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Kevin Durant are making it cool to trust your teammates, and the commonly held perception of American players becoming out of date, if it were ever accurate in the first place.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. Report: Timberwolves “optimistic” about Ricky Rubio extension, except nowhere close on money

    Sep 18, 2014, 4:25 PM EDT

    BKN-NBA-TWOLVES-LAKERS Getty Images

    Expect Rubio to be a restricted free agent next summer, and he may not enjoy that experience.

  2. 67RIEFNS No. 5: Victor Oladipo playing shooting guard

    Sep 18, 2014, 2:55 PM EDT

    Orlando Magic v New York Knicks Orlando Magic v New York Knicks

    After a year at point guard, Oladipo should thrive for Magic this season

  3. Kevin Durant has grown close with Karl Malone

    Sep 18, 2014, 1:40 PM EDT

    Kevin Durant, Karl Malone Kevin Durant, Karl Malone

    Not an expected pairing, but they can relate

  4. Gregg Popovich: Heat got overconfident in NBA Finals

    Sep 18, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT

    LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade

    Spurs coach seeking sources of motivation so his team won’t repeat the letdown

  5. Coach K on those who believed he orchestrated Paul George photo: “You are a bad person’

    Sep 18, 2014, 12:18 PM EDT

    Team USA Showcase Getty Images

    Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski defends himself after Adrian Wojnarowski paints him as opportunistic recruiter

  6. Report: NBA sleeved jerseys not selling well

    Sep 18, 2014, 11:39 AM EDT

    Miami Heat v Los Angeles Lakers Getty Images

    How much longer will NBA keep pushing them?

  7. Report: Timberwolves readying to buy out J.J. Barea

    Sep 18, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT

    Minnesota Timberwolves v Los Angeles Clippers Minnesota Timberwolves v Los Angeles Clippers

    After signing Glenn Robinson III, Minnesota has too many guaranteed contracts

  8. Jordan Crawford signs in China

    Sep 18, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT

    Jordan Crawford, Jarrett Jack Jordan Crawford, Jarrett Jack

    Last season, Celtics traded Crawford to Warriors, who were unsatisfied with his play

  9. Joakim Noah throws better first pitch at Cubs game

    Sep 18, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT

    Cincinnati Reds v Chicago Cubs Getty Images

    Bulls center didn’t fare quite as well at White Sox game

  10. Steve Kerr said Danny Ferry made mistake but is a “man of high character”

    Sep 18, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT

    Steve Kerr Steve Kerr

    “Everybody who knows Danny knows that he’s a good person.” —Steve Kerr on Danny Ferry

  11. Bucks sign Micheal Eric

    Sep 17, 2014, 11:15 PM EDT

    NCAA Basketball Tournament - South Florida v Temple Getty Images

    Milwaukee will likely waive former Temple center before season

  12. Kings give Ryan Hollins fully guaranteed one-year contract

    Sep 17, 2014, 10:15 PM EDT

    New Orleans Pelicans v Los Angeles Clippers New Orleans Pelicans v Los Angeles Clippers

    Clippers rushed to upgrade from Hollins as backup center, the role Hollins will likely hold in Sacramento

  13. Knicks sign Orlando Sanchez

    Sep 17, 2014, 9:25 PM EDT

    Providence v St. John's Providence v St. John's

    Sanchez played for St. John’s, Dominican Republic national team

  14. Omer Asik wants to just defend, rebound. Which is just fine with Anthony Davis.

    Sep 17, 2014, 7:35 PM EDT

    New Orleans Hornets v Houston Rockets Getty Images

    Asik and Davis could be one of the NBA’s best defensive front lines.

  15. Nets sign Hamady Ndiaye to compete for third-center job

    Sep 17, 2014, 6:48 PM EDT

    2012 Sacramento Kings Media Day 2012 Sacramento Kings Media Day

    Brooklyn needs someone behind Brook Lopez and Mason Plumlee

Featured video

What players stood out at World Cup?
Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. D. Rose (3333)
  2. L. James (2667)
  3. K. Irving (2550)
  4. D. Ferry (2328)
  5. K. Bryant (2312)
  1. J. Valanciunas (2300)
  2. R. Rondo (2113)
  3. R. Gay (1910)
  4. P. George (1872)
  5. N. Batum (1828)