Spurs’ most surprising All-Rookie selections ever

From Greg Anderson to Manu Ginobili, a look at San Antonio Spurs whose All-Rookie Selections may stun even the biggest fans.

Spurs logo, NBA All-Rookie First Team logo if there is one, images of Gary Neal and Greg "Cadillac" Anderson.

When the NBA’s All-Rookie Teams are announced on Monday, there’s no question that San Antonio Spurs Rookie of the Year Victor Wembanyama will stand front and center, just as fellow ROY winners Tim Duncan and David Robinson decades before him. But maybe even ardent Spurs fans might not be quick to point out that Gary Neal and Greg Anderson belong on a related shortlist in Black and Silver history.

Of San Antonio’s eight players who have earned All-Rookie First Team Honors, a couple of players may cause fans to do a double-take or jog their memories.

The Spurs’ rookie headliners

In addition to Victor Wembanyama, Tim Duncan, and David Robinson, it’s no surprise that Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard also earned First Team honors in their first year.

In assuming the starting point guard role five games into his rookie campaign, Parker helped lead a Spurs team anchored by Tim Duncan, who would win the first of back-to-back NBA MVPs.

Though he led the team in assists and steals that year, Parker’s statistics were modest at 9.2 points, 4.3 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. More impressively, though, he helped guide S.A. to the second round of the playoffs where they’d fall to a Los Angeles Lakers squad on its way to the second of three consecutive championships. The future Hall-of-Famer was the first foreign-born guard to earn NBA Rookie First-Team Honors in 2002.

Similarly, Leonard’s rookie numbers in 2012 were nothing to write home about with 7.9 points and 5.1 rebounds per contest. But his defense and athleticism added a dimension for a proud Spurs franchise that hadn’t won a playoff game beyond the first round in three seasons.

With the future two-time Defensive Player of the Year and two-time world champion in the mix, the Silver and Black returned to the conference finals for the first time since 2008. Two years later, Leonard was hoisting the NBA Finals MVP trophy in leading the Spurs to their fifth title.

The Rookie First-Team surprises

San Antonio Spurs point guard Gary Neal (14), head coach Gregg Popovich, Manu Ginobili (20), Tony Parker (9), and Tiago Splitter (22) react against the Miami Heat during the third quarter of game four of the 2013 NBA Finals at the AT&T Center. Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports
A season before Kawhi Leonard’s arrival, Gary Neal burst onto the scene for the Spurs. After spending the first several years of his career in Europe, Neal impressed the organization so much during the 2010 Summer League that they offered him a contract.

Neal averaged more points his rookie season than either of the aforementioned Parker and Leonard, at 9.8. He shot 45% from the field and 42% from beyond the arc. After serving as a key reserve in the Spurs 2013 run to the Finals he signed with the Milwaukee Bucks that summer.

Spurs fans in their mid-40s and older probably remember Greg “Cadillac” Anderson as one of the key players on the teams that preceded David Robinson.

What they might not remember is that the University of Houston alum earned All-Rookie First Team honors after averaging 11.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per contest as a rook in 1987-88. The following season would be Anderson’s last after he was traded, along with Alvin Robertson, for All-Star Forward Terry Cummings to bolster the roster around Robinson.

Kind of surprises…?

The eighth player in Spurs history to make the Rookie First Team is Willie Anderson. Given that he averaged nearly 19 points in that 1988-89 season before becoming a fixture during the Robinson era, Anderson’s place on this list probably won’t surprise many fans in the Alamo City.

Another surprise might come in Manu Ginobili. A member of San Antonio’s famed “Big 3,” the Argentine guard proved pivotal in the franchise’s 2003 title as a rookie, but his 7.6 points per game could only muster All-Rookie Second Team honors. More than 20 years later, the Hall-of-Famer is also regarded as one of the best international players to play the game.

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