Top 50: Tim Duncan, no. 6
The definitive ranking of the NBA’s best players.
The best book ever written on the nuts and bolts of writing was originally published in 1919. Called “The Elements of Style,” it focused primarily on usage and composition. It was 43 pages long. Later revised by New Yorker writer E.B. White, who added an introduction and final chapter, it expanded to 71 pages. But the key piece of advice—one that appeared in the original version and remained unchanged through all the revisions and editions—was a single, short sentence: “Omit needless words.” That’s all. Follow no other directive but that one, and you will become a better writer.
At this point you’re probably asking what a slim, 90-year-old book on writing has to do with Tim Duncan. The answer is everything. Basketball, much like writing, is only as complicated as you make it. The basic rules of both are simple. In writing, it’s ‘tell the story.’ In basketball, it’s ‘score more points than the other team.’ Duncan has understood this since he entered the League, if not since he entered the world.
As a rookie, Duncan averaged 21.1 points and 11.9 rebounds on 55 percent shooting. Last season, he averaged 19.3 points and 10.7 rebounds on 50.4 percent shooting. His career averages are 21.4, 11.7, 50.7 percent. If he’s on any sort of decline, it’s the most gradual of slopes. At 33 years old, Duncan is pretty much the player he’s always been. And if he’s relatively unaffected by age, it’s only because he was similarly unaffected by youth. It’s not like he’s had to figure out how to play when his athleticism started to decline. He never used it even when he had it. Assuming Timmy ever had it in the first place.
In both writing and basketball, it’s easy to get carried away. To mistake complexity and creativity for real accomplishment. All the adjectives and adverbs and flourishes in the world don’t mean a thing if you fail to tell the story. And a killer crossover or an otherworldly vertical doesn’t matter much if you can’t shoot or play defense. Tim Duncan has made it abundantly clear that he wants to tell the story. With four championships and counting, he’s told it very well indeed.
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’09-10 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Brett Ballantini, Russ Bengtson, Toney Blare, Shannon Booher, Myles Brown, Franklyn Calle, Gregory Dole, Emry DowningHall, Jonathan Evans, Adam Fleischer, Jeff Fox, Sherman Johnson, Aaron Kaplowitz, John Krolik, Holly MacKenzie, Ryne Nelson, Chris O’Leary, Ben Osborne, Alan Paul, Susan Price, Sam Rubenstein, Khalid Salaam, Kye Stephenson, Adam Sweeney, Vincent Thomas, Tzvi Twersky, Justin Walsh, Joey Whelan, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.