At some point the run has got to come to an end, right? Seven-footers aren’t supposed to last 18 years in the League or play into their late 30s, and they’re certainly not supposed to be among the NBA’s top centers at the age of 39.
Of course, Tim Duncan isn’t like most players. He’s a five-time Champion, a two-time regular-season MVP, a three-time Finals MVP, a player voted All-NBA First-Team 10 times and a 15-time All-Star. He’s the best power forward in NBA history and one of the greatest big men to ever step foot on an NBA floor, a transcendent star who transformed the San Antonio Spurs from just another small market basketball team into a franchise that every organization in every professional sports league views with envy.
He’s also the rare player who’s just as efficient—and, in a way, effective—as he was in his prime. He’s, obviously, not the same dominant, once-in-a-generation force he once was. But that’s a ridiculous standard to hold a player too. Compare Today’s Duncan to mere mortals, and, well, here are the numbers:
As a 25-year-old, in 2002, his first MVP season, Duncan averaged 22.6 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.2 blocks per 36 minutes. He shot 51 percent from the field and had a PER of 27.
Last year, as a 38-year-old, Duncan averaged 17.3 points, 11.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.4 blocks per 36 minutes. He shot 51 percent from the field and had a PER of 22.6.
That drop-off, or lack there of, is almost unheard of (Kareem, Malone. Stockton and Olajuwon are essentially the only other players to register similar PERs at a similar age) and the reason the nearly 40-year-old Duncan comes in here at No. 25.
The minutes have dropped—he played just 28.9 last season, something which definitely should definitely be taken into account when compiling a list like this. But for those 30 minutes he is on the floor Duncan remains a force.
Really, it starts with him still knowing how to control a game without having the ball in his hands, or it being anywhere near him. On defense, that means always being in the right place at the right time, even if that means sliding over just a half-a-step. On offense it means knowing when to flash and when to clear out and how to use his ox-legs to set a backbreaking pick.
And then of course there’s his impeccable footwork in the post, and the still-beautiful and perfect bank shot which he can go to whenever he needs. Duncan is one of those players who always seems like he’s thinking 10 steps ahead of everyone else. The skills might have diminished a bit, but a great artist’s mind is the last thing to go. Duncan’s mind certainly hasn’t started to wane, and that Gregg Popovich has kept his star in bubble wrap the past few years is only going to help the aging process.
Take all these factors into account, plus the addition of LaMarcus Aldridge, which will only ease Duncan’s load, and what we’re likely to witness this season from the future Hall of Famer is something really special. After all, it’s not every year that we get to watch a 39-year-old legend spend nearly every night taking the League’s younger players to school.
|SLAM Top 50 Players 2015|
Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2015-16—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.