The San Antonio Spurs get a lot of love around the entire sports world as being one of the best run franchises out there. In the past 20 years, the Spurs have won five NBA titles, reaching six in the process. There has been a lot of consistency in San Antonio as many of the players and coaches have stuck around for a very long period of time.
In that same 20-year span, the Spurs have also selected 15 players in the first round of the NBA Draft. It can be hard to draft when you are almost always selecting toward the end of the first round, but the Spurs have found a way to make it work for the most part. Not every pick has been a home run, though, and you might be surprised to find out how many non-star players that they have taken.
So let’s take a look back at those 15 selections, and see if the Spurs could have gone in a different direction to make their dynasty more solid. Here, we re-draft the past 15 first round picks for the Spurs, while we also look at the careers of the players that they drafted instead.
15 Malcolm Brogdon (2016)
Original Pick: Dejounte Murray
With their most recent first round selection, the Spurs chose Dejounte Murray from the University of Washington. So far in this season (through March 7), Murray has posted 3.4 points, 1.2 assists and 0.9 rebounds per game in limited time. Since most of the other rookies that were taken after Murray haven’t been getting much playing time either, it’s hard to say this early if anybody else was a clear-cut better choice.
The Spurs selected 29th overall in the draft, but one player that was selected 36th overall has already emerged, and that’s Malcolm Brogdon. In his rookie season, the guard has averaged 10.0 points, 4.1 assists and 2.1 rebounds per game. For now, Brogdon should have been the choice, but that could certainly change as soon as next season.
14 Montrezl Harrell (2015)
Original Pick: Nikola Milutinov
In the 2015 NBA Draft, the Spurs sat at the 26th spot in the first round. Deciding to go international with their pick, the Spurs took Nikola Milutinov from Serbia. Milutinov has yet to make his NBA debut, as he is playing with Olympiacos in Greece. Will we see the 22 year old head back to the United States to play in San Antonio? His numbers haven’t been that great overseas, so it might take some time for the seven footer.
We still haven’t seen many players that were taken after Milutinov emerge as possible superstars, so at least San Antonio hasn’t been torched by the pick quite yet. However, Montrezl Harrell could have been a better pick, as he was taken 32nd overall. Harrell has improved in his second season, and is averaging 9.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game.
13 Nikola Jokic (2014)
Original Pick: Kyle Anderson
In 2013, the Spurs ended the first round by drafting 30th overall, using their selection on forward Kyle Anderson from UCLA. Anderson is in his third season with the Spurs, and has so far averaged 3.5 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game. While he does get the occasional start and has added some help, it doesn’t appear that Anderson will be an impact player anytime soon.
This is the year that San Antonio should have gone international, as Nikola Jokic was still on the board with the 41st overall pick. Instead, Jokic went to the Nuggets and is in his second season. So far, he has been a big help with 15.9 points, 9.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game in the 2016-17 campaign. This Serbian has proven to be a much faster learner than Milutinov.
12 Allen Crabbe (2013)
Original Pick: Livio Jean-Charles
So in 2015, the Spurs shouldn’t have drafted someone from overseas but did. The year before they should have but didn’t. In 2013, it was the same story as 2013 as they went to France (well, French Guiana) to take Livio Jean-Charles, who was selected after fellow Frenchman Rudy Gobert. Jean-Charles has yet to play in the NBA, and is currently with the NBA D-League’s version of the Spurs in Austin, Texas.
The Spurs were sitting at the 28th spot with that pick, and they could have gotten some help over the next 10 spots. The most help would have come in the form of Allen Crabbe, who was taken with the 31st overall selection. Crabbe has averaged more than 10 points per game over the past two seasons and 2.7 rebounds with 1.2 assists.
11 Jimmy Butler (2011)
Original Pick: Cory Joseph
The Spurs did not have a first round selection in the 2012 NBA Draft, so we go back to the 2011 edition when they sat at the 29th overall spot. It was that pick where San Antonio selected Cory Joseph, a point guard from Texas. Joseph played in San Antonio for four seasons, averaging 5.2 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. However, he has played the past two seasons with Toronto.
The much better selection would have been the one that immediately followed San Antonio’s selection. It was the Bulls that owned the 30th pick, and they used it to take Jimmy Butler. The Marquette product has turned out to be an unexpected All Star, and even players like Bojan Bogdanovich (31st) and Shelvin Mack (34th) would have been better than Joseph.
10 Trevor Booker (2010)
Original Pick: James Anderson
It’s amazing that in 2010, the Spurs had the 20th overall selection. In the past 20 years, that’s the closest they have been to the top overall spot, showing what consistency they have achieved. With that 20th overall pick in 2010, the Spurs selected James Anderson from Oklahoma State. Anderson is not in the NBA right now, and averaged just 3.7 points, 1.3 rebounds and 0.8 assists per game in his time with San Antonio.
Thankfully for the Spurs, there weren’t any superstars that would end up being drafted after Anderson. Interestingly enough, the Spurs could have barely done better, but Trevor Booker would have been a better selection. Booker has averaged 10.1 points and 8.6 rebounds with the Nets in 2016-17 as his numbers have seen some steady improvement.
9 DeAndre Jordan (2008)
Original Pick: George Hill
Skipping 2009 as the Spurs didn’t have a first round selection, San Antonio had the 26th overall pick in 2008. They used the pick on George Hill from IUPUI. Hill put up some decent numbers in his three seasons with San Antonio, averaging 9.9 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. Now as a member of the Jazz, he has really hit his stride, but just didn’t emerge as a star in San Antonio.
Hill might have been the answer for a re-draft had it not been for what happened less than 10 picks later. With the 35th overall selection, the Clippers chose DeAndre Jordan from Texas A&M, and he has become one of the best centers in the league. Could you imagine what it would have been like to have Jordan come off of the bench when Tim Duncan was still playing?
