NBA Europe recently sat down with Jeremy Sochan, the ninth overall pick in the 2022 NBA draft by the San Antonio Spurs. In a round of rapid fire questions, the rookie was asked to list who he thinks are the European All-Time Top 5 players in the NBA.
With European ties himself, Sochan listed Luca Dončić, Nikola Jokić, Dražen Petrović, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. From there, he wasted no time in endearing himself to the fans of his new team, naming four-time NBA Champion and former Spur, Tony Parker. That squad alone would make the playoffs!
The Spurs have a rich history of bringing in players from European Leagues to make an impact for the team. These are my picks for the European All-Time Top 5 Spurs Players to don the silver and black.
5. Beno Udrih
The Spurs drafted Beno Udrih from Slovenia in 2004. In his rookie year, he shot 40% from the three-point line. That percentage dropped to 34% in 2005, but he played an integral part in the San Antonio’s championship that year. In the 2005 Western Conference Finals, Udrih scored eight points to help the Spurs finish the Phoenix Suns. He left the NBA Finals without any points but contributed on defense in a hard-fought defense-focused series.
Udrih won his second NBA title with the Spurs as well in their 2007 sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he got minutes in Game 3. In the 2006-2007 season, Udrih came off the bench and helped mostly on defense, only averaging 4.9 points a game. After leaving San Antonio in 2007, Udrih played most of his career for the Sacramento Kings where he earned a spot in the starting lineup.
4. Boban Marjanović
Serbian big man Boban Marjanović only played one season for the silver and black. The 7’4” lovable giant quickly became a fan favorite and starred in local commercials. With the team in 2015, Marjanovic scored a season-high 22 points in the last game of the season against the Dallas Mavericks and earned some minutes in the playoffs. The Spurs were eliminated in the second round that season.
Mostly remembered for being a great person the city loved, one fan famously got Marjanović’s likeness shaved into the back of his head. He has gone on to get a national “Goldfish” Commercial and recently starred in the 2022 Netflix movie Hustle. Marjanović is on the Houston Rockets roster currently.
3. Marco Belinelli
It’s not very common for players to find themselves asked to come back to a team. There are exceptions, like LeBron James returning to Cleveland, but it’s not the rule. Marco Belinelli left the Spurs after helping them win an NBA Championship in 2014 and returned to the Alamo City in 2018. The Italian national was a role player coming off the bench and aided the Spurs from the three-point line where they’ve historically struggled.
The 2018 season officially marked the “post-Kawhi” era. San Antonio’s new star, DeMar DeRozan, was known for his mid-range game. With the three-point shot being more and more important in the modern era of the NBA, Belinelli was welcomed back to San Antonio with open arms. While the Spurs struggled that season Belinelli did his part averaging 23 minutes and 10.5 points a game.
2. Boris Diaw
French basketball star Boris Diaw joined his fellow countryman Parker in San Antonio for the 2012 season. Diaw proved to be a valuable member of the team and earned more minutes every season until he left the Spurs in 2016. In the “Big Three” era, it was hard for many players to earn spots in the starting lineup.
Diaw’s number was called into the starting lineup at the most important time for a team, Game 3 of the NBA Finals. Diaw’s defense helped the Spurs close out the five-game series against the Miami Heat for San Antonio’s fifth NBA championship.
1. Tony Parker
Parker joined the Spurs in the 2001 NBA season at 19 years old. The Frenchmen played with NBA great David Robinson for two years and Tim Duncan for 17 years before playing his final season with Charlotte Hornets in 2019. Parker won four NBA championships in San Antonio, even earning the 2007 Finals MVP.
“T.P.” made six All-Star appearances and has more NBA Championships than any other European NBA player. Fans were upset when Parker left the team to play his final season elsewhere. All of his accomplishments in San Antonio still make him a household name in the Alamo City.
On November 11, 2019 the Spurs retired Parker’s number in a highly emotional ceremony. Players from San Antonio throughout his career, as well as some players from France, came to honor Parker at the ceremony. Parker is eligible to be inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame next year.
Honorable Mention – Pau Gasol
While Pau Gasol was not a part of any of the historic Spurs teams that won NBA titles, he has a few rings of his own. By the time the Spanish power forward got to the Spurs in 2016, he had already won back-to-back NBA Championships with the Los Angeles Lakers. He was also a six-time NBA All-Star.
The Spurs didn’t have postseason success during Gasol’s stint on the team. He averaged 23 minutes and 10 points a game in his first two seasons with the Spurs. In his last season with San Antonio he played less, appearing in only 27 games.
Hopes for Sochan
Sochan may be the next player to earn a spot on this list. His defensive IQ and rebounding skills already have fans drawing comparisons to greats like Dennis Rodman and Kawhi Leonard. It will be fun to watch another European 19-year-old make his mark in San Antonio. Maybe one day he could push his way onto the list of the European All-Time Top 5 Spurs.