals that accept a specific role within the team. Dan Majerle is another example of a player excelling in a specified role while allowing others to receive all the attention.
Majerle played alongside guard Kevin Johnson and forward Charles Barkley in Phoenix, who were the main attention-grabbers in the team. Majerle was a three-time All-Star who played most of his career coming off the bench. Highlights from his playing days showcase a hustling player that left everything on the floor.
Majerle on the Spurs could have filled a similar role to that of Manu Ginobili. Although not the player Manu has been and will be remembered for, they put up similar numbers, with Ginobili having much higher efficiency.
Dan Majerle: 11.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists per game, 43.1 FG%, 35.8% 3P%, 13.8 PER Manu Ginobili: 13.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists per game, 44.7 FG%, 36.9 3P%, 20.2 PER
Next: Shane Battier
We’ll continue with the role player theme. The Spurs haven’t needed featured or franchise players. The likes of David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili have been enough to make the team go. However, the team has struggled to find solid players that could’ve been plugged into the system.
Here’s where a player like Shane Battier could have stepped in. Battier was the ultimate professional on and off the court who offered an excellent “3 and D” player type.
He’s also known for being a smart player who somehow would routinely steal play calls from opposing teams (although he mentioned the Spurs were the hardest team to steal signs from). We can all agree that Coach Popovich would have commended him for his innovation.
After using the amnesty clause on Richard Jefferson, don't be surprised if the Spurs sign Shane Battier. There's mutual interest.
— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) December 8, 2011
Shane Battier finished his career nearly averaging a steal and a block per game (1.0 steals and 0.9 blocks), alongside some decent efficient numbers: .384 3P%, and .528 eFG%.
Raja Bell went undrafted in the 1999 NBA draft, but the Spurs signed him the following year only to release him before giving him a chance on the basketball court. However, Bell turned himself into a decent player – wrecking havoc primarily for the Phoenix Suns.
— JeffGSpursZone (@JeffGSpursZone) July 13, 2016
Bell flourished when given opportunity to play in the highly defensive minded Iverson’s Sixers before making his way to the Western Conference. He had a few run-ins with Kobe Bryant, but even Kobe tried recruiting him later on.
Bell is also known for saying that Manu Ginobili was harder to guard than Kobe Bryant… so that alone qualifies him for this list. In a story by ESPN Zach Lowe, Raja made the following statement:
“People always ask me who was hardest to guard,” Raja Bell said. “I say Kobe. That is what people want to hear. But the truth is, it might have been Manu. He’d rev it to fourth gear, get by you, take it back to second gear so you’d run into him, and then he’d make a crazy floater. I made a living studying offensive players. I couldn’t figure him out.”
The Spurs tried to trade for Bell in 2009, before they lost him to the Charlotte Hornets. Bell came in to the league not known for his shooting abilities, but he finished his career with a .406 3P%, and .514 eFG% which he combined with some pesky defense.
Next: Peja Stojakovic
Peja Stojakovic is another low-key role player who had tremendous impact on his team. Stojakovic was as efficient as they come as a member of the early 2000’s Sacramento Kings. Although described as a role player, Peja became a three-time All-Star and averaged over 20 points per game four times in his career (20.4, 21.2, 24.2, and 20.1 points per game) all as a Sacramento King.
His numbers during the 2003-2004 season are the most impressive. He averaged 24.2 points per game, while shooting .480 FG%, .433 3P%, .566 eFG%, and .927 FT%. That’s how close he became to being a 50-40-90 player for a season.
His skills, personality, and background makes him a solid ‘Spursy’ player.
Stojakovic retired averaging 17.0 points per game, while only turning the ball over 1.4 times per game, and shooting .401 FG%, .532 eFG%, .401 3P% and .895 FT%.
Speaking of efficiency, José Calderón.
Calderón has missed being a member of the prestigious 50-40-90 club twice. In the 2007-2008 NBA season, the Spaniard shot .519 FG%, .429 3P%, and .908 FT%. However, he missed getting credit for achieving the feat by five free-throw attempts (he needed 125 FTAs, and only had 120 FTAs).
The next season, Calderón shot .497 FG%, .406 3P%, and .981 FT% (holds the record for highest in a season in NBA history – he attempted 154 FTs and missed only three). This time garnering all of the necessary attempts in each category, but failing in FG% by a very narrow margin.
