Coach's Corner: Gregg Popovich and the Success of the San Antonio Spurs

Gregg Popovich and the Success of the San Antonio Spurs image

📖 Published on: March 12th, 2024

✍️ Updated: March 13th, 2024

⏳ 10 mins read


Gregg Popovich is known well for his impressive strides as the head coach of the San Antonio Spurs over the years. From seeing multiple generations after another, the impressive mastermind for the Spurs has definitely shaped the organization as they continued to build stacks of legacies with strings of success over many years.


How Popovich Entrenched Himself with the San Antonio Spurs


Serving with the Spurs as an assistant from 1988 to 1982, Popovich was fired by former owner Red McCombs that led him to move to the Golden State Warriors in 1992. Two years later, Popovich returned as the team's vice president, before naming himself as coach in 1996. At that time, the Spurs were dealing with many injuries, especially with lead star David Robinson. That proved to be a tough problem for San Antonio at the time, but then the team knew that trusting Popovich would get them to the success that they have been waiting for.


Flash forward to 2024. Popovich has seen multiple eras of success with the Spurs. He was now a five-time champion with the team, winning in multiple years and even being named the Coach of the Year three times. On top of that, he was already the winningest coach in the history of the league, showing why he is the coach who delivered the Spurs to a whole new level.


In that stretch, Popovich has built homegrown stars for the team. Names such as David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Dejounte Murray, and now the phenom that everyone’s been talking about, Victor Wembanyama.


Popovich’s Impressive Journey with the Spurs


Popovich has been the coach who’s known well for his supreme knowledge of the game and extensive prowess in developing tactics against some of the best teams in the league. Years of coaching expertise has definitely paid off for him to become one of the best coaches of all-time, and there’s no denying why he should be in that discussion considering how well he has shaped the Spurs’ dynasty over the decades.


So how has Popovich paved the way for the Spurs to come up with an incredible franchise history?


The Duncan-Robinson Era


The Spurs drafted Tim Duncan with the 1st overall pick in the 1997 NBA Draft. That led them to form one of the biggest lineups in the league with a 7’1” Robinson and a 6’11” Duncan was something that the Spurs did to impact the league. Both players are highly-skilled two-way players, leading the offensive side, and anchoring the formidable defense that the team has set in the same year.


Tim Duncan and David Robinson image


That time, Tim Duncan became an emergent force as a rookie, averaging 21.1 points and 11.9 rebounds per game as a power forward – which led him to win the Rookie of the Year Award and was even named to the First Team All-NBA. That run in the 1997-98 season saw the Spurs emerge as a contender in the Western Conference, making a leap in the regular season record at 56-26, and their games clearly highlighted how seamless of a fit Duncan and Robinson was as a duo.


Gregg Popovich and David Robinson image

In that run, the Spurs went on to win two titles in 1999 and 2003, which showed how efficient they’ve become as contenders in the Western Conference – which at the time was a heavy juggernaut that has brought out elite players and fiery teams out in the playoffs. Like a tree, Popovich and the Spurs planted themselves with a consistent presence in the postseason. That was thanks to the consistency of the duo, and Robinson's prime was seen as an impressive stretch in the NBA as he continue to be dominant while also teaching Duncan the fundamentals that he needed to absorb to become one of the best PF-C combos of all-time - all thanks to the brilliance of one Gregg Popovich.


The Big Three Era


When David Robinson finally retired from the game after the Spurs’ championship campaign, the Spurs were left to pick up the pieces with Duncan as the centerpiece. Popovich went on to acquire needed talents in Rasho Nesterović, Hedo Türkoğlu, and perhaps the biggest at that time, veteran Robert Horry. The Spurs went on to struggle early, before finally finding their form and making it to the Playoffs in the following year.


Then, Popovich would go on to build a new trio to lead the Spurs, focusing on Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. This would then be the staple for the Spurs as they emerged as a mainstay contender in the Western Conference for years. By this time, Duncan was already an experienced star with an impressive game. Parker was already a guard who has been stepping up with an impressive game at his hands, which just shows why he was a great pick for the Spurs. Ginobili, on the other hand, proved to be the star spark off the bench for the Spurs that the team needed most.

Spurs big three lasted from 2005 to 2016 image


Tim Duncan winning Finals MVP image

Of course, this trio led the Spurs to win their title in the 2005 NBA Finals against the defending champion Detroit Pistons. Two years later, the Spurs went on to sweep LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2007 NBA Finals. After a brief time of tight Western Conference contention, the Spurs went to play James and the Miami Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals, battling in Game 7 that proved to be one of the best series to remember. Later on, the Spurs would win the NBA Finals against the Heat in 2014 in just five games. It was an era of success for the Spurs, and they remained one of the teams to look out for in the postseason.


The Post-Duncan Era


The San Antonio Spurs were all-in in the 2016 NBA Playoffs, finishing with a 67-15 record thanks to the emergence of Kawhi Leonard, and the signing of LaMarcus Aldridge – forming yet another Twin-Tower combo with Duncan. The Spurs battled one of their biggest rivals in the 2016 Western Conference Semis in the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Spurs were looking to battle the Thunder in Game 7, but the latter had the momentum at home in Game 6 and built a huge lead that the Spurs almost cut into single digits. The Spurs lost, 113-99, and Duncan looked down after a pivotal play, hinting at retirement.

With Duncan gone, the Spurs turned to the combo of Leonard and Aldridge while both Parker and Ginobili still played huge roles in their games.

Duncan blocked by Ibaka in 2016 West Semis image


Gregg Popovich and Kawhi Leonard image

At that time, the Spurs still maintained a contender status, finishing with a 61-21 record and making their way to the Western Conference Finals in 2017. They would then lose in a sweep to then-champion Golden State Warriors as Zaza Pachulia disrupted Leonard’s landing, which aggravated an existing ankle injury.

The Spurs would then go on to come up with lowly seasons under Popovich. It was also the first time that they came up with a campaign without any members of the Big Three, and the 2019-20 season was the first time that Gregg Popovich ended up with a losing record with the Spurs since the 1996-97 season.


The Wembanyama Era


In May 2023, the Spurs went on to win the draft lottery, which meant that they would receive the first pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. In unsurprising Spurs tradition, the Spurs selected Victor Wembanyama, a 7-foot-4 big man from France – meaning that all 1st overall picks of the Spurs have ended up landing them a generational big man in the game. Wemby was slated to be the phenomenal rookie in the NBA, and the Spurs somehow got lucky enough to land him in the 2023 NBA Draft.


Gregg Popovich coaching Victor Wembanyama image


Wembanyama is currently averaging 20.7 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks per game. Those are the same numbers that both Robinson and Duncan established in their rookie years, which just shows that the Spurs are indeed slated to come up with a new era of dominance in the league. This time, however, Popovich has a lot of experience in his belt in leading some of the biggest teams in the league and two generational big men in the game.


Will Popovich Win More Titles with the Spurs?


While it is still too early to assume that the Spurs will become a contender in the years to come, it does seem that Popovich’s brilliance in the game will definitely help him assemble another competitive team that will bring Wembanyama and the Spurs to the top of the basketball world once more. Who knows, maybe he can turn Wemby into the next generation of centers in the NBA as he did with Robinson and Duncan.


But that’s still for us to see, so make sure to stay updated on the latest discussions with GambleSpot! We always come up with regular NBA and sports blogs, predictions, analyses, and other content that you would not want to miss!


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