The San Antonio Spurs all-time starting lineup is nearly unbeatable
By Ethan Farina
We picked the best San Antonio Spurs in their best individual seasons and put them all together. The result: possibly the best starting lineup of all time.
Go back through all the players that have played for nearly any NBA franchise and you’ll be able to put together a pretty impressive historical lineup. Some franchises like the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, and Chicago Bulls will do better than others but most teams have had enough stars that it’s a fairly even competition. The San Antonio Spurs have an all-time starting five that can go toe to toe with any team in the league.
We will be looking at the best San Antonio Spurs in their best individual seasons to put this list together. With all the great seasons by Spurs players across the years, it took some time to nail down the best seasons for each player to be named.
We’re going to go through a full starting lineup, plus a sixth man, to put together the ultimate San Antonio Spurs lineup. The result: possibly the greatest starting lineup in the history of the NBA.
Next: The sixth man
2007-08 Manu Ginobili
Along with being one of the most beloved San Antonio Spurs of all-time, Manu Ginobili is one of the all-time great sixth men in the history of the game. One of the most entertaining hypotheticals is to wonder what his career would have looked like if he had been the first option on a team of his own.
Instead, Manu helped the Spurs dominate the league for much of the past 20 years by sacrificing his starting role for the greater good and embracing his new position on the team. He excelled at coming in and leading the San Antonio bench unit to close the gap or bury the opponent. No matter the situation, you knew you were going to see something exciting when Manu was checking in.
Manu’s 2004-05 season was almost our choice here, if only for the vintage long hair. But he started far too many games that year to fit in the sixth-man spot. Instead, his Sixth Man of the Year campaign during the 2007-08 season gets the nod.
Fresh off his third NBA title, Manu tore through opposing teams, starters and bench players alike, on the way to one of the best seasons of his career. He averaged a career-high 19.5 points per game with an impressive 61 percent true shooting percentage.
He doesn’t have the hardware that greats like John Havlicek or Kevin McHale have but Manu should still be considered one of the all-time great sixth men.
Next: Point Guard
2012-13 Tony Parker
The 2012-2013 season was a special one for Tony Parker. There were so many fascinating storylines surrounding the Spurs. They had just lost in the Western Conference finals the year before, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili were slowing down, Kawhi Leonard was gradually ascending, and at the center of it all was Parker.
Even after taking home a Finals MVP trophy in 2007, the San Antonio Spurs still weren’t Tony’s team. They were Tim Duncan’s team and Manu and Parker were the supporting cast. That gradually changed and by the time the ’12-13 season rolled around the Spurs were following Parker’s lead.
After opening the season with a bang, Parker tore through the NBA. He averaged 20.3 points and 7.6 assists per game on .522/.353/.845 shooting while also turning the ball over just 2.6 times per contest. He would end the year 6th in MVP voting and on the All-NBA Second Team.
Learning how to play point guard in the NBA is one of the most difficult things a young player can do. The first few years are usually turnover-filled and erratic as a young guard acclimates to the speed of the game. But when things finally slow down and they can start seeing a few steps ahead, that’s when a point guard can excel.
From 2010 to 2014 we saw Tony Parker rise to be one of the best point guards in the league. He was at the top of his game, sliding through defenses and setting up teammates using the combination of quick-twitch agility and veteran experience that comes with being in your prime.
Even though it would ultimately end with one of the biggest gut punches in sports history, the 2012-13 season let us see Parker at his absolute best.
Next: Shooting Guard
1979-80 George Gervin
The Iceman switched back and forth between playing shooting guard and small forward throughout his career but as he’s listed as a shooting guard for the 1979-80 season he fits here in our all-time lineup.
The centerpiece of the formative years of the San Antonio Spurs, George Gervin was one of the most talented scorers of his time. A four-time scoring champion and 12-time All-Star, Gervin led the NBA in scoring with 33.1 points per game during the ’79-80 season. Before Michael Jordan, the Iceman had the most scoring titles of any guard in league history. He was a certified bucket getter.
Although he wasn’t a great long-range shooter, Gervin was still able to rack up points on a nightly basis through his ability to get to the rim and contort around opponents in the paint. Take a look at some vintage Gervin highlights and you’ll see plenty of fundamentally sound layups and weird arching shots that somehow find the bottom of the net.
As is the case with many older greats, Gervin’s legacy has been overlooked as time has passed. Along with other Hall of Famers who spent time in both the ABA and NBA, Gervin’s cumulative point totals don’t accurately reflect how intimidating a scorer he was.
