Nov 11, 2019; San Antonio, TX, USA; Head coach Gregg Popovich sits with David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker during his retirement ceremony at the AT&T Center. (Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports)
If the San Antonio Spurs could have any of their stars from the past back on this team, which would make the greatest impact on this specific roster?
Let’s enter a hypothetical world where NBA teams get to return one player who left a lasting impact on their franchise history to the current-day roster. This player is in their prime, prepped with knowledge of the playbook and ready to roll. This would leave the San Antonio Spurs’ front office with quite a harsh decision to make.
For some organizations, it’s easy — Michael Jordan to the Bulls, LeBron James to the Cavs, etc. For others, it’s not so cut and dried. While there’s a distinct choice as to who the greatest San Antonio Spurs player in history is, that’s not necessarily the best fit for this current roster, is it?
In this exercise, we’re not only taking a look at five of the most talented players in franchise history, but we’re evaluating this current roster’s needs. This is why someone as incredibly talented as George Gervin is getting left off the list. For as incredible as ‘The Iceman’ was in the prime of his playing days, the team already has a wing with a similar skill set in DeMar DeRozan.
So, which of the San Antonio Spurs’ greatest players of all-time would help this team get back into the playoffs? Well quite frankly, all of them would in different ways, but there’s a pecking order to consider. Let’s start with the franchise’s star point guard, whose talent and dedication made him a fan favorite.
Next: The fifth-best fit for this roster
5. San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker
Inserting prime Tony Parker to this team would certainly help, but not necessarily in the areas where they need help most. Parker’s best skills pertained to his slashing ability, playmaking off the drive, pick-and-roll mastery and pull-up mid-range jumpers. He’d certainly be an upgrade over the current starter, Dejounte Murray, who Parker stepped down in favor of.
However, Tony’s skill set is a bit redundant with what we’ve already come to expect from this Spurs team. Though his team-defense is solid, Parker was never known for being a great perimeter defender, which is one of the team’s greatest areas of concern. The addition of Parker also fails to impact this roster’s rebounding issues, lack of volume 3-point shooting, physicality and general redundancy of skills.
"I feel lucky that I was a part of something that may not ever happen again."
Spurs give Tony Parker a tribute video ? pic.twitter.com/oJfd6xAbbe
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 12, 2019
On the flip side, Parker becomes the clear No. 1 on this squad. He’s an Alpha and while DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge have worked to improve in their leadership skills, the team crumbled this past season under their guidance. The San Antonio Spurs need someone fearless who can dictate the tone and tempo of the team without needing to pound the air out of the ball to get a decent shot.
Parker’s quickness, aggressive approach and fearlessness would push this team back into the postseason picture. However, there are much better fits for the team as constructed.
Next: The fourth-best fit for this roster
4. San Antonio Spurs shooting guard Manu Ginobili
The heart and soul of the San Antonio Spurs dynasty, future Hall of Famer Manu Ginobili brings a competitive edge that no one in the world can match. How many players do you know that play full playoff series despite broken bones? Who else manages to be the spiritual leader of a team despite falling third and sometimes fourth in the pecking order? Who will take care of the bats?
Manu deserves every ounce of praise that he receives and more. Even though the shooting guard position is relatively stacked for this Spurs squad, Manu instantly takes up about 30-34 minutes per game off the bench for this squad with Murray and Derrick White starting in the backcourt. More importantly than starting, Manu is finishing games, most likely in place of Murray in this equation.
squad goals ✌️
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) October 13, 2020
Ginobili was never a volume 3-point shooter in the way that many players are today, but he had that capability from early into his career. That beautiful lefty jumper from the corners and elbows would’ve been utilized between 4-8 times per game in the modern NBA, capitalizing on the motion and spacing of today’s league to get Manu open, high-percentage 3-point looks.
That’s magnified as Manu would play off of a slashing, playmaking small forward in DeRozan who drives to the basket and draws the eyes of all opponents. DeRozan driving and kicking to Manu would make for a deadly combination that would easily slot San Antonio back into the playoff picture. Unfortunately, I don’t think that makes them contenders the way these next three players would in this zany hypothetical scenario. For that, Manu comes in at No. 4 on the list.
Next: The third-best fit for this roster
3. San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard
Say what you want about Kawhi Leonard, but you can never deny that the guy is ridiculously good at basketball. At his best, there was an argument that Leonard was the fourth-best overall player in franchise history behind the two players ahead of him on this list and Gervin. Regardless of his departure, the current roster plus Leonard is an instant title contender and more likely than not, the favorite to win the 2020 NBA title.
