TORONTO - The Spurs may have the best record in the league, but they also lead the NBA in another category: international scouting.
San Antonio has long been regarded as the NBA’s top organization at turning relative international unknowns into productive NBA players, with Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker immediately coming to mind.
Ginobili, considered by some to be the greatest draft steal of all time, is the Spurs’ crunch-time killer and gets his fair share of highlights with his clutch scoring and fearless drives to the basket.
Parker was the youngest player to crack the Spurs’ rotation back in the 2001-02 season after being drafted by the team late in the first round of the 2001 draft.
Parker’s trademark floater and his uncanny knack for scoring in the paint have made him a three-time NBA all-star and the 2007 NBA Finals MVP.
But the team’s international impact reaches far outside the confines of the Alamo.
The Raptors, who have built what looks like a Euroleague roster at first glance, have followed in San Antonio’s footsteps, compiling international standouts Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon, Linas Kleiza and Alexis Ajinca.
Toronto has even cashed in on the international success of the Spurs’ brass through lightning-rod two guard Leandro Barbosa (drafted by SA in 2003) and former Raps big-man Rasho Nesterovic (signed by the Spurs out of Europe in 2004).
This year, the Spurs are riding the potential of 26-year-old Brazilian rookie Tiago Splitter, who was taken with the 28th overall pick in the 2007 draft by San Antonio and stashed in Europe where he developed into a dominant force.
The Spurs have yet to see the type of high-level play out of Splitter that made him the 2010 Spanish League MVP, but it’s a safe bet Splitter will contribute given the Spurs’ track-record with international surprises.
If that weren’t enough, sharp-shooting rookie Gary Neal further cements the Spurs’ reputation as a scouting star. Neal went undrafted out of college and played overseas for three seasons before being signed by the Spurs prior to the 2010-11 season.
Neal has lit up the league with his impressive outside stroke, connecting on 39% of his three-point attempts and earning himself a spot in the rookie-sophomore game during all-star weekend along the way.
The word ‘luck’ gets thrown around a lot when the Spurs’ international success is brought up, but investment may be a better word to describe it.
The front office has made a commitment to the development of international players, and is more concerned with growing talent and confidence overseas rather than rushing players into the spotlight.
Sure, San Antonio doesn’t always hit the mark on their picks (see Dallas Mavericks centre Ian Mahinmi for evidence), but considering how many players pass through the NBA from year to year, the team’s successes far outweigh its failures.
Other international talents brought over by San Antonio include Fabricio Oberto, who helped the team to a championship in 2007, Houston Rockets forward Luis Scola and point guards Beno Udrih and Goran Dragic, who play for the Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns, respectively.