Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tim Duncan: the Ultimate Role Player

The years of Tim Duncan dominating the NBA with his steady play have come and passed. This slow decline is not at all a knock at arguably the best power forward of all time. All players go through this tough transition in the twilight of their careers. Few, if any have done it with more class than Tim Duncan. He has taken a backseat to two younger and more talented players at this point and his team is all the better for it. Let’s take a closer look at Tim Duncan’s transformation from MVP of the entire league, to the ultimate role player.

The trio of stars, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Tim Duncan have led the San Antonio Spurs to the playoffs every year they have been together, won three titles and have made this team a perennial contender. The Spurs are a tough-minded team you can never count out, who go about their business quietly, much like the great Tim Duncan.

They are extremely well-coached by Gregg Popovich. He demands nothing but perfection from his group of savvy veterans. Now, with the departure of Jerry Sloan from the Utah Jazz, he has become the longest tenured coach in the NBA. This is an incredible accomplishment in a league where coaches must take the fall for sub-par performance. This speaks to the winning consistency that these Spurs have had since Tim Duncan was drafted number one overall in the 1997 Draft.

In the 1997-98 season, a young Tim Duncan, along with (now NBA hall of famer) David Robinson, led the Spurs to the the biggest single season improvement for wins for any team in NBA history. They had just 20 wins in the 1996-97 season. The following season they won 56 out of their 82 game schedule. Since then, the Spurs do nothing but win over 50 games per season, and make it look easy.

Unfortunately, The Spurs have gotten the bad reputation of being boring, and with Duncan as their conventional leader, they may have been. Duncan’s different variations of the bankshot just doesn’t make you jump out of your seat with excitement. However, watching Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker take over this team in the last few years has changed the entire dynamic of this once boring team.

Ginobili will dazzle fans and surprise the opposition at least once a night with a circus shot. He takes his two steps while slashing through the lane unlike any other player. He can side step opponents who think they are about to take a guaranteed charge while moving at full speed. The change of pace and direction with those two steps can only be emulated by Dwyane Wade. For that reason, I call them Ginobili’s Texas two-step. His backcourt mate doesn’t disappoint either - Tony Parker has the ability to fly down the court while getting to wherever it is he wants at any time.

After looking at all of the top teams in the league, the Spurs have the best all around backcourt. I have the Boston Celtics duo of Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen at a close number two, if you were wondering. In terms of just numbers, Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry would be number one, but the Golden State Warriors are sadly not relevant just yet.

Tim Duncan has had an illustrious career filled with both team and individual achievements. He has done it all, starting by winning rookie of the year in 1998. He was the first rookie since Larry Bird in 1980, to be on the All NBA first team. Every year since, he has been named to an all NBA team, as well as an all NBA defensive team, in which there are three.

The All NBA teams are basically the best players at their respective positions. So, for Duncan to be named to an All NBA team every year of his career, means that he was considered to be one of the three best players in the league, at his position year in and year out. These types of accolades have never been matched by any other player. Unfortunately, this streak will undoubtedly come to an end at the end of this year.

He has won the MVP award in both the regular season and the playoffs. He led the Spurs to four championships. I guess all that is left for him to do is come off the bench in two years and add a sixth man of the year award to his belt.

Tim Duncan’s numbers are down across the board. This is partially due to the fact that his minutes are down to just 28 per game. His points and rebounds per game are also both at an all time low average of 13.5 and 9 respectively. These are still pretty good numbers, but a far stretch from the 20-10 consistency of his entire career.

Yet, the Spurs are rolling like never before. They have the best record in the league to everyone’s surprise. Many factors have contributed to this, and we can start by talking about the incredible Manu Ginobili. His all around game and toughness has made him the Spurs MVP, thus far at the all star break. His unorthodox style never stops him from getting the job done. Also, one must not underestimate the value of Tony Parker, who is still among the fastest point guards in the league. He can get into the paint for a layup or drop his patented floater on any big man. Also, after years of practice, he's developed and perfected his mid range jumper which makes him that much tougher to guard.

The Spurs are way more than a three-man team. This year, they are finally getting production out of swingman, Richard Jefferson. George Hill adds versatility and youth at both ends of the floor. They are getting incredible contributions from DeJuan Blair, an undersized center, lacking ACLs in both knees, which boggles my mind. Other assets are 26 year old rookie and The Red Rocket, sharpshooters, Gary Neal and Matt Bonner. Even the old veteran, Antonio McDyess, is adding great minutes, including a game winning tip in against their rivals, the Lakers, in February.

Still the number one reason for the Spurs success this season is Tim Duncan’s willingness to defer and become the ultimate role player. They still depend on him quite often in close games. They still throw it down to him in the post and he is still their anchor on defense. He has quite a big role, but it is no longer up to him to be a superstar and he gets that, unlike let’s say Allen Iverson who couldn’t deal with becoming a role player. I believe Tim is relishing it, and the Spurs are showing no signs of slowing down.

With all the headlines going to other teams, mainly in South Beach, the two-time defending champs in L.A., the new look Knicks, the tandem of Durant and Westbrook in OKC, or those Old Celtics, who are an incredibly balanced team (I believe losing Kendrick Perkins will ultimately cost them the championship, but that’s another story for another day). The Spurs will quietly go about their business, no headlines required.
So don’t be shocked if the Spurs are the one’s holding up the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the end of this basketball season, with Manu Ginobili receiving the MVP for the playoffs, and Tim smiling over his shoulder.


  1. Tim Duncan is not arguably the best PF ever, he IS the best ever. Unfortunately for him, he will be the most forgotten superstar of his generation because of his personality and style of play.

  2. Well said anonymous ... I don't think he cares to be remembered the way most nba superstars do. He let's his consistent game speak for itself.

    In retirement, he will probably do commercials for Ensure instead of Gatorade.