Being a playoff team for over two decades, the San Antonio Spurs have needed clutch free throws to seal big wins. These guys were the best of the best.
While the San Antonio Spurs had a dominant stretch from 1999-2017, that didn’t mean the league made it easy for them. Each season brought new challenges from talented teams that pushed them to games that went down to the wire. Coming up big in the most crucial moments can be the difference between ending a season as a champion and going home emptyhanded.
For the better part of the last two decades, the Spurs have been a barometer by which other teams could measure their progress. As they continued to add championships to their collection, the rest of the NBA undoubtedly circled San Antonio on their calendars.
With the Spurs getting every teams’ hardest punch on a nightly basis, the difference between a win and loss often came down to a single free throw. Fortunately for the Silver and Black, they always had someone that knew how to calmly seal the deal from the line.
Before breaking down the Spurs’ most clutch free throw shooters of all time, let me first define what qualifies as a clutch free throw. NBA.com defines clutch time as a game in which five minutes or less are remaining and the score is within a five-point differential.
I did extensive research from 2000 to the end of last season to determine the guys who stepped up the most from the free throw line in those situations. One note before we get started: to rule out anomalies and focus on guys that had a significant impact with the Spurs, I focused mostly on players that spent at least five seasons in San Antonio.
Let the countdown begin, starting with number five.
Next: No. 5
San Antonio Spurs – No. 5: Tony Parker
As the San Antonio Spurs’ starting point guard for nearly 17 seasons, Tony Parker was bound to make this list. Behind only Tim Duncan in franchise games played at 1,198, Parker often had the ball in his hands in the guts of the game with the hopes being that he’ll create an efficient look for the offense.
Tony made three-fourths of his free throws for his career, sinking 75.1 percent of his 4,401 attempts. Needless to say, the Spurs trusted him to seal the deal from the charity stripe when the game was hanging in the balance.
Unfortunately, Tony Parker’s overall free throw shooting percentage dipped in clutch situations throughout his illustrious career with the Spurs. From 2001-2017, Parker shot 71.5 percent on such occasions. That’s not to say he didn’t shine in particular seasons, however. In back-to-back seasons starting in 2011, TP led the team in clutch free throws made, clutch free throws attempted, and clutch free throw percentage.
When it came to the playoffs, though, Parker’s clutch free throw percentage dipped even more, dropping to 62.2 percent (38 of 61). Because of his dropoff, Parker finishes fifth here.
Next: No. 4
San Antonio Spurs – No. 4: Patty Mills
This season, Patty Mills has the chance to surpass several prominent Spurs to enter the top six in total games played for the organization. With 597 games in the Alamo City under his belt, Patty has had his fair share of clutch moments both from the line and the field.
Currently third all-time in franchise free throw percentage with 86.1, Mills has proven that he can be relied on to keep cool under pressure with the game on the line. If this list were based purely on clutch free throw percentage, Mills would be at number two with his 84.2 percent. However, given Patty’s role on the team, his sample size is smaller than many others.
Nevertheless, Mills knocking down 48 of his 57 attempts in close games is still impressive and deserving of the number three spot on this countdown. The Aussie’s best clutch free throw shooting season came in 2017-18 when he buried 20 of his 22 such shots for a 90.9 success rate. He also reached 90 percent in the 2014 Revenge Tour season, making nine of 10.
The clutch postseason attempt has been rare for Patty Mills, as he’s not usually in the game in such situations. Still, he’s had 12 clutch attempts in his career and made 10 of them for 83.3 percent. Going into the 2020-21 season, don’t be surprised to see Patty on the court when San Antonio needs someone to seal the game from the line.
Next: No. 3
Apr 9, 2018; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs shooting guard Danny Green (14) is fouled while shooting by Sacramento Kings small forward Justin Jackson (behind) at AT&T Center. (Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports)
San Antonio Spurs – No. 3: Danny Green
Although he’s coming off an unusually poor free throw shooting season in Los Angeles (68.8 percent), Danny Green was reliable in that department for the Spurs. In his eight seasons in San Antonio, Green shot 81.6 percent in the regular season.
While shooting nearly 82 percent is decent, it’s not in the upper echelon in Spurs history. What causes Green to make this list at a surprising number three, however, is how he stepped up in crunch time. Danny didn’t have as many opportunities to take a trip to the line in close games as others. However, when he did, he made the most of it.
The three-time NBA champion sank 39 of his total 45 clutch free throw attempts in regular season games. That’s a 5-percent increase from his career average of 81.6 percent to 86.6 percent.
The 2014-15 season is responsible for Green’s emergence as a clutch free throw shooter for the Spurs. That year, he made 18 of 19 attempts in situations where the game was within five points. That 94.7 percent rate catapulted his career average in San Antonio and was by far the most such attempts he ever took in a season.
Next: No. 2
San Antonio Spurs – No. 2: Kawhi Leonard
While Kawhi Leonard eventually became a superstar at the tail end of his six-season stint with the Spurs, his first three years were average across the board. San Antonio didn’t begin utilizing Leonard as their number one option until the 2014-15 season, and his clutch free throws are evidence of that.
From 2011-14, Leonard attempted just 19 clutch free throws, making 14 of them for 73.6 percent. In the back half of his career, however, Kawhi was always the man with the ball in his hands to close out games, and he did just that 85 percent of the time.
From the 2014-15 season until he ultimately was traded from the Spurs after the 2017 season, Leonard made 88 of his 103 clutch free throws for 85.4 percent. Those seasons brought his average up to 83.6 overall when it mattered most in regular season games with the Spurs.
When it came to the postseason, Kawhi’s percentage rose even higher. Leonard had 20 total attempts in close-game situations in the playoffs and missed just two of them for 90 percent. Although he’s coming off a fourth-quarter meltdown with the LA Clippers in their surprising series loss to the Denver Nuggets, he’s shown a tendency to be clutch in the past.
Next: No. 1
San Antonio Spurs – No. 1: Manu Ginobili
Before I jump into how dominant Manu Ginobili was from the free throw line, I must give some honorable mentions some love.
Given his consistency and longevity, it’s no surprise that Tim Duncan had the most clutch free throw attempts of any Spur ever and made more than anyone else. His career regular season percentage of 67.4 in those situations, however, leaves little to be desired.
Duncan also dipped further when it came to clutch free throw attempts in the playoffs, finishing with a 61.5 percent rate.
LaMarcus Aldridge also deserves some recognition for his clutch foul shots. In the 2015-16 season, he made 12 of 13 such attempts. In 2018-19, Aldridge made 36 of 44 attempts for an 81.8 success rate. Overall, though, his 74.8 percent shooting in close games from the line wasn’t quite high enough to crack the top five.
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While an argument could be made that these guys should have cracked this countdown, no argument can be made about the undisputed number one. When breaking down the data season by season, Ginobili’s name kept coming up in impressive ways.
Manu spent 16 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs and finished first in clutch free throw percentage in half of them (minimum 15 attempts).
Those eight seasons include a stretch from 2004 to 2011 in which he was first in six of seven seasons, as Roger Mason’s 15 of 16 in 2009 narrowly beat Ginobili’s 90.5 percent.
Not only did Manu get to the line often when it mattered most, but he also nailed those shots at a clip of 82.1 percent (378 of 460).
In the postseason, he shot virtually the same percentage at 81.1 (99 of 122). Despite showing up in 33 fewer playoff games than Tim Duncan, his 99 made clutch free throws are the most in playoff franchise history (Tim had 88).
Ginobili wasn’t just clutch from the field for the Spurs. He was and will forever remain the team’s most clutch free throw shooter of all time.