MacKenzie: Spurs’ success tied to draft excellence

Will the Spurs keep their stars together for another run? (AP/Mark J. Terrill)

The return of the San Antonio Spurs to the NBA Finals has given us another reason to appreciate them.

We’ve talked about their big three, about the brilliance of Gregg Popovich and the character of their entire team.

We’ve all referenced the Spurs organization at one point or another when talking about the way it should be done.

We need to give an extra shout out to their scouting department.

Anyone who has spent any amount of time covering, rooting for or following the Toronto Raptors knows all too well the cringes that follow a glance at their draft history. While lamenting the Raptors’ draft history with a friend the other night, I made him pull up the Spurs’ history so we could go through it together and examine some of the gems they’ve found over the years.

It was a “just for fun” project that turned into a realization of how much better than everyone else the Spurs are … again.

Reminder: The Spurs haven’t had a lottery pick since they drafted Tim Duncan first overall in 1997.

In 1999, with the 57th selection they nabbed Manu Ginobili.

Fast forward to 2001. With the 28th pick, the Spurs selected 19-year-old Tony Parker.

In 2002, they used their 55th pick on Luis Scola.

In 2005, with the 28th pick, the team drafted Ian Mahinmi out of nowhere.

In 2007, the team drafted Tiago Splitter with another 28th pick.

In 2008, the team got a steal in George Hill with the 26th pick.

In 2009, the team opted to take a chance on the ACL-less DeJuan Blair, who fell to the second round and was available with their 37th pick. They also grabbed Nando De Colo with the 53rd pick.

In 2011, they used their 29th pick on Cory Joseph. They also traded Hill to the Indiana Pacers on draft night in exchange for the draft rights to Kawhi Leonard, who the Pacers selected with the 15th pick.

Mahinmi’s name was not one of the 128 listed in the league’s draft guide. Parker, expected to back up Antonio Daniels, was inserted into the starting lineup in the fifth game of the 2001-02 season. He has been there ever since. Ginobili was drafted in 1999, but didn’t come over to the NBA to play his first game with the Spurs until 2002. He won the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2008.

While Scola was drafted by the team in 2002, he never played a game in a Spurs uniform because the team was unable to complete a buyout of his contract with Baskonia. Joseph spent much of his first and second seasons in the D-League before proving his value as a backup during this post-season run. Leonard, dismissed by teams who questioned his shooting and skill set, has turned into one of the most productive and important players in the playoffs. He has been tasked with slowing LeBron James in the Finals and has turned the Spurs’ big three into a big four.

Just imagine this Spurs team without Leonard. You can’t.

Now … go take a look at Toronto’s draft history, in all of its lottery pick glory. You know, just for fun.

The Spurs have long been regarded as the example to follow, as they should. They are placed on their deserved pedestal because they’ve maintained their reputation as a model organization year after year after year. While we praise the players and coaching staff each game, let’s not forget the people working behind the scenes ensuring that each player on the roster is a perfect fit. Many teams have seasons filled with greatness and flashes of brilliance. San Antonio’s excellence has become the enduring standard for their franchise.

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