Saturday, October 1st, 2011 at 4:33 pm  |  45 responses

Top 50: Tim Duncan, no. 30

The definitive ranking of the NBA’s best players.

by Lang Whitaker | @langwhitaker

At some point over the last few years, I got old. Growing up, I was the guy who had all the NBA Entertainment compilation dunk videotapes, and I watched “Inside Stuff” every week just for the opportunity to see any dunks I might have missed. Because I lived in Atlanta, I got a steady diet of Dominique Wilkins and his windmills and double-pumps. Even though it was only an exhibition, I was furious when Michael Jordan was awarded the 1987 Dunk Contest ahead of a clearly superior Dominique. So perhaps, even just subconsciously, I correlated dunking ability with greatness, or at least believed that the better a dunker someone was, the more likely they were to be great.

I fully understand that Tim Duncan’s game isn’t for everyone. When I was a kid, I probably wouldn’t have got it. But as I aged and my life and dreams started being lived closer and closer to the ground, I grew to have more of an affinity and appreciation for those who played basketball a bit closer to the ground. Like Tim Duncan.

There will be those who say Duncan was mostly the product of the system he played in, surrounded with talented teammates, coached by a brilliant coach, with a terrific GM pulling the strings. And sure, all of those things are true. But then, Duncan made all those things work for him. He fit in, but he also stood out, and all of that together turned one of the NBA’s smallest markets into one of its most powerful dynasties.

Last season was probably Duncan’s worst NBA season, at least statistically. He finished the year averaging 13.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, both career lows. He averaged just under 29 minutes per game, and only about 11 shot attempts per game, also career lows. If you weren’t sure, the numbers should confirm that Duncan is no longer the player he was a decade ago.

But he’s still dope. He still kisses the ball off the glass. He still pump fakes guys into the first row. He understands the angles, as if he sees the game as a series of binary numbers. He still can get up and block a shot, still put down a peaceful little one-handed dunk. I don’t know if the general basketball watcher gets all that when they see Tim Duncan play these days. I hope they do, and I hope you do. And if recognizing the value of Tim Duncan makes me old, well… call me Methuselah.

I used to have a running gag in The Links about Tim Duncan actually being a robot that was designed to be dominant at basketball. It was based mostly on Duncan’s public persona, which was really more of a lack of a persona. We didn’t know very much about him, and whenever he spoke, which wasn’t often, it was mostly rote and unrevealing. He was like Watson the supercomputer with legs and arms.

But really, Duncan’s robotic personality spoke to his greatness, and his ability to tune out all the noise and, night after night, crush his opponents. Just like a robot. Hmm.

In 2009, when we did our list of the greatest players of all time, I wanted to write about Duncan. I know he doesn’t sell magazines, and he won’t have a signature shoe dropping anytime soon, and he won’t be on the front of any video games. But he’s the greatest power forward in NBA history. Like him or hate him, he’s earned our respect. Here’s what I wrote about Duncan two years ago, and I think it still holds true today:

“Tim Duncan is the best power forward to ever play basketball. Over 12 seasons, he’s accumulated one Rookie of the Year award, two MVPs, three Finals MVPs, four championships, nine First Team All-NBA appearances and 11 All-Star Game invites. And all for the same franchise. His career numbers are dizzying, but Duncan has never been about the stats. With his quick wit, quiet grace, no-nonsense approach to the game and always, always perfect positioning, Tim Duncan playing basketball is poetry personified. At 33 years old, his career is probably winding down. Enjoy him—and appreciate him—while you still can.”

SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2011
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Luol Deng Bulls SF 8
49 Andrew Bogut Bucks C 7
48 Ray Allen Celtics SG 9
47 Marc Gasol Grizzlies C 6
46 David West Hornets PF 15
45 Kevin Martin Rockets SG 8
44 Andrew Bynum Lakers C 5
43 Brandon Jennings Bucks PG 11
42 Lamar Odom Lakers PF 14
41 Gerald Wallace Blazers SF 7
40 Brook Lopez Nets C 4
39 Joakim Noah Bulls C 3
38 Carlos Boozer Bulls PF 13
37 Kevin Garnett Celtics PF 12
36 Eric Gordon Clippers SG 7
35 Tony Parker Spurs PG 10
34 Andre Iguodala 76ers SG 6
33 Al Jefferson Jazz PF 11
32 Al Horford Hawks C 2
31 Stephen Curry Warriors PG 9
30 Tim Duncan Spurs PF 10

• Rankings are based solely on projected ’11-12 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Maurice Bobb, Shannon Booher, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Sandy Dover, Adam Figman, Jon Jaques, Eldon Khorshidi, Ryne Nelson, Doobie Okon, Ben Osborne, Quinn Peterson, Dave Schnur, Abe Schwadron, Dan Shapiro, Irv Soonachan, Todd Spehr, Tzvi Twersky, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Ben York.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.

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  • http://Slamonline.com nbk

    Good ish Lang.

