Brandon Paul is the newest incarnation of San Antonio’s Stephen Jackson model as an obscure, undrafted journeyman or reserve, forged in the fires of off-the-beaten path lower-level leagues and who’s path to an NBA rotation was rife with obstacles. Jackson beget Bruce Bowen, who beget Danny Green, who beget Jonathan Simmons, who beget Paul.
Paul was a highly touted All-Big Ten guard during his senior season at Illinois in 2013, but wound up barnstorming through Russian and Spanish pro leagues after he went undrafted. Paul eventually returned stateside to try his hand in the D-League in 2015, but didn’t make much traction until this summer.
In July, Paul starred on the Cleveland Cavaliers summer league squad and wound up posting averages of 15.6 points on 47 percent shooting, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals. During Cleveland’s July 10 summer league exhibition game against Golden State, his agent, Adam Pensack, was on the phone, hammering out the finishing details on Paul’s one-year guaranteed contract with an option for a second. A few days later, the Spurs renounced their rights to the aforementioned, Jonathan Simmons.
In a feature for The Undefeated, NBA reporter Marc Spears uncovered the inside story on how Paul discovered he’d become a Spur.
“That was crazy. I could kind of tell something was up because [Pensack] texted me and told me to come out of the locker room,” Paul said. “He called me three times and told me to ‘hurry up and come out.’ I didn’t know if it was a China team wants to give you $1 million or $2 million. It could’ve been anything.
“When I came out, [Pensack] gave me this look. When he told me, I was shocked. I broke down a little bit.”
Pensack broke the news to Paul after the game and even recorded the moment for posterity.
Paul’s story didn’t end there. Once again, Gregg Popovich has mined another diamond from the vast coal mine consisting of veteran free agents.
“[The Spurs front office], they work very hard all around the world to find guys,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “[Spurs guard] Bryn [Forbes], he is not brand-new. Brandon is not brand-new. They have been cut several places along the way. But they have come here and figured out a niche for them. Our guys have worked with them. R.C. and his group bring in guys that can look and see if we can find some diamonds in the rough.”
Paul is already flourishing as a dogged defender, who’s also shooting 44 percent behind the arc in 14 minutes per night and has seamlessly integrated into the Spurs culture.