The Spurs have many strengths and finding talent in the draft is at the top of the list
Before this year, their last trip to the finals was in 2007, when they beat LeBron and the Cavs. During the six years since that last ring, we all thought the Spurs were over the hill. There were three seasons in a row when the Spurs had excellent regular seasons only to lose in one of the first two rounds. The '09, '10, and '11 seasons seemed to indicate that they were a well-oiled machine that creamed the inferior competition during the season and couldn't keep up with the up-and-coming stars come playoff time.
But during the last two years, the Spurs have been the best team in the league at times and have reclaimed their place among the best in the NBA.
The rest of us may have thought the Spurs run at the top was over -- and understandably so after failing to be one of the final four teams standing for three straight years -- but they kept doing what got them to the top to begin with: top-notch talent evaluation.
Luck helped them reach the summit the first time around, when David Robinson went down and they landed Tim Duncan in the lottery, but a combination of scouting and talent evaluation has kept them there.
Now that they have gotten back to the top, it is natural to admire and inflate everything that they've done to get there. The truth is, every team is made up of fallible human beings that, on occasion, make stupid trades, release players they shouldn't , and pick duds in the first round. Similarly, every team makes moves that turn out better than expected a few years down the road. This is why it is so important to just be marginally better than everyone else at it.
What the Spurs have done better than anybody -- and they're still not perfect -- is late first-round talent evaluation. Even when they screw it up later down the road in the player's career, the Spurs almost always seem to grab someone at the end of the first round that is at least a legitimate NBA player.
It all started in 1999, the year RC Buford was promoted to the Spurs VP and Assistant GM. They swung and missed in the first round but took Manu Ginobili with the 57th overall pick. Their next first round pick in 2001 was the 28th overall, which became Tony Parker.
So the players that would turn out to be cornerstones along with Duncan are in place, but the skillful drafting continued. Their first rounders over the next four years, after Buford was named GM, were John Salmons (#26 in 2002), Leandro Barbosa (#28 in 2003), Beno Udrih (#28 in 2004) and Ian Mahinmi (#28 in 2005).