8 Marc Gasol (2007)
Original Pick: Tiago Splitter
The Spurs decided to go international yet again in 2007 when they held the 28th overall selection. This time, they went to Tiago Splitter, a Brazilian that was playing professional ball in Spain. Splitter would not make his debut until the 2010-11 season, and played for five seasons with San Antonio. There, he averaged 8.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game. Those aren’t bad numbers, but they were hoping for just a bit more.
Since we want to keep this realistic and say that the Spurs weren’t going to reach for someone 20 spots away, we’ll say that Splitter was the right call with no other studs behind him for a while. If you want to play the ultimate what if game, though, you could say that the Spurs should have chosen Marc Gasol, the center that was taken with the 48th overall spot.
7 David Lee (2005)
Original Pick: Ian Mahinmi
We take another leap, hopping over the 2006 NBA Draft and heading to 2005. The Spurs held the 28th overall selection and drafted Ian Mahinmi from France. Mahinmi has had one decent season in the NBA, but that didn’t come with the Spurs as he barely played in 30 games with the team that drafted him. In that time, he put up 3.8 points and 1.8 rebounds per game.
A realistic selection for the Spurs would have come just two picks later. The Knicks swapped some picks around to get David Lee from Florida in the 30th spot. While Lee is not the All Star that he once was, he has averaged 13.7 points and 8.9 rebounds per game in his career. Now, Lee is on the Spurs, but they could have gotten his best years.
6 Anderson Varejao (2004)
Original Pick: Beno Udrih
In the 2004 NBA Draft that saw Dwight Howard go first overall, the Spurs waited until the 28th selection to take Beno Udrih, another international player. Udrih is still in the NBA and with the Pistons, though he played just three seasons for San Antonio. In that time, Udrih posted 5.2 points, 1.0 assists and 1.8 rebounds per game. It was clear that his best years came in Sacramento afterward.
Luckily for San Antonio, it’s not like the rest of the draft was filled with point guards, either. They could have gone big again in this situation, taking Anderson Varejao from Brazil. Varejao had more long-term success with the Cavaliers (and now Warriors), having averaged 7.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game. Not a huge miss, but it is what it is.
5 Josh Howard (2003)
Original Pick: Leandro Barbosa
The 2003 NBA Draft was notoriously stocked at the front, but then took a big dip later on. The Spurs held the 28th pick yet again in this draft, and they took another Brazilian, this time with Leandro Barbosa. Barbosa never actually played with San Antonio as he was sent to the Suns, though it turned out to be a mistake. Barbosa has averaged as many as 18.1 points per game and 4.0 assists at his prime.
With the rest of the draft turning out the way it did, the best scenario for the Spurs would have been to draft Splitter again and keep him. If they would have gone in another direction, they could have selected Josh Howard, who was taken with the 29th pick. In his prime, Howard was averaging nearly 20 points and seven rebounds per game before taking a nosedive after the 2009-10 season.
4 Carlos Boozer (2002)
Original Pick: John Salmons
We all remember the 2003 NBA Draft, but there wasn’t that much to remember from the 2002 edition. The Spurs held the 26th overall selection, and they drafted John Salmons out of Miami before trading him to Philadelphia. It looked like it could have been a mistake as Salmons emerged as a star for a brief period of time, but there’s no telling that it could have worked out if he were in San Antonio.
Had they been intent on shipping Salmons off, the Spurs could have used their pick to get Carlos Boozer instead. The Duke product ended up being a two-time All Star with Utah after being drafted by Cleveland, and he finished his career with an average of 16.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.
3 Tony Parker (2001)
Original Pick: Tony Parker
The 28th is certainly a spot that the Spurs have a knack for ending up at, and the 2001 NBA Draft was no exception. With that pick, the Spurs selected Tony Parker out of France, just a couple of spots after Gilbert Arenas. While Arenas had some good years, this is the first draft where there is no doubt that the Spurs made the right decision. All these years later, Parker is still on the team.
You probably know all of Parker’s accolades already, but they bear repeating. Parker has been named to six All Star teams and has won four titles with San Antonio, earning the 2007 NBA Finals MVP Award in the process. In his career, Parker has averaged 16.3 points, 5.8 assists and 2.8 rebounds.
2 Rashard Lewis (1998)
Original Pick: Felipe Lopez
We go all the way back to the 1990s for our final two Spurs selections, starting with the 1998 NBA Draft. San Antonio held the 24th overall selection, and took Felipe Lopez out of St. John’s. To show how long ago this was, the Spurs then traded him to the Vancouver Grizzlies. It was a good choice, as Lopez spent three seasons in the league, playing for three different teams.
The better pick here would have been to take the player that went 32nd overall, Rashard Lewis. Lewis was taken by Seattle (again, this was a long time ago), and would end up being a two-time All Star. Lewis averaged 14.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game, with his best season coming in 2006-07 when he averaged 22.4 points per game.
1 Tim Duncan (1997)
Original Pick: Tim Duncan
There were only two times where the Spurs definitively got the right call. The first was Tony Parker, and the second came in their only selection inside of the top 20 on the list. The Spurs held the first overall selection in 1997, and surprised absolutely nobody when they took Tim Duncan out of Wake Forest. What they got from Duncan was 19 seasons that will send him to the Hall of Fame and the team already hung up his jersey.
Duncan was named an All Star 15 times (as well as 15 All-Defensive Teams), two MVP Awards, three Finals MVPS and five NBA Championships overall. Duncan averaged 19.0 points, 10.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game to go along with it. There were some good players in the 1997 NBA Draft, but Duncan was the right choice for sure.
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