Leonard addresses all of the Spurs’ needs at this current juncture — Rebounding, perimeter defense, steals, switchability, floor spacing and the need for a true closer. Leonard is as clutch as they come in late-game scenarios and goes full-throttle to put his team in a position to win. Yes, I know he choked a 3-1 lead against the Denver Nuggets with the LA Clippers, but that’s not going to exonerate an entire multi-year track record of Kawhi being an incredible closer.
Beyond that, Leonard could get back to his Defensive Player of the Year ways on a team constructed like this one in which he doesn’t need to score quite as often. Aldridge and DeRozan are still fantastic scoring options and DeRozan gets to handle a decent ballhandling load, ensuring that Leonard can take shots as needed within the flow of a coherent offense. Quite frankly, he didn’t have that with the Clippers last year — They gave him the ball and got out of the way in most scenarios.
I’d think that a Spurs team starting Murray, White, Leonard, DeRozan and Aldridge ranks as a top-three team in the Western Conference with legitimate title aspirations.
Next: The second best fit for this roster
2. San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan
Before you get upset that Tim Duncan is second here, I want to remind you that I’m of the same train of thought that you are. Duncan is the greatest power forward of all-time and in my opinion, a top-five all-time player. He’s the man who made me fall in love with the sport and he’s why I’ve been here at Air Alamo since 2017 writing about this team.
However, his fit with the team as currently constructed isn’t quite as appealing as the No. 1 option. Long before Duncan made his leap to NBA stardom, a monster of a man put the Spurs franchise on the map with sustained two-way dominance over years of service.
Timmy D being on this team obviously makes them an automatic title contender, more than likely starting at the power forward spot while Aldridge mans the center. However, Duncan isn’t someone that I want guarding the perimeter for extended periods of time, which is part of the reason why Chris Bosh posed issues for the team in the 2013 NBA Finals.
Normalize Tim Duncan being top 5 all time. pic.twitter.com/hvGldda4gP
— Joseph Zucker (@TheJosephZucker) October 12, 2020
Duncan could surely fit his style of play into the modern game and would probably average a greater scoring output because of it, but I don’t like the fit with Aldridge at this stage in his career. Neither is particularly light on their feet, making it easy for teams to attack them off of switches and in the pick-and-roll.
That’s not something that I think would play quite as much of a factor until teams like the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets impose their versatile lineups and force the Spurs to defend perimeter shooters off of well-time screens. If Aldridge was still young and spry enough to play the power forward while Duncan manned the center, I’d feel more confident in this decision. Duncan’s basketball intellect makes him a force in any scenario, but the athletic tools of this player would be better suited for the game today.
Next: The best fit for this roster
1. San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson
Of the many Spurs legends, I believe that former MVP David Robinson would adapt to the modern NBA best. Though he dominated from the moment he joined the league in 1989, Robinson could’ve been even better if he had the chance to play in today’s game. His jump shot would certainly extend beyond the 3-point line, allowing him to space the floor and attack in certain scenarios.
Beyond that, I don’t think there’s a single player in this league who could effectively guard Robinson one-on-one for a full playoff series. Even if it means putting Aldridge back in the power forward spot, Robinson is speedy and athletic enough to get up and down the court to switch onto the perimeter in this 3-point heavy version of the NBA.
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Between the pick-and-roll mastery, potential floor spacing, intense rebounding and immediate defensive impact, Robinson would be in contention for an MVP away immediately. This is a timeless basketball player who so often goes overlooked in the pantheon of NBA greatness. Many incredible players were cast away for never winning a ring and although it took him a long time to get there, Robinson was a pivotal member of two NBA championships.
This is a bonafide leader on and off the court who’d connect with this passionate young core and help guide them to the promised land. His role in assisting Tim Duncan to fulfill his potential goes overlooked, but without Robinson’s guidance, we don’t know that Timmy would have become the leader and champion that he’s remembered as today.
Defensively, there’s not a single player in today’s game as talented as Robinson. I’d take Robinson over Rudy Gobert any day of the week and tomorrow. He’s instantly inserted into the three-man race for the most influential defender in basketball alongside Giannis and AD — Two generational defensive players who’ll be remembered for it long after their careers are done.
Insert Robinson to this Spurs team and they’re NBA champions in 2021 without a doubt in my mind.