By Paul Mancano – I watched Sunday night as the seconds ticked off the clock in San Antonio, ending one of the most one-sided NBA Finals in recent memory. During the five-game series, the Spurs outscored the defending champs by 70 points, and showed the world that Gregg Popvich’s winning formula is still unmatched.
“They’re such a deep team,” said every commentator with a microphone in front of him during the Finals. It’s true: the worst kept secret to the team’s success is their strong bench. Yes, San Antonio is the home of future hall of famer Tim Duncan. But Miami’s “Big Three” weren’t enough to power past a group of underrated backups. A reserve unit led by Manu Ginóbili outscored the Heat’s bench by an average of 14 through the first four games. In Game 5, the San Antonio’s bench put an exclamation point on a dominant series, dropping 24 more points than Miami’s reserves. And the man who helped build that tremendous bench is none other than current 76ers head coach Brett Brown.
Before becoming an assistant coach for Popovich, Brown served as the director of player development from 2002-06. Point guard Tony Parker had been drafted 28th overall by the Spurs a year before Brown was hired. From his first to second years, Parker went from averaging 9.2 ppg and 4.3 apg to averaging 15.5 ppg and 5.3 apg. Since that time, he’s been selected to the All-Star team six times.
Parker’s backup, Patty Mills, whose 14 points in the third quarter of Game 5 helped seal the victory for the Spurs, has even deeper roots with Brown. Mills played for Brown on the Australian national basketball team that made the quarterfinals in the 2012 London Olympics, before heading on a long-ass flight to San Antonio to play for the Spurs. Mills credits Brown with a lot of his development as a player, and has expressed high expectations for Brown as a head coach.
I think it’s also fair to attribute some of the success of Kawhi Leonard, the 2014 Finals MVP, to Brown. At only 22 years old, Leonard has quickly made a name for himself since being drafted (and then traded to the Spurs) in 2011, during Brown’s assistant coaching days. Leonard, along with late first round and early second round picks such like Tiago Splitter and Danny Green, has blossomed under Pop and Brown.
It’s hard to know exactly how much Brown has influenced the development of this talented crop of players over the years, but being connected to such a successful organization during a tremendous run certainly looks good on a résumé. Not to mention Pop once claimed that Brown “did just as much as I did” during his tenure in San Antonio.
A collection of players young and old, local and foreign, San Antonio is a diverse group of uniquely gifted individuals who complement each other extremely well. It has clearly taken a great deal of time and effort to get so many different players on the same page. Pop is the master puppeteer. Now, we’ll see if his former student can apply some of what he learned in the classroom to help the young, developing Sixers.