San Antonio's winning formula

Savvy acquisitions have helped make Spurs the NBA's model franchise

Updated: June 2, 2012, 1:12 PM ET
By Bradford Doolittle | Basketball Prospectus
San Antonio SpursNoah Graham/Getty ImagesThe Spurs have done a good job of collecting players who thrive in Popovich's system.

For years, the knock, if you want to call it that, against the San Antonio Spurs' success was that it was built upon lottery luck. Twice, the slot machine came up all cherries for San Antonio, with David Robinson and Tim Duncan sliding out into the change catcher.

Well, Robinson has been retired for years, and Duncan is old, or at least that's what one Gregg Popovich box-score entry claimed. Yet San Antonio finished with the league's best record, reeled off a record 20-game winning streak and may be on the cusp of the fifth championship of the Popovich-Duncan era. Clearly there is more going on here than lottery luck.

You can't win championships without a championship foundation, and Duncan has provided that for the Spurs for 15 years now. He may be the most consistent player of all time, with last year's PER of 21.9 being his career-worst. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has more seasons (17) with a PER of 21 or better. And even those numbers don't do Duncan justice because they don't fully encapsulate his year-in, year-out brilliance on the defensive end. When you're talking about sustained excellence, almost no one in league history has done it as well, for as long, as the implacable Duncan.

Nevertheless, it's been San Antonio's ability to surround Duncan with complementary talent that has kept the Spurs on top of the heap. San Antonio's success is proof positive that the top-to-bottom scouting machine headed up by general manager R.C. Buford is the game's best. Building an NBA roster is not just about finding the 12 most talented players you can unearth. It's about having an idea of what kind of basketball you want to play, then locating the pieces to execute that style.

Obviously, Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili could fit on any team in the league. But beyond the core trio, you have a lot of guys who might not be difference-makers in other NBA markets but flourish in Popovich's system. It starts with Pop himself, of course, because it's his vision that the organization follows, and it's his on-court scheme that players have to fit into.