The Spurs stars may be getting old, but their blueprint for winning remains as strong as ever.
They were beaten at their own game by former Spurs executive, Sam Presti, this season, but they still have a few more tricks up their sleeve with Erazem Lorbek and Nando De Colo.
Since that fortunate day in 1997 when the ping-pong balls magically awarded Tim Duncan to San Antonio, the Spurs have written the instruction manual on how a small market team can achieve sustained success.
While opposing teams regularly hand out expensive long-term contracts to keep average starters, the Spurs mine the globe for undervalued talent that can be picked up at a fraction of the price. Through the draft and free agency, the Spurs surrounded their core with players that every other team in the NBA passed up on, like DaJuan Blair, Danny Green, Gary Neal and most impressively, Manu Ginobili.
This coming season should be no different, as the Spurs look like they have two more quality European players ready to suit up in silver and black next season.
At the 2011 draft, when the Spurs shipped George Hill to Indiana for Kawhi Leonard (the 15thpick), the deal seemed like a fair trade to most. The Spurs gave up a quality young combo guard in exchange for an energetic rookie forward with good size for his position and a lot of upside. What many didn’t factor into the move was that the Spurs also picked up the rights to Erazem Lorbek, an All-Euroleague first team big man from Regal Barcelona, whom the Pacers chose with the 46th pick, way back in 2005.
The Pacers had given up hope of bringing Lorbek to the NBA, as he had found a home as a well-compensated, All-League forward for one of Europe’s premier organizations. Leaving Barcelona, where he was playing for championships in multiple top level competitions, for Indiana, a team that had been struggling to recuperate from the Malice at the Palace, never seemed like an attractive option. With the move to the Spurs, unquestionably the easiest team for a foreign player to make the transition to the NBA, Lorbek is way more likely to cross the pond this summer.
Lorbek’s skill set would be a perfect fit into Gregg Popovich’s system. His combination of size and versatility make him well suited to be paired with virtually any other front court player. He has a knack for hitting baseline jumpers (58.7% from 2PT in Euroleague) in the flow of the offense, which will add to the Spurs already excellent spacing offensively. He can mix it up defensively against big guys, and while not super athletic, he can guard athletic forwards in short bursts using his high basketball IQ. Overall, Lorbek is a very team oriented player who makes most of his plays in the flow of the game.
Similar to Nenad Krstic, Lorbek is more suited to play 20-25 minutes as a role player rather than be a 30-35 minute starter. As a 28-year-old veteran, Lorbek should fit right in on the Spurs, who similar to most Euroleague teams, spread the minutes out around the roster to keep everyone on the team healthy and engaged in the season.
Lorbek actually might actually fill a position of need as the Spurs may lose Boris Diaw and DaJuan Blair. Diaw, who was picked up (for peanuts) mid-season after being bought out by the Bobcats, seems destined to follow the path of Tim Thomas and parlay an excellent two month stretch, after an awful two year stretch, into a second bloated contract. Blair has a roughly $1 million team option next season, but fell out of the Spurs rotation shortly after Diaw’s arrival. The Spurs likely will pick up his option as an asset, but look for him to potentially be involved in a trade before the start of the season.
Nando De Colo, the 53rd pick in 2009, is a 24-year-old French guard, who most recently teamed up with former Maryland star, Nik Caner-Medley, on the Spanish ACB team, Valencia. The Spurs have long been familiar with De Colo, as he has been Parker’s backup on the French national team, and he will get a chance this summer at the Olympics to test out if he is ready to keep the seat warm for Parker as a full-time job.
At 6-foot-5, De Colo has excellent length and court vision for a guard. His decision-making in the pick and roll should make him a smooth fit into the Spurs system. While he has the tools and the instincts of a lead guard, he doesn’t yet possess the poise and leadership to be a full time point guard, but playing next to Ginobili in the second unit should make him a lot more comfortable. One thing Popovich will really like about this kid, is that he understands how to play the passing lanes while staying in front of his man, making things tougher on the passer without gambling.
De Colo is excellent at creating shots for himself off the dribble, and just like it was with Ginobili, it may take a year or two for him and Pop to come to a compromise over what is a good shot for him. While he likely would only receive roughly 15 minutes a game as a rookie, he may fill a vital role for the team.
While Patty Mills had a few impressive performances during the last month of the regular season, he most likely played his way toward a raise from the $1 million dollar player option he has for next season. The Spurs however, aren’t likely to be willing to break the bank knowing they have another strong option, so look for Mills only to stay in San Antonio if he has modest contract expectations.
Neither of these additions will make major waves this offseason, with Deron Williams and Dwight Howard poised to dominate the headlines after the draft. For two thirds of the season, barely anyone will notice the impact they are making in helping the Spurs play winning basketball. Just like every season, the Spurs moves won’t get them any hoopla, but they will net players who can make an impact.
AJ Mitnick is an American currently living in Israel and working for Maccabi Rishon Lezion of the Israeli Basketball Super League. A recent graduate of IDC Herzliya, Mitnick also maintains a basketball blog, http://mindlessdribble.net, and is pursuing a professional basketball coaching license from the Wingate Institute in Israel. Follow him on Twitter.