Since the 1998-1999 season, the first year of the Tim Duncan-Gregg Popovich era, the Spurs have made the finals four times, and won all four of them. They have had at least 50 wins each and every season of the Duncan-Popovich era, and have never finished with lower than a two seed, a remarkable feat. The Spurs' success can mostly be traced to terrific decisions by the front office, brilliant coaching by Pop, and the dominance and charisma of Tim Duncan, and later the Big Three; the role players, however, have always been an important part of the Spurs. San Antonio's staff has a way of finding diamonds in the rough, taking the castaways of other teams and undrafted rookies, and shaping them into quality contributors on a contending team.
The 2012-2013 San Antonio Spurs features a deep bench of talented role players. Here is a list of some (not all) that contributed the most to their run to the finals, in no particular order:
1. Danny Green, SG
Selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 46th overall pick in 2009, Green only played 5.8 minutes per game and averaged 2 PPG, shooting under 28% from three. He was picked up by San Antonio after being waived by the Cavs, and saw his production steadily rise, eventually having his breakout season in 2011-2012. Since that season, he has averaged over 9 PPG and shot better than 42% from three, all the while playing ferocious defense, often on the opposing team's best perimeter players, guarding the likes of Chris Paul and Stephen Curry(Curry's production and efficiency dropped dramatically when guarded by Green this postseason, a big key to the Spurs' win). His efficiency, clutch shooting, and phenomenal defense has given the Spurs a great lift this season, including a game-winner against the Lakers in November.
2. Tiago Splitter, C
After being drafted 28th overall in the 2007 NBA draft by the Spurs, the Brazilian center joined the team in 2010. Like Green, he saw his minutes and production steadily rise each of his three seasons in the NBA, including a dramatic improvement in free throw shooting. This season, Splitter averaged 10 points and 6 rebounds in 24 minutes of action, snatching the starting job from DeJuan Blair. San Antonio has been patient with Splitter's development, and it payed off big time in Western Conference Finals against the Grizzlies this season. Splitter played stifling defense on Zach Randolph, allowing him to shoot only 30% from the field. Splitter is also a great finisher around the basket, being able to finish with either hand, and he got a number of easy baskets against Memphis.
3. Kawhi Leonard, SF
The Spurs acquired Leonard on a draft day trade with the Indiana Pacers, and he instantly became a valuable contributor. While he is known for his versatility on defense, Leonard also developed a very reliable three point shot, becoming a deadly threat in the corner. In addition to helping space the floor, Leonard is a good off-ball cutter and often finds himself open for wide open layups. He runs the floor extremely well and is one of the game's best finishers in transition. His biggest impact, however, is his defense and rebounding. He averaged 6.0 rebounds per game this season, including 1.1 offensive boards. Leonard's energy, defense, and rebounding has been a big part of the Spurs' success this season, and kudos to the front office for pulling off the magnificent trade that brought him to the Spurs. As he is still on his rookie deal, the Spurs have him at a discount (1.9 mil next year) until he becomes a restricted free agent in 2015, when he will undoubtedly be in for a big pay-raise.
These are not, by any means, the only quality role players that fill out the Spurs' roster. Other important contributors include Gary Neal, Cory Joseph, a rejuvenated Boris Diaw, and one of the most energetic cheerleaders in the NBA: Patty Mills (a great backup as well, though he is not getting many minutes so far in the playoffs).
Is it the Spurs' front office that has a knack of finding contributors among waived players and free agents? Or is the Spurs' coaching staff that attributes most to these players' development and success, and in turn the Spurs' success? Likely, it is a combination of both, and either way, San Antonio's system of The Big Three and a group of role players with clearly defined responsibilities has proved to be a major success for more than a decade.