Two-sport athletes aren’t new to the NBA and the San Antonio Spurs, but these three current players could really thrive in another sport
Long before he was having his name enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame, before he ever put on a San Antonio Spurs jersey, Tim Duncan was swimming laps and dreaming of Olympic gold. But when Hurricane Hugo destroyed the pool on his home island of Saint Croix, the future MVP’s dreams of being the best freestyle swimmer in the world were destroyed along with it.
Duncan would eventually make it to the Olympics in 2004, securing a bronze medal with Team USA in Athens. As amazing as his story is, it’s not incredibly unique. The NBA has seen its fair share of athletes who have excelled in more than just basketball over its history, some of them are in the league right now.
Joel Embiid had planned on playing professional volleyball before eventually turning to basketball, Giannis Antetokounmpo grew up playing soccer with his brothers, and his teammate Pat Connaughton played basketball and baseball while at Notre Dame and was selected in the 4th round of the 2014 MLB Draft by the Baltimore Orioles.
We can all agree that professional basketball players are some of the best athletes in the world, but they’re also some of the best suited to making a transition to a different sport. This isn’t a sport like water polo with a very specific set of skills and movements. Running, jumping, taking a hit, and delivering one, these are all things that are applicable to a variety of athletic ventures.
This all sets up the question: Which San Antonio Spurs players would excel in another sport? Here are our top three picks.
Next: An ironman with an edge
San Antonio Spurs thriving in a different sport: DeMar DeRozan as a distance runner
My mom is one of the strongest people I know. She’s not the most physically imposing person but she’s run more marathons than I can count, tacked on a couple of IronMan competitions, and regularly pushes herself like no one I know can. She’s a beast. What sets her, and many endurance competitors apart from the rest of us is a mental strength and willingness to push themselves far beyond what others might endure. I believe DeMar DeRozan has that same quality.
DeRozan is tough as nails. From his upbringing in Compton to his ability to play through the multitude of bumps and bruises that he receives thanks to his constant attacking of the rim, he’s constantly had to overcome obstacles in his path.
But through it all he’s hardly ever missed significant time. Other than a torn groin tendon back in 2014 he’s managed to make it through his career without missing time. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t hurting. We’ve all seen him throw himself into the teeth of the defense, get knocked down, and then do the same thing again possession after possession. It takes a high pain tolerance and iron will do that for 82 nights a year.
Furthermore, he was 24th in the league in distance traveled per night this year. He was averaging 2.5 miles per night before the season was suspended. Now it’s quite a jump from running 2.5 miles to 26.2 but it’s not as tough as you might think. More than anything it comes down to how much pain are you willing to put yourself through, how hard are you willing to push your body?
Obviously there are training protocols to follow, electrolyte and fluid recovery process to adhere to, and proper stretching and rest all come into play. But a lot of distance running is mental. Can you break through that wall, get into a groove, and block out the pain? In the end, it can actually be a very therapeutic exercise.
That’s another thing that could help make DeRozan an excellent endurance athlete. He’s spoken on the importance of mental wellness and meditation in the past, it’s not hard to see him using running as a mental health exercise as so many others do.
Next: Blockob Poeltl
San Antonio Spurs thriving in a different sport: Jakob Poeltl as a volleyball player
The transition from NBA player to marathoner would be quite a jump for DeMar DeRozan but Jakob Poeltl could transition to professional volleyball quite easily. The same tools that have helped him grow into one of the NBA’s more promising defensive-minded big men would help him thrive as a blocker and spiker in volleyball.
He’s got his offensive limits but Poeltl has thrived on defense, he really stepped up as a rim protector this year. While the Spurs guards and wings frequently let opponents get to the rim they could always count on Jakob to be there to serve as a final obstacle. His defensive presence is the primary reason why he could be in line for a sizeable pay-day this summer.
Poeltl led San Antonio in block percentage (7.7 percent) and blocks per 100 possessions (4.2). Looking across the league, those figures helped him rank 12th in overall block percentage and 5th in the league in blocks per 100 possessions. Challange him at your own risk, he loves sending shots back into the lower levels of the AT&T Center.
One of the more impressive things about Poeltl’s development in San Antonio has been his ability to cut down on the number of fouls he accumulates. He averaged 3.1 blocks per 36 minutes this year but was able to keep his fouls at a near career-low, averaging just 3.6 personal fouls per 36, a hair about the 3.5 per 36 mark that he set in his first season with the Spurs.
He does a great job of going straight up and not leaning into his opponent, skills that would serve him well on the volleyball court. If he ever wants to change up careers he would make an impressive addition to any volleyball. But we hope for both his sake and the Spurs that he stays with basketball. The pay is significantly better and San Antonio desperately needs him on defense.
Next: Murray Island
San Antonio Spurs thriving in a different sport: Dejounte Murray as a shutdown corner or jump-ball wide receiver.
What do you see when you think of some of the NFL’s shutdown corners? Blazing fast, long-limbed, confident in their abilities, and unwilling to take even an ounce of crap from an opponent. Sounds a lot like Dejounte Murray.
Let’s start by comparing Murray’s measurables to one of the NFL’s best, Buffalo Bills cornerback TreDavious White. White stands 5’11 with a 76-inch wingspan and weighs in at 192 pounds. Murray stands 6’5, has an 82-inch wingspan and comes in at 180 pounds. Let’s overlook the weight difference right now. After all, one of these guys makes a living off of beating up wide receivers on Sunday’s and the other is Dejoutne Murray.
But looking just at the height and wingspan that Murray is blessed with and it’s not hard to see him locking up opposing deep threats, or flipping the script and excelling as a pass-catcher. The only concern is his height. You just don’t see many NFL cornerbacks who stand 6’5. Isiah Simmons, the do-it-all defensive talent out of Clemson, is 6’4 and there are questions about his ability to flip his hips and stay with the burners out on the edges of an NFL field.
Whichever side of the ball he wants to play on, Murray would excel as a ball hawk. He can get up for dunks with ease, even after recovering from an ACL injury, and has excellent timing and instincts. He uses that sense of timing to frequently disrupt passing lanes and get steals in the NBA, he was one of the league leaders in steals per game this year at 1.7 per contests.
And Murray is tough, the young leader of the Spurs isn’t afraid of anyone. Just ask James Harden, he tried to clown Murray in a pre-season this year and Murray was quick to get in his face and let him know that he wasn’t going to be punked by anyone, even if they did have an MVP trophy at home.
He’d have to put on some weight to take the beating that the NFL delivers but it’s not hard to see Murray thriving as a jump ball threat or ball-hawking corner in another life.