Skip to content

Gregg Popovich: American players don’t work as hard as foreign players

Jun 11, 2013, 6:37 PM EDT

Kawhi Leonard, Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw, Tim Duncan

I always figured the Spurs’ large contingent of international players – Tim Duncan (U.S. Islands), Tony Parker (France), Manu Ginobili (Argentina), Tiago Splitter (Brazil), Boris Diaw (France), Cory Joseph (Canada), Nando De Colo (France), Patty Mills (Australia) and Aron Baynes (Australia) – was the product of three main reasons.

1. Scouting. San Antonio does an excellent job of scouting overseas, which gives the Spurs an edge when it comes to drafting international players who stick in the NBA.

2. Chance. Tony Parker was the best player available when the Spurs’ pick came up in the 2001 draft, but if he had gone one spot earlier, they might have drafted Jamaal Tinsley or Gilbert Arenas instead. Similar situations came into play when San Antonio acquired its other international players.

3. Self-fulfilling prophecy. International players see how well the Spurs treat international players, so they attempt to position themselves to land with San Antonio.

But there’s actually a more-calculated fourth reason. The Spurs prefer international players to American ones. Seth Wickersham of ESPN:

Consider Pop’s brutal assessment that foreign players are “fundamentally harder working than most American kids,” and it’s no wonder the Spurs want to avoid the fate of so many NBA teams

A few months ago, Pop was scouting an opponent. He won’t say which one. On video, Pop saw an international player wide open for a shot, with a confused look on his face. That’s because his point guard, an American, was dribbling in circles. “It has to be a really different experience for him,” Pop says, laughing. “ ’Where am I? Is this is a different game? Is it a different sport?’ ”

Criticism of AAU basketball, which Spurs general manager R.C. Buford engages in, is often heavy-handed and exaggerated. I’ve seen firsthand plenty of America’s top young players sacrifice their individual games to play within a team concept.

It’s hypocritical to claim, as many do, AAU culture has led to players both forming super-teams and and playing for only themselves. Players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant are making it cool to trust your teammates, and the commonly held perception of American players becoming out of date, if it were ever accurate in the first place.

But it’s hard to question the culture the Spurs have created, and to their credit, they’ve drafted Kawhi Leonard and given Danny Green multiple chances. There’s a happy medium somewhere, and San Antonio has probably found it.

Latest Posts
  1. LeBron’s 30-point performance leads Cavaliers to hard-fought Game 2 win over Celtics

    Apr 21, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT

    Boston Celtics v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Two Getty Images

    LeBron had 30, Kyrie Irving added 26 to give Cleveland the 2-0 lead in the series.

  2. Chandler Parsons out for Game 2, maybe rest of Rockets series

    Apr 21, 2015, 9:41 PM EDT

    Devin Harris, Chandler Parsons, Trevor Ariza AP

    Devin Harris also out Game 2 for Mavericks

  3. PBT Extra matchups to watch: Spurs look for ways to contain Chris Paul

    Apr 21, 2015, 7:15 PM EDT

    Expect to see a lot more Kawhi Leonard (and Danny Green) on Paul from the start.

  4. Report: Suns’ Morris twins charged with aggravated assault

    Apr 21, 2015, 4:51 PM EDT

    Phoenix Suns Media Day Getty Images

    The twins were allegedly part of a group that beat up a man outside a rec league basketball tournament.

  5. Hawks’ Al Horford says he will play in Game 2 despite finger injury

    Apr 21, 2015, 4:14 PM EDT

    Al Horford AP

    Horford is going to have work to do on the defensive end slowing down Brook Lopez.

  6. Brilliant spoof: Zach Randolph’s deep thoughts on cats, shirts, more

    Apr 21, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT

    Zach Randolph AP

    Well done, Zach Randolph and the Memphis Grizzlies.

  7. Nets list Mirza Teletovic as ‘probable’ for Game 2 vs. Hawks

    Apr 21, 2015, 2:43 PM EDT

    Brooklyn Nets v Sacramento Kings Getty Images

    Teletovic was originally ruled out for the season on Jan. 23.

  8. Report: Spurs might get a free agent meeting with LaMarcus Aldridge

    Apr 21, 2015, 11:50 AM EDT

    Denver Nuggets v Portland Trail Blazers Getty Images

    Another report has Aldridge at no better than 50-50 to re-sign with the Blazers.

  9. Raptors’ Lou Williams: ‘Staying in Toronto would be ideal for me’

    Apr 21, 2015, 11:10 AM EDT

    Toronto Raptors v Charlotte Hornets Getty Images

    Williams will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Featured video

Mavericks need to contain Dwight Howard in Game 2
Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. C. Parsons (5845)
  2. D. Rose (5835)
  3. K. Durant (5431)
  4. P. George (5357)
  5. T. Splitter (5017)
  1. M. Conley (4959)
  2. L. James (4845)
  3. D. Lee (4802)
  4. K. Bryant (4665)
  5. S. Curry (4567)