The 4 greatest San Antonio Spurs role players of the decade

Dec 10, 2019, 1:00 AM CST
Tiago Splitter, Manu Ginobili , Boris Diaw and Patty Mills of the San Antonio Spurs. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Tiago Splitter, Manu Ginobili , Boris Diaw and Patty Mills of the San Antonio Spurs. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Tiago Splitter, Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills of the San Antonio Spurs. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Tiago Splitter, Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills of the San Antonio Spurs. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

The San Antonio Spurs have had more than their fair share of star players but they’ve also had some great role players over the past decade.

Over the past decade, the San Antonio Spurs have enjoyed a level of success that very few other organizations have reached. Led by Hall of Famers like Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker, the Spurs captured their fifth NBA Championship in 2014. After the Big Three the team was led by more star talent with Kawhi Leonard, and now LaMarcus Aldridge.

The stars have helped carry the way but the Spurs have had their share of outstanding role players as well. They’ve seemingly always had one of the best bench units in the league and have constantly had great complementary players on the roster. Many of these role players would leverage their success with the Spurs into greater paydays with other teams.

Over the past ten years, there have also been those unique players who captured the attention of fans but never had a major impact. These fan favorites are the kinds of players who may rarely play but immediately make the game more interesting when they were on the court.

Players like Boban Marjanović and Jonathon Simmons fall into this category. Neither one played in San Antonio for long but both had a special connection to the fans. For Simmons, it was his storybook career start that endeared him to fans. Boban is simply Boban and is beloved everywhere he goes.

The Juice and Boban were great to watch while they played for the Spurs but didn’t make a big enough impact on the Spurs’ overall success over the last ten years to make this list.

Before we get into the four greatest Spurs role players of the past decade there are a few honorable mentions who deserve covering. These players made critical contributions in their time with the team but not enough to make the top four.

Next: Honorable Mentions

Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs congratulates teammates, Gary Neal and Matt Bonner. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs congratulates teammates, Gary Neal and Matt Bonner. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Honorable Mentions

Gary Neal

Gary Neal is a great example of a player who was able to use his success with the Spurs to springboard the rest of his career. He caught fire against the Miami Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals, smacking 6 of 10 threes in a blowout 113-77 Spurs victory in Game 3. Even though San Antonio would eventually lose the series Neal was able to turn his performance into a nice two-year deal with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Matt Bonner

Matt Bonner was the consummate Spur. A great locker room guy who was lights out from behind the arc, the Red Rocket hit 41 percent of his three-point shots in his time in San Antonio. That puts him sixth on the Spurs all-time list of most accurate three-point shooters.

Rudy Gay

Rudy Gay is in his third season with San Antonio and has been a reliable role player with the Spurs. He’s had some of the highest true shooting percentages of his career in the Alamo City. He’s also been a better passer than expected, two of his four best seasons in terms of assists per 36 minutes have come in the past three years.

These three were all valuable Spurs role players during their career but all just missed the cut to be in our top four. Here are the four greatest San Antonio Spurs role players of the last decade.

Next: #4

Tiago Splitter. (Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images)
Tiago Splitter. (Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images)

Tiago Splitter

After an impressive overseas career where he won personal and team awards of all kinds, Tiago Splitter joined the San Antonio Spurs in 2010. He would play for the Spurs for five seasons, filling in as both a starter and backup and was a member of the 2014 Championship team.

Splitter had a tougher transition to his NBA career than many may realize. He went from being the star of his team and the Spanish League MVP to hardly playing in his first two seasons with the Spurs. Taking a personal demotion of that degree to chase a championship in the best league in the world takes a rare type of personality.

Splitter’s time playing for ball-movement focused European teams helped him make the transition to the “Beautiful Game” San Antonio Spurs of the early 2010s. He never averaged more than 1.6 assists per game in a season but Splitter fit right into the Spurs preferred style of play.

He made the right extra passes, was in the right position, and capitalized on easy looks when they came to him. He was a great finisher who rarely missed an opportunity to cash in on a well-placed pass by a teammate. His 56 percent field goal percentage ranks 2nd in the Spurs all-time list just behind Artis Gilmore.

He wasn’t a flashy player but Splitter did everything that the Spurs asked of him. He wasn’t the type of player to ever go off and win you a game all on his own but he did fill in when called upon and rarely made mistakes.

Injuries cost Splitter quite a bit of time over his past two years in San Antonio. His time in the Alamo City ended when he was traded to the Atlanta Hawks for the draft rights to a player and a second-round pick in the summer of 2015.

He rarely got the appreciation he deserved for holding down the paint as reliably as he did throughout his tenure with the Spurs but Splitter was one of the best role players the Spurs have had in the past ten years.