During the 1979-80 season, Gervin went on an all-time scoring run and gave us one of the most memorable All-Star Games yet. He’s more than deserving of inclusion on this list and would give the Spurs an all-time lineup an incredibly dangerous scoring option.
Next: Small Forward
2016-17 Kawhi Leonard
The back to back trips to the NBA Finals in 2013 and 2014 put Kawhi Leonard on the national radar. His superb defense on LeBron James, and LeBron’s reaction to seeing him check-in, was a notice to all fans that the young defender from San Diego State was the real deal.
In 2015-16 Kawhi jumped from a player primarily known for his defense to a legitimate alpha on a championship level team. In 2016-17 he took another leap from the top-10 into a top-3 two-way player in the league. Over the past two years, we’ve seen what he can do with the Toronto Raptors and LA Clippers, but that level of play was first on display during his final full season with the Spurs.
Kawhi averaged 25.5 points per game on .486/.38/.88 shooting splits while also bringing down 5.8 rebounds and dishing out 3.5 assists per game. And because he’s the Klaw and this is just what he does, he also averaged 1.8 steals and .7 blocks per contest. He would finish the year in the top three of both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year voting.
In the playoffs, he was even better. He took his game to another level, averaging 27.7 points per game on a ridiculous .525/.455/.931 shooting. He was tearing defenses apart and shutting down offenses in every round. Were it not for the infamous run-in with ZaZa Pachulia it looked like Spurs had a real chance of taking down the Warriors with Kawhi at the helm.
When we look back at the San Antonio Spurs final great season with Kawhi the attention will always go to that playoff game with Golden State and the questions of what could have been if Kawhi hadn’t gotten injured. But the part of his dominant 2016-17 campaign that stood out most to me was his first-round series against Memphis.
He had fully taken over the Spurs offense, everything ran through him. He was showing off a Kobe-like mid-range game, was lights out from deep, and playing his customary lockdown defense. This was the series that solidified him as a top-three player in the NBA in my mind.
Next: Power Forward
2002-03 Tim Duncan
Throughout his illustrious career, Tim Duncan had over a dozen seasons that would be worthy of inclusion on this list. Pick any one of his 15 All-NBA selection years and put it here and the result would still be a dominant starting lineup. The Big Fundamental was as consistent of a player as we will ever see.
But if we have to narrow it down to just one year it will have to be Duncans 2002-03 championship season. Duncan quietly dominated the league in the second of his back to back MVP campaigns. As it was also David Robinson‘s final season in the NBA, this year served as a final passing of the torch from one Spurs legend to another.
Duncan averaged 23.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 2.9 blocks per game across 81 games. Those would set new career highs in rebounds, assists, and blocks. He would never reach those levels again. He also led the entire NBA with 16.5 win shares, a bit less than his 2001-02 season but still incredibly impressive.
Just as impressive as Duncan’s stats is who he was doing it against. This wasn’t a down year for Western Conference big men, Duncan was taking on Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, and Dirk Nowitzki every week. And he was still giving them the business.
The 2003 postseason gave us one of Duncan’s all-time games. Duncan was robbed of one of the few quadruple doubles in NBA history in his dominant Finals performance against the New Jersey Nets. Even still, his strong showing helped capture the second of his five NBA Championships and his second Finals MVP trophy.
1993-94 David Robinson
Like Duncan, you can slot any one of The Admiral’s first seven seasons here and you’d be just fine. That said, David Robinson’s 1993-94 season is the one that stands out most. He won his lone league MVP trophy in 1995 but his 1993-94 season was debatably the more impressive.
Robinson led the league in scoring with 29.8 points per game. He also chipped in 10.7 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.7 steals, and 3.3 blocks a night. He also led the league in quite a few advanced metrics. Usage rate, offensive win shares, total win shares, win shares per 48 minutes, offensive box plus-minus, total box plus-minus, and value over replacement player, Robinson was at the top of the charts in all of them.
His incredible season also included the entertaining subplot of his rivalry with Shaquille O’Neal. Robinson secured the league scoring title on the last day of the season thanks to some force-feeding from his teammates in a blowout win over the Los Angeles Clippers. Was it petty? Yeah. Worth it? Without a doubt.
With Robinson locking down the center spot, here is who we have on the San Antonio Spurs all-time roster:
- Point Guard: Tony Parker (2012-13)
- Shooting Guard: George Gervin (1979-80)
- Small Forward: Kawhi Leonard (2016-17)
- Power Forward: Tim Duncan (2002-03)
- Center: David Robinson (1993-94)
- Sixth Man: Manu Ginobili (2007-08)
There are maybe two or three franchises that could field a comparable lineup, and even then the Spurs would be a tough team to beat.