The San Antonio Spurs have long been known for their unmatched consistency and undying love for European players. Since the end of the second millennium, the franchise has made turning international prospects into serviceable players somewhat of a personal trend.
Don’t believe me? Just take a look at the vast number of overseas products who have dawned a jersey for the Silver and Black since the 2002-2003 season.
Below is a list of all 22 foreign-born players to suit up for the Spurs since 2002.
Manu, Parker, Turkoglu, Nesterovic, Udrih, Oberto, Elson, Mahinmi, Mensah-Bonsu, Splitter, Mills, Joseph, Diaw, De Colo, Baynes, Belinelli, Boban, Laprovittola, Pau, Bertans, Lauvergne, Poelt.
— Noah Magaro-George (@N_Magaro) March 26, 2019
Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are probably the first names that come to mind when you think of San Antonio’s global success stories. While they enjoyed the luxuries of superstardom in a small market, not every foreign-born player who ends up along the River Walk becomes a star.
In fact, most guys who join the roster from abroad become nothing more than key rotational players. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Just ask Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills what they think of their role in the city of San Antonio.
Although several hoopsters from around the world have come and gone through the Spurs’ system over the years, several more have never set foot on a professional basketball court for head coach Gregg Popovich. Some never quite develop into NBA caliber performers while others are simply draft and stash prospects biding time in Europe as they wait for a phone call to join the association.
The Greek Basketball League is home to one such draft and stash prospect by the name of Nikola Milutinov. The 220-pound, seven-footer was hardly on first-round big boards when San Antonio selected him 26th overall in 2015, but he’s transformed himself into a EuroLeague sensation in just four short years.
Milutinov leads Olympiacos in total rebounds and is a close second in points scored. Though 11 points and eight rebounds a game admittedly doesn’t sound like much, Nikola’s numbers jump off the page relative to the shorter runtime of EuroLeague games.
What’s more impressive is how the big man has kept Olympiacos above .500 (14-14) and in the playoff picture by putting the team on his shoulders when it matters most. Just two weeks ago the 24-year-old racked up 15 points and 12 boards to lead his team to a monumental road win over Buducnost.
Nikola Milutinov has certainly put himself in the EuroLeague MVP discussion this season and the Spurs should keep a close eye on him. San Antonio can no longer sign him to pad their postseason rotation, but he could factor into next year’s plans.
San Antonio passed on the opportunity to buy Milutinov out of his contract for $900,000 last summer, and R.C. Buford will be faced with making a similar decision this offseason. Milutinov looks ready to take on NBA competition, so what might his contributions look like at this level?
For starters, the Spurs have solid depth in the frontcourt. Between LaMarcus Aldridge, Jakob Poeltl, Rudy Gay and Davis Bertans, there may not be many minutes for the Olympiacos standout to occupy.
Still, Milutinov can offer another solid pick-and-roll option for when Poeltl or Aldridge head to the bench. He’s a patient screener, solid finisher, willing passer, and a decent lob target when the occasion presents itself.
While the Serbian center has been incredibly efficient overseas, Milutinov will need to adjust to the size, speed, spacing, and smarts of the NBA. Bringing the ball below his waist in the paint won’t fly in the United States, and his height alone will no longer be a defensive advantage against longer and stronger bigs.
Despite limited range and some perceived defensive deficiencies, Nikola projects as a productive player on both sides of the ball. He won’t be a devastating rim protector by any means, but Pop always finds a way to get the most out of his players on that end.
Most San Antonio Spurs fans probably couldn’t pick Nikola Milutinov out of a lineup, and I wouldn’t blame them. EuroLeague stars are almost never household names in America, and Milutinov is no exception.
With that in mind, you should probably get familiar with the towering post presence out of Serbia. Nikola Milutinov will be part of the Silver and Black sooner than later, and you don’t want to be the person who can’t identify the Spurs’ latest international heist.