by Dennis Tarwood / @tuffyr

Think about the last time you drove to work. What did you notice?

Yes yes; there was a convenience store on the left 15 minutes into the drive. The red light at 5th Ave. caught you like it always does. You parked in the same spot you usually take.

But that’s what you expected to happen. What did you actually nTim Duncanotice?

You were thinking about your 11 a.m. conference call or that you forgot your packed lunch at home. Perhaps, if you’re of a certain age and disposition, you squinted your eyes and rubbed your temple to try to shake the hangover.

You didn’t notice anything during the drive, though. You anticipated the parts of the drive and moved on when they occurred. You might have seen them, but you didn’t notice them.

And so it is with Tim Duncan. Last season, you saw Tony Parker collapse under the long-term fatigue of a professional playing career, at least for one year. You saw Richard Jefferson completely fail at being Richard Jefferson and it stuck in your craw. You saw George Hill and Garrett Temple and then saw them for what they actually were.

They were new. Or, if they weren’t new, they weren’t acting the same. You made the green light on 5th. You noticed. Not so for Timmy.

There he is, setting up on the right block after two shoves to his defender with that elongated right arm extended to the sky, parrying a hapless defender with the left elbow. There he is, one dribble and then two. Step over, shoot, score. Shuffle downcourt.

There he is on the left block, executing the same move in a mirror. Step over, shoot, score. Shuffle downcourt.

Now he’s back on defense, undermining his opponent’s center of gravity with his knees and that massive base as counterweight. Never having the skill to leap out of the gym, he doesn’t leave the ground for the first nor the second pump fake. Tim Duncan waits.

Help doesn’t come. Help doesn’t have to come. The Merlin Wall has been erected. None shall pass, except perhaps his opponent. Force them to settle for an outside shot. Shuffle downcourt.

The only change you might have noticed in the last few years is on the help defense. Tony Parker has undoubtedly noticed. His way to work has dramatically altered on the defensive end without Duncan to bail him out. Fewer blocks lead to more drives. Not a million: just more. It might even be unnoticeable if you haven’t looked up recently.

Otherwise, Tim Duncan is unchanged. He still has those sharp elbows. He still holds the same disdain for the media. (Even in an otherwise-empty locker room, claustrophobia sets in when approaching him.) He still harbors the same smart and silly sense of humor when surrounded by his inner circle.

And so we take him for granted. General managers drop him down their ranking. SLAMonline drops him down their ranking. He grows older. Slower. (Though, since he didn’t start out blazingly fast, he didn’t have to find an old man’s game at 29; it was already present and accounted for.)

This season, tap the brakes at least once and notice Tim Duncan. There will be fewer opportunities to do so, assuming Tiago Splitter pans out as Spanish gold and DeJuan Blair continues to mock human physiology. Gregg Popovich will follow through on his plan to play Duncan less nightly and fewer nights overall, nursing him to June for the last two seasons of his contract.

After the 2012 season ends, Tim Duncan will be 36 years old with four or more rings to his credit and possibly zero interest in chasing any other career totals. He says he’ll “play until the wheels fall off“, but who knows when that will happen?

Perhaps he’ll take the opportunity to retire and open a swimming pool just outside San Antonio. Or maybe he’ll tour with the Renaissance faire, winning jousts daily because no one can knock him off his massive base.

And you? You’ll be driving to work and notice briefly that the convenience store went under over the weekend. You went in that store once when you forgot donuts for a meeting. It was a good store, you’ll think.

And then you’ll drive on and you won’t notice again.

Ray AllenCelticsSG5036109
Gilbert ArenasWizardsSG493498
Lamar OdomLakersPF48331410
John WallWizardsPG47NR13NR
OJ MayoGrizzliesSG4646812
Al HorfordHawksC45NR6NR
Jason KiddMavsPG44451210
Joakim NoahBullsC43NR5NR
LaMarcus AldridgeBlazersPF42391312
David WestHornetsPF4131128
Monta EllisWarriorsSG40NR7NR
Andrew BogutBucksC39NR4NR
Yao MingRocketsC38NR3NR
Brandon JenningsBucksPG37NR11NR
Zach RandolphGrizzliesPF36NR11NR
Stephen CurryWarriorsPG35NR10NR
David LeeWarriorsPF34NR10NR
Brook LopezNetsC33NR2NR
Gerald WallaceBobcatsSF32NR7NR
Manu GinobiliSpursSG312967
Tony ParkerSpursPG301593
Kevin GarnettCelticsPF291393
Rudy GayGrizzliesSF284469
Josh SmithHawksPF2740813
Andre Iguodala76ersSG262656
Al JeffersonJazzPF252377
Russell WestbrookThunderPG24NR8NR
Chauncey BillupsNuggetsPG231975
Tyreke EvansKingsPG22NR6NR
Danny GrangerPacersSF212155
Carlos BoozerBullsPF203269
Paul PierceCelticsSF191744
Joe JohnsonHawksSG182044
Rajon RondoCelticsPG172758
Amar’e StoudemireKnicksPF161656
Steve NashSunsPG152246
Tim DuncanSpursPF14641

• Rankings are based solely on projected ’10-11 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jeremy Bauman, Maurice Bobb, Erildas Budraitis, Sean Ceglinsky, Ben Collins, Bryan Crawford, Sandy Dover, Adam Figman, Manny Maduakolam, Eddie Maisonet, Ryne Nelson, Doobie Okon, Ben Osborne, Charles Peach, Branden Peters, Quinn Peterson, David Schnur, Todd Spehr, Kyle Stack, Adam Sweeney, Dennis Tarwood, Tracy Weissenberg, Lang Whitaker, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.