Next: #3

CHARLOTTE, NC – MARCH 21: Boris Diaw
CHARLOTTE, NC – MARCH 21: Boris Diaw

Boris Diaw

After being waived by the Charlotte Bobcats in March of 2012, Boris Diaw was quickly snatched up by the San Antonio Spurs. The thinking was that Diaw’s relationship with Tony Parker might help him revitalize his career in the Alamo City. After playing well for the rest of the season Diaw was signed to a two-year deal that summer.

It would be easy to overlook Diaw’s athleticism given his rotund appearance and lax attitude but the French forward was a better athlete than you might have thought. There’s a frequently told story about Diaw where he clears the scale on a verticle leap test in his flip-flops. The man had surprising athleticism and one of the most powerful posteriors in the game.

With his unique post-game and feathery passing touch, Diaw quickly became one of the most important players on the “Beautiful Game” Spurs. He could play with Tim Duncan as a backup power forward or fill in at center when the Spurs went small. His versatility on the offensive end opened up all sorts of creative lineup possibilities for Gregg Popovich to deploy.

The highlight of Diaw’s game was how seamlessly he fit into the pass-first mentality of the Spurs of that period. The teams of 2012-2014 prioritized ball movement over individual success and placed a premium on turning down good shots for great ones. That played perfectly to Diaw’s abilities as a passer.

Diaw frequently used his size to establish a strong position down low, draw a double team, and then whip a one-handed pass to an open and waiting shooter. His presence was instrumental in San Antonio’s 2014 Finals victory.

Diaw averaged 35 minutes per game over the series, led the Spurs in assists and was second in rebounding behind only Tim Duncan. Were it not for the stellar defense of Kawhi Leonard he could have very well been named Finals MVP.

Next: #2

Danny Green. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Danny Green. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Danny Green

Another member of the 2014 championship team, Danny Green comes in at number two on this list of great role players. Green was one of the Spurs best defenders and three-point shooters in his time.

His three-and-D presence helped San Antonio craft some of the best defensive units of the decade. Green’s versatility and skill on the defensive end allowed him to cover whichever guard the Spurs preferred to deploy him against. He averaged 1 steal and .9 blocks per game and was named to the All-Defensive team in 2017.

On offense Green was, and still is, a lights out three-point shooter. This was never clearer than in the 2013 NBA Finals when he connected on what was then an NBA record 27 three’s across the series. Green continued to let it fly from deep throughout his career and when he left San Antonio so in second place on the Spurs all-time list for three-pointers made.

Unfortunately, Green was traded to the Toronto Raptors as part of the deal that sent Kawhi Leonard out of San Antonio. But unlike Kawhi, Green received quite the warm welcome when he made his first return to the Alamo City.

San Antonio could certainly use a player like Danny right now. Even though he’s now playing for the rival Los Angeles Lakers, Green will always get a lot of love from the crowd whenever he does return. Appropriate recognition of how great a player was for San Antonio throughout his eight seasons with the team.

Next: #1

Patty Mills. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Patty Mills. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Patty Mills

The most greatest San Antonio Spurs role player of the past decade has to be Patty Mills.  Mills is in his ninth season in the Silver and Black and has been a stabilizing presence this season.

When Mills first started on the Spurs he was more well known for his enthusiastic towel-waving from the bench than he was for his play on the court. Pop gave him quite a bit of grief about his conditioning when he first joined the Spurs. Patty took the message to heart, got in shape, and ended up being the primary back up to Tony Parker in the 2013-2014 season.

He filled in as a spark plug offensive weapon off the bench, able to catch fire from deep at a moment’s notice. His performance off the bench Game 5 of the 2014 NBA Finals would help the Spurs capture their fifth NBA Championship.

Since then Mills has continued to be a steadying force off the bench for the Spurs. Through the signing and integration of LaMarcus Aldridge, the Kawhi Leonard trade saga, and now the developing youth movement, Patty has been there.

Patty’s presence has been more valuable than ever this year. He’s having a career year and has been one of the few reliable deep threats on a Spurs team that is constantly in need of outside shooting. Mills has moved into third in three-pointers made among Spurs players and is likely to move into second all-time before the season is over. And as valuable as he has been on the court, his contributions in the locker room might be even more important.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B5pGi2Tn9l1/

There’s hardly anything a player can go through in the world of professional basketball that Mills hasn’t personally experienced. He’s played in the NBA and the G-League, he’s competed on the world stage at the highest level and made clutch shots in an NBA Championship. He’s a fountain of knowledge for the young Spurs and he loves seeing them succeed. That kind of experience pays dividends in the locker room and on the practice court.

He helped the Spurs capture a championship, has spanned eras and is now having a career year while mentoring the next generation of Spurs guards. The consummate professional and a phenomenal human being, Patty Mills is the greatest San Antonio Spurs role player of the decade.

Next. Derrick White’s shooting is saving the San Antonio Spurs from themselves

The San Antonio Spurs record run of playoff appearances wouldn’t have been possible without the Big Three and other stars. But role players like these were also instrumental to the team’s success over the past decade.

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