SAN ANTONIO – The Spurs have long been the NBA’s gold standard when it comes to drafting and development, preferring to roll up their sleeves and scour the globe to find the right players to slot into well-defined roles.
They have more international players on their roster than any other team in the NBA, and even their American players don’t come straight from America to the league.
It’s the hard way to build a roster, requiring patience, discipline and investment that few teams are able to muster these days. And it’s paying off in a big way for them in the NBA Finals.
General manager RC Buford has assembled an unparalleled scouting staff and worked with Gregg Popovich to establish a system and culture over the last 15-plus seasons that allows them to identify the exact attributes that will allow a player to succeed in San Antonio.
The commitment to drafting and developing came early for Buford and Popovich. Situated in a small market, they knew they couldn’t afford to throw millions at the free agent market every summer to fill holes in their roster. They certainly got lucky getting the No. 1 pick in 1997 when Tim Duncan was available, but their moves to surround him with a championship-caliber supporting cast all came the hard way.
Game 6 is tonight in Miami, where Duncan will have a chance to win his fifth title 14 years after his first. Along the way he has gone from the focal point to a supporting role, all thanks to the system the Spurs have in place.
Tony Parker was the 28th pick out of France in 2001. And despite being coveted thanks to his stellar international play for Argentina, Ginobili fell to the second round in 1999 and didn’t come to the NBA for another three seasons.
“Ginobili that was a pick that a lot of people knew was going to be good,” Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders said. “It’s just at the time a lot of people didn’t want to wait for him.”
The Spurs were willing to wait, and it’s paid off handsomely. He has also helped other foreign players make the transition to the U.S.
“The first years I started to feel like a guide to the new guys, it felt great, because I needed that at the beginning,” Ginobili said.