Gregg Popovich has to be one of the brightest basketball minds in the history of this beautiful game, leading the San Antonio Spurs to success with his flawless system, his unselfish basketball, and of course, his great eye for hidden gems that other teams wouldn’t even bother trying out or scouting.
Being the mastermind behind the Spurs’ success since 1996 and a future Hall of Famer, Popovich has made a lot out of nowhere and even though he’s had highly ranked player among his rosters, what he’s done with unknown guys has been simply remarkable.
Popovich’s impact in basketball goes far beyond the hardwood, as he’s been a pioneer in making FIBA basketball collide with the NBA and has even given the opportunity to Becky Hammon to become the first female full-time assistant in NBA history.
Today, we’re set to honor this genius by taking a look at some players nobody even knew who the hell they were and wind up being incredibly productive players and even superstars.
6. Danny Green
Danny Green wasn’t really making much of an impact during his brief Cleveland Cavaliers stint, and his dream of an NBA career seemed pretty much dead after spending the most time in the NBA D-League and signing a deal overseas after the lockout.
Nonetheless, Popovich saw great potential in the shooting guard and made him one of the best 3 and D players in the Association right now, a guy that’s willing to take a major hit to stop opposing players from scoring, and one of the best in stopping opposing fast breaks.
5. Patty Mills
Patty Mills was yet another example of Popovich’s eye for foreigners, and what seemed to be yet another tweener combo guard with an inconsistent shooting stroke and a huge defensive liability wind up being a primary 6th man of the year candidate and a much-needed spark off the bench in Pop’s squad.
The Australian guard has grown to be one of the leaders of his Australian national team and one of the most important pieces in the Spurs’ system, overplaying as much as 3 different backup point guards in the Spurs and having a much bigger role as years go by.
4. Jonathon Simmons
Jonathon Simmons didn’t impress much during his NCAA journey, playing for 3 different schools. And even though he renounced to his senior year to declare eligible for the 2012 NBA Draft, the guard/forward wasn’t drafted and had to settle for an American Basketball League stint.
So, after being sicked and tired of completely dominating the mediocre ABL, Simmons decided to try out for the Austin Toros, San Antonio’s D-League affiliate. After a couple of great seasons, Simmons proved his defensive skills and his scoring ability, being called to play in the NBA and having major success with the Spurs, eventually signing a huge deal to be the new face of the Orlando Magic organization.
3. Manu Ginobili
There was a lot of noise surrounding Emanuel David Ginobili back in the day, where he was considered to be the most dominant player in Europe, but there were still a lot of doubts regarding his ability to make a successful adjustment to the National Basketball Association.
Nonetheless, Popovich didn’t hesitate to draft him with the 57th overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft, finally committing to the Spurs in 2002. Needless to say, Ginobili became one of the most influential players of his generation with his signature euro-step and offensive versatility, being a huge role model for lefty shooting guards like James Harden and becoming the greatest player in Argentina’s basketball history.
2. Tony Parker
Tony Parker was pretty much unknown to NBA scouts where he was still blossoming in the French basketball league, leading the way for Paris Basket Racing before declaring eligible for the 2001 NBA Draft, where Popovich took him with the 28th overall pick.
4 NBA rings later, Tony Parker has made his way into basketball elite with his craftiness, his clutchness, his sacrifice and ability to read the game, and even though he’s never been the fiercest of scorers, you just can’t deny the impact he has on the floor, and that number 9 jersey is going to have in the rafters for a very very long time.
1. Kawhi Leonard
And last but not least, we get one of the league’s most dominant players nowadays: Kawhi Leonard, one of Popovich’s biggest gambles. See, Kawhi landed in San Antonio after being drafted by the Indiana Pacers, and there were a lot of doubts across the league when Pop decided to send George Hill in order to land a guy that couldn’t score a bucket to save his life.
Needless to say, that risk really paid off, as Kawhi has surged to be the best two-way player in the league and the franchise’s cornerstone, but even Popovich had to admit that he’s overcome every single expectation and not even himself thought he would turn out to be this great.