Not many people think of Calderón as an offensive powerhouse, but he currently ranks 22nd in NBA history in offensive rating, just below Stephen Curry, and ahead of players like LeBron James, and Kevin Durant.
Most impressive of all is that while as a member of the Toronto Raptors, Calderón averaged 7.2 assists while only turning the ball over 1.7 times per game.
Next: Richard Hamilton
Rip Hamilton wasn’t the most efficient player, although he sprayed opposing teams with a barrage of mid-range jumpers. Hamilton was definitely a team player who had made an investment in Detroit and relished in the couple of years he played under Larry Brown’s system.
Perhaps the Spurs will get somewhat of a taste of what it would’ve been like to have Richard Hamilton wearing the Silver and Black through DeMar DeRozan (though DeRozan is a far superior player), as they share eerily similar numbers for their careers. However, we couldn’t have them too close to one another on the basketball court.
NBA suspends Bulls' Richard Hamilton for flagrant elbow to Raptors' DeMar DeRozan: http://t.co/leQDGbpHRh
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) April 14, 2013
Richard Hamilton: 17.1 points, 3.4 assists, 3.1 rebounds per game, .449 FG%, .469 eFG%, 16.5 PER DeMar DeRozan: 19.7 points, 3.1 assists, 4.1 rebounds per game, .448 FG%, .463 eFG%, 17.7 PER
Luis Scola was selected with the 56th pick of the 2002 NBA draft by the San Antonio Spurs. The intent at the time was to have Scola join the team a couple of years later, but complications with his Spanish club prevented him from wearing the Silver and Black.
It’s easy to see the effectiveness Scola would have had as Duncan’s backup. He was a tough player to go up against, similar to the toughness displayed by Steven Adams, but a more offensive-minded weapon.
Remember how the Spurs could have had Luis Scola? I think about that a lot.. I'd bet that he does too.
— Pounding the Rock (@poundingtherock) February 10, 2015
For the limited time that he spent on the floor, Scola had great efficient numbers. His NBA career appears to have come to an end and his collected numbers were 12.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists per game, while shooting .493 FG%, .339 3P%, .499 eFG%, and 16.3 PER.
Next: Tayshaun Prince
When we look back at those 2004 and 2005 Detroit Pistons teams, we remember them for their defensive prowess and toughness. Yes, it’s abundantly clear that Ben Wallace was the defensive catalyst, but right behind him should be Tayshaun Prince.
The Spurs had Prince on their wish list in 2011, but a deal never materialized.
According to Yahoo's Marc Spears, #Spurs have Tayshaun Prince on their "short list."
— Paul Garcia (@PaulGarciaNBA) December 7, 2011
Prince made life difficult for any scorer going up against him. One couldn’t fall asleep on him, or he’d come out of nowhere and block a wide-open lay-up a la LeBron James, before LeBron James.
While his defensive ability remained outstanding, his size in length and offensive numbers resembled those of former Spur Champ Robert Horry. Here are their career numbers:
Robert Horry: 7.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists per game, while shooting .425 FG%, .341 3P%, .484 eFG%, .726 FT%, and 13.4 PER. Tayshaun Prince: 11.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2,4 assists per game, while shooting .455 FG%, .367 3P%, .483 eFG%, .756 FT%, and 13.7 PER.
Leandro Barbosa could not be more ‘Spursy’ if he tried… if only the Spurs would have drafted him. Oh, wait. The Spurs drafted Barbosa with the 28th pick of the 2003 NBA draft, but immediately sent him to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for a future protected first-round pick.
Spurs' bad luck (limited version): they've drafted Leandro Barbosa, Goran Dragic, Luis Scola and couldn't afford any of them.
— Matthew R Tynan (@Matthew_Tynan) July 8, 2016
Barbosa became a valuable bench player, and earned NBA Sixth Man of the Year honors in 2007. It was obvious that Barbosa had an outstanding competitive spirit as he would slash his way to the basket acquiring the nickname “The Brazilian Blur.”
Barbosa played with five different teams, and provided a high energy boost off-the-bench. The Spurs would’ve definitely used their 2003 draft pick as a key reserve during their championship runs.
Leandro Barbosa NBA career: 10.6 points, 2.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.2 turnovers, while shooting .459 FG%, .387 3P%, .526 eFG%, .821 FT%, and 15.1 PER.