No round of the San Antonio Spurs Role Player Bracket Challenge has been as intense as the first round of voting for the Guards section.
If you thought that San Antonio Spurs fans were split on the Wings, wait until you see the results on the Guards section of the polling! After 24 hours of voting, fans decided on two upsets, two finishes within four percent of each other and our first sweep of the competition, defining one player from the 48 other participants up to this point.
It was the Patty Mills show in the first-round. The ninth-year Spur is in the midst of arguably the best season of his career, averaging 11.7 points per game on a 55.7 percent effective field goal percentage. He’s a galvanizing leader for the team and has been that through the best and worst of times in recent Spurs memory.
Fans show love to Mills every time he steps on the court and he reciprocates. More so than being a fun, scrappy bench player for almost all of his NBA career, Mills is a harbinger for San Antonio’s culture in the Gregg Popovich era.
For all of these reasons and more, Mills was the first player to sweep a series as a second seed facing No. 15 Beno Udrih, whose time in San Antonio was shortlived but noteworthy as it netted him two championships after being drafted in the late-first round of the 2004 NBA Draft.
Mills was among multiple beloved players to have their names enter the ring in this round, but he just so happens to be one of the lucky ones. Modern players took another big lead in this one with three out of four current Spurs winning in the round and the one who lost doing so by a small margin. But first, we need to get to a few other losers from the Guards section.
Next: Variance emerges in Guards bracket
Variance emerges as guards face off in the first round
There wasn’t much consistency with the voting as the Guards section of this bracket contained the most varied results of the three polls thus far. The No. 15 and 16 seeds combined for four total votes with the former, Udrih, going voteless against Mills.
Second-rounder Nando De Colo was drafted by the Spurs in 2009 but didn’t make his way to San Antonio until ’12. He was traded to Toronto in his second season in the Alamo City and didn’t stand much of a chance against one of the most crucial ballhandlers in franchise history, championship point guard Avery Johnson. De Colo got walloped by the second-highest margin (79.4 percent).
Coming in hot after that with the 14th seed is current starter Bryn Forbes in his fourth season—all of which have been in the Alamo City. There’s a lot of reason to respect Forbes, who worked his way up with the Austin Spurs before gaining Pop’s trust and turning himself into an influential three-point shooter. He led against No. 3 Rod Strickland for a decent portion of the voting toward the start, but Strickland managed to catch up and defeat Forbes by just two votes.
The same can be said of 1999 NBA Champion Antonio Daniels, who spent four seasons with the Spurs and increased his role every year before heading off to Portland. He lost to nine-year Spur Johnny Moore by just 8.2 percent of votes.
Our two players to get upset were No. 5 seed Terry Porter and No. 8 seed George Hill, both of which had short-lived yet impactful careers in the Alamo City. Porter played an integral bench role to bridge the gap between Johnson and a youngster from France named Tony Parker back in the early 2000s. He retired in 2002, just narrowly missing the chance to end his career with a championship victory.
As for Hill, we all know how his legacy in San Antonio ended. He was drafted late in the first round of the 2008 NBA Draft by San Antonio and got traded for Kawhi Leonard at the 2011 NBA Draft. He’s played a solid career elsewhere and will always be lauded as one of Coach Popovich’s favorites, but his time in San Antonio wasn’t as meaningful as his trade value or the championship pedigree of his competition, sharpshooter Steve Kerr.
Last, but certainly not least, is another skilled shooter in Gary Neal. He was a skilled 6-foot-4 guard who was a casualty of the 2013 Finals loss despite making an All-Rookie team after going undrafted to the Spurs in 2010-11.
Next: The competition thickens
Competition heats up with decisions between past and future
Even though they haven’t been around the team for quite as long as many of our first-round winners, there are two dark-horse candidates to win the entire bracket in the Guards section who play for the team nowadays: Dejounte Murray and Derrick White. While some of the picks between them are coming from speculation for how they’ll play in the future, these are two instant-impact players for San Antonio who will continue to get massive fan support as the competition moves on.
White won by a larger margin despite being a lower seed and garnering more votes than Dejounte’s poll. If these two were to face off later in the challenge, we could see some major discourse from the Spurs Family participating in the event.
Johnson, who I mentioned earlier, came in as a No. 1 seed with 10 years of service for the silver and black, set the tone for all Spurs guards who came after him. He was the unsung hero of the 1999 Championship team and will forever be remembered as one of the best, most tenacious orchestrators of the game that we’ve seen. He coached Cleveland Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton at Alabama, so keep an eye on him. He’s got a lot of Avery in him.
Another dime-dropping extraordinaire, Johnny Moore, secured his first-round victory and rightfully so! He played with the Spurs from 1980-90 with a brief intermission to play overseas. His NBA career ended pretty abruptly, but he averaged at least nine assists per game for five-straight seasons in San Antonio and was an awesome compliment to George Gervin in his heyday.
We mentioned the players who were upset, but the two individuals who upset their competition are Cory Joseph, a No. 12 seed, and No. 9 seed Kerr. Joseph was a surprising victory since the early stages of his career were a bit disappointing with the Spurs, but he was always a really hard worker and played harder defense than most players, so he stuck with Spurs fans.
Next: Rounding out the first-round with Centers
Rounding out the first section with the Centers
Last, but certainly not least, we’re going to compile votes about the men in the middle. San Antonio had been home to some extraordinary bigs over the years, many of which were forced to compliment other dominant bigs like Tim Duncan and David Robinson. That’s not an easy task, but someone had to do it and these guys stepped up to the challenge.
Some centers were more influential than others with the older players like George Johnson, Billy Paultz and Coby Dietrick flying under the radar. Their chances to get bounced will be amplified with more recent individuals making their mark in the rankings.
Here are the matchups that you’ll be deciding between later today:
2. George Johnson vs. 15. Dewayne Dedmon
6. Billy Paultz vs. 11. Nazr Mohammed
7. Coby Dietrick vs. 10. John Beasley
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There’s one giant standing in the shadow of players who were much more influential than him, patiently awaiting the chance to decimate his competition: Boban Marjanovic. Even though the 7-foot-4 monster of a man only played one season in San Antonio as a rookie, he’ll never be forgotten for the absolute show he put on during his 2015-16 rookie year.
San Antonio was contending for a championship still in 2016, so there wasn’t much room to unleash Boban like Spurs fans wished, but he’s not to be underestimated as an eighth seed in a sea of competition that may not be as tight-knit as the previous three brackets.
It’s all come down to this – the final showdown of the first round. Once this section is complete, the bracket will be updated with the next round of matchups that will reflect the traditional NCAA tournament structure. You’ll be able to find that on the Air Alamo Twitter, which you can find by clicking here.
Once that’s created, we’re on to a heated Round-Two, better known as the Elite Eight.