The San Antonio Spurs have had limited lottery picks, but they’ve still developed plenty of late NBA Draft picks into All-Stars.
The San Antonio Spurs have the rare opportunity to make a lottery selection in Wednesday’s 2020 NBA Draft when they’ll be picking 11th overall. With the longstanding success they’ve had, this is the first time they’ll be selecting in the top 15 since 1997. History has proven, however, that they haven’t always needed high draft picks to turn players into stars.
San Antonio also has the 41st overall pick in this year’s draft, which they will almost assuredly use on someone absolutely few have ever heard of. While everyone is excited at the prospect of the Spurs possibly moving even higher up into the draft for prime talent, the team has shown they can work their magic with players taken late as well.
Since their shift from the Texas Chaparrals to the San Antonio Spurs in 1973, the franchise has produced multiple All-Stars that came with sky-high expectations. Guys like Tim Duncan, David Robinson, and Alvin Robertson were all lottery picks that became household names in the NBA and left their lasting mark in San Antonio.
These rankings, however, are dedicated to the lesser-known guys that ended up reaching stardom with the Spurs despite being drafted outside of the top 15 in their respective draft classes. We start with a Phoenix Suns pick that enjoyed one All-Star season with the Spurs.
Next: No. 8 - 6
8. Rich Jones – 58th overall pick, Phoenix Suns (1969)
The first late pick that became an All-Star dates back to the Spurs’ first season in San Antonio. While the Phoenix Suns drafted him, Rich Jones played for the Dallas/Texas Chaparrals/San Antonio Spurs for the first six seasons of his basketball career.
Jones earned All-Star nods in his fourth and fifth seasons with the team in 1973 and 1974. In those two seasons, he averaged 18.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. It took him moving to the New York Nets to eventually win an ABA title, but Rich enjoyed his best years with the Spurs franchise.
7. Swen Nater – 16th overall pick, Milwaukee Bucks (1973)
From Den Helder, Netherlands, Swen Nater is another guy who had his best years with San Antonio. Nater’s origins are interesting, in that he was first drafted by The Floridians, an ABA team that soon was disbanded due to attendance problems and poor performance.
In 1973, the Virginia Squires then traded Nater to the Spurs for a draft pick and $300,000. In two seasons with San Antonio, Nater averaged 14.8 points and 15.2 rebounds per game while shooting 54.6 percent from the field.
Both of Swen’s career All-Star appearances occurred with the Spurs, as did his Rookie of the Year award in 1973-94.
6. Larry Kenon – 50th overall pick, Detroit Pistons (1973)
Following the trend, Larry Kenon also had his prime years with the San Antonio Spurs. Three of his five All-Star appearances came while playing for the Alamo City, where he averaged 20.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.
Kenon and George Gervin were one of the Spurs’ first dynamic duos, both averaging over 20 points per game in all four of their seasons together. Despite his size at 6-9, Kenon never averaged less than 11.6 boards per game with San Antonio and is still fourth in franchise history in total rebounds.
Next: No. 5
5. Kawhi Leonard -15th overall pick, Indiana Pacers (2011)
There’s no doubt Kawhi Leonard could’ve been in the top three of this list if he continued his career with the San Antonio Spurs. His dramatic improvement year-to-year has turned him into a superstar, which no one saw coming going into the 2011 NBA Draft.
The Spurs’ draft-day gamble paid off overall for the franchise and gave them a fifth championship, but the relationship between Leonard and the team ultimately ended on a sour note.
Leonard ended his Spurs career with averages of 16.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, making two All-Star appearances and winning a Finals MVP in the process.
Next: No. 4
4. Manu Ginobili – 57th overall pick, San Antonio Spurs (1999)
Without question, Manu Ginobili represents the best value of a draft pick that the Spurs have ever gotten. Frankly, he’s one of the greatest hidden gems in NBA Draft history. It’s unheard of to see someone passed up 56 times and still end up becoming an international legend and surefire Hall of Famer.
While he certainly should have been selected as an All-Star a few more times, Ginobili enjoyed the honor twice with the Spurs, playing in the big game in 2005 and 2011. What made Manu such a legend was his willingness to take a backseat and come off the bench for the good of the team.
In seasons where he mostly came off the bench, Ginobili averaged 13.3 points and 3.8 assists per game. In his prime seasons as a starter, he finished seasons with averages closer to the 17 PPG mark. Clearly, Ginobili could’ve had many more individual accolades in his NBA career, but he was never about that.
Whether playing for Argentina or the Spurs, Manu Ginobili was a winner through and through.
Next: No. 3
3. Tony Parker – 28th overall pick, San Antonio Spurs (2001)
While the Boston Celtics also had an eye on him in 2001, it was the San Antonio Spurs that took the chance on Tony Parker when no one else had the confidence to trust a European point guard. It didn’t take long for Gregg Popovich to realize he had something truly special in Tony, as he started him in 72 games in his rookie season.
In his illustrious 17-year career in San Antonio, Parker made four All-NBA teams, was selected to six All-Star teams, won four championships, and was named NBA Finals MVP in 2007. Tony is also San Antonio’s all-time leader in assists and second all-time in games played.
Now enjoying retired life, Parker is a majority owner of the French basketball team ASVEL Basket and recently came out with a book about his career called Beyond All of My Dreams.
Next: No. 2
2. Artis Gilmore – 117th overall, Chicago Bulls (1971)
While he didn’t do as much in San Antonio as the last couple of entries on this list, it’s hard to ignore the overall accolades of Artis Gilmore. The 11-time All-Star was already established as a powerhouse in Kentucky and Chicago before joining the Spurs later in his career.
Still, Gilmore put up 17.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game in his first four seasons in San Antonio, making the All-Star game at the age of 36 in the 1985-86 season. Throughout his Hall of Fame career, Gilmore was a Rookie of the Year, won an MVP, made an All-ABA team five times, and won a title in 1975.
Artis spent five full seasons with the Spurs and still holds the franchise record for field goal and true shooting percentage.
Next: No. 1
1. George Gervin – 40th overall, Phoenix Suns (1974)
This one is more of a technicality, as George Gervin was drafted in a season where he was able to make the choice to stay in the ABA. While playing for the Virginia Squires of the ABA, the team decided to sell their star player to the Spurs for $228,000, which ended up being the best money San Antonio has ever spent.
After playing two seasons in the ABA, Gervin was eligible for the 1974 NBA Draft, in which the Phoenix Suns selected him 40th overall. Unfortunately for them, Gervin opted to ride it out with the Spurs, who eventually became absorbed by the NBA in 1976.
The Iceman became one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history, winning four scoring titles with the Spurs. He also made 12 straight All-Star appearances, two All-NBA teams, and is now in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Gervin remains number two on San Antonio’s all-time scoring list behind Tim Duncan at 23,602 points.