Debate: Robertson vs. Bowen


Defense. The Spurs are built on this since the arrival of Gregg Popovich and during the Tim Duncan era. Spurs fans have seen the Spurs lead the league in defensive statistics, seen the defensive prowess of David Robinson and the intimidating duo of Duncan and Robinson aka “The Twin Towers.”

But when Spurs fans think defense, especially on the perimeter, two names just scream out in Spurs franchise history: Alvin Robertson and Bruce Bowen.

Both known for lock-down perimeter defense but which one was the better defender?  Let’s look at the tale-of-the-tape and you decide.

Alvin Robertson:

Drafted by the Spurs with the 7th pick in the 1984 NBA Draft, he played with the Spurs from 1984-1989. He quickly became a pest for any perimeter player in the NBA.  He was the master at steals during his time in San Antonio and throughout his NBA career.  He led the NBA in steals in 1986, 1987, 1991.  He also remains the NBA’s steal-per-game leader at 2.71.  He was the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1986 and was selected second-team All-NBA the same year.

Also, during his time in the NBA he had to guard the likes of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and Isiah Thomas.  He held the record for most consecutive games with a steal until Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets, broke the record with 106 ironically against the Spurs.

Robertson, while with the Spurs, led the team three times in averaging more than three per game. He finished with 1,129 steals while in a Spurs uniform.  Second all-time.

Points to consider:

  • Alvin Robertson had 301 steals for San Antonio in 1985-86. Currently the most steals in one NBA season.
  • He is only one of four players to ever record a quadruple-double and the only one to accomplish this feat with steals.
  • Is a four-time all star in 1986, 1987, 1988, and 1991.
  • Only Robertson and David Robinson won the Defensive Player of the Year as a Spur.
  • Not only was Robertson great on the defensive end of the court, he also had a nice offensive game.
  • Won the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award in 1986.

How good was Robertson on defense?  Look at this!

Bruce Bowen

Signed by the Spurs in 2001, Bowen joined the team not known for his offensive skills but for his defense on the perimeter.  In his first season with the Spurs he earned All-Defensive second team nomination.  In his second season with the Spurs, Bowen was voted into the All-Defensive Second Team and won his first championship as a memberof the 2003 Spurs. He earned three straight All-Defensive First Team elections and was runner-up in 2005, 2006 and in 2007 for NBA Defensive Player of the Year. In the 2008, he earned his fifth straight nomination in the NBA All-Defensive First Team.

Bowen’s defense on the perimeter established him as one of the best in the NBA. It was common for him to guard the likes of Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, LeBron James, Ray Allen and Carmelo Anthony.

However, he also established a reputation as being a “dirty player.”  He kicked Wally Szczerbiak in the face during a game, had run-ins with Ray Allen, Amare Stoudamire, Steve Nash, Chris Paul, to name a few.  He was also accused of getting into jump-shooters space and in particular, under their feet when they landed. Perhaps it was this reputation that caused Bowen to never win a Defensive Player of the Year Award.

But for much of his bad reputation, there is no denying he was a critical piece to the Spurs championship teams. Without him, the Spurs probably don’t win the NBA title in 2003 without his three-point onslaught on the Lakers, in 2005 for his defensive efforts against the Pistons, or in 2007 with his defensive effort on LeBron James.  He played for the Spurs from 2001-2009, where he retired a Spur.

Points to consider

  • Won three titles with the Spurs in 2003, 2005, and 2007.
  • In 2006 he was invited to join the United States men’s national basketball team.
  • Developed a deadly three-point shot and hit some clutch shots for the Spurs in the playoffs and in the regular season.
  • Played 500 consecutive games from February 28, 2002 and March 12, 2008.

Well there you have it Spurs fans. Two great perimeter defenders in Spurs history but only one can be crowned the best. Who is it going to be?  Leave us your comments and go vote on the poll.