  • Darius

    Isnt this a rank for players going into next season expectations? I dont see how Tim is at number 30. His career is going the other way

  • add

    i can’t agree with this at all, maybe in the higher 40′s but not 30

  • Ross

    isn’t this a prediction for next season? How can Tim Duncan be ahead of Eric Gordon,Andre Iguodala,Al Jefferson,Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Lamar Odom, etc. Timmy D is one of the best of all time but dudes basically finnished.

  • Josh

    Yeah this is not right. I don’t usually comment because the people who do are stupid, ignorant, etc. but there has to be a line and I’m drawing it. This is a pity rank, just like being thrown into the all-star game this past season was a handout. Whether this is a prediction for next year or whether this is truly the top 50 right now, this is wrong. Either way. Career lows last year, that isn’t going to magically turn around next season.

  • http://cnbc.com JTaylor21

    Just like I predicted. From now on, y’all should refer to me as “negrodamus”.

  • http://Slamonline.com nbk

    Y’all realized he only played 29 minutes right? His “career lows” aren’t really that low. And his squad had the best record in the L.

  • PlanetAsia14

    Timmy D does have a signature pair, they were released awhile back from this or last year I believe… They’re called “Big Fundamental,” and they’re actually pretty dope… http://counterkicks.com/2011/03/04/adidas-big-fundamental-whiteblackblue/

    P.S. He’s actually wearing them in the picture ha…

  • Allenp

    I also have come to appreciate Duncan more in my dotage. He is awesome. But, I don’t belie e he is seven spots better than Garnett.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    Not a bad spot for him. Also, I know Tim Duncan is a robot but he’s also one of the funniest/coolest personalities in the league. He’s just not as ubiquitously marketed or sought after by the media–but the fans know what’s up, which is why he was a perennial All-Star starter.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    not was, but is*

  • ab40

    he get’s a signature shoe every year from adidas the last few years it’s been a rather cheap shoe for bigs oh and he was on the cover of nba live 2000 aka the last game jordan was in before 2k11

  • Irfan

    TD is certainly the best NBA PF of all-time but I don’t think he ranks higher than TP now.

  • http://www.bulls.com Enigmatic

    Soop – SECOND best record in the L.
    And again, 13 and 9 regardless of how many minutes it was done in is still 13 and 9.

  • http://Slamonline.com nbk

    Haha my bad forgot that your boys caught up.


    Hahahaha…these rankings just keep getting funnier. Right now, Tim Duncan isn’t even a top 50 player in the NBA. He posted just 13.4 points per game, and in 6 playoff games averaged just over 12 points per game. Timmy needs to start thinking about retiring.

  • http://sajkflf.com Jukai

    Alright, this is the first ranking that really is wrong to me. He should barely be scraping the top-50. This is about 15-20 spots wrong.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    Lately I find myself liking the Spurs more and more–just out of immense respect for their franchise. They have the best coach in the league and the best big man post-2000, as well as perhaps the two best international guards the game has ever seen. The Spurs are what every small market team should aspire to; with talented management you don’t need to wait for free agents that are probably gonna go to New York anyways (sarcasm).
    And if you watch some of those behind-the-scenes clips of the Spurs, you’ll see that Gregg Popovich has a rapport with his players unlike any other coach I’ve seen.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    Also, no centers in the top 30 other than Dwight Howard. Where have all the big men gone?!?!

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear


  • Carl

    Not a good defender, not nearly as dominant offensively… heck, people dont even double team this guy in the post anymore because athletic defenders can shut him down. I would take any player in the over twenty spots behind him than this forty year old, injury prone, former great. He gets this spot cos of nostalgia not skill level…

    He’s not even the second best player on his team these days…

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    ^ Not a good defender??

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    I love Lang’s love for Timmy.

  • Zabbah

    The Spurs were blowing out teams last year and Timmy would sit out entire quarters, that’s why his numbers are low. Even if it wasn’t a blow out his team would still contain them and Pop would carefully watch Timmy’s minutes. Otherwise he’d be putting up 18 and 10 last year.
    Also, Parker and Ginobili were injured during that series against the Grizzlies. If there’s still a season I’m calling the Spurs as the champs.

  • Yesse

    I disagree with this. I find a couple of players in the list better than him.

  • pennydunk_1

    That happened in ’88

  • pennydunk_1

    And he has been on a videogame cover once

  • Drig

    BS! So you’re telling me Garnett will suck more than Duncan next season as a big?!?!

    Or Duncan will have a better year as a big than Marc, Bogut OR Bynum????

    WTH is happening with this list? Are we giving Duncan a pass just like his last All-Star selection?

    No offence to Duncan but he’s far from his prime and isn’t as great as he used to be.

  • whooo!

    what’s kind sad is that dude played a terrible playoff series and put up 12.7pts/10.5rbds/2.5blks. what did Bynum put up? 14.4/9.6/1.4. Pau put up 13.1/7.8/1.7. Timmy is definitely not the same player he was before. I still remember the 20/20/10/8 he hung on the Nets in Game 6, but damn, that was NINE years ago! his peak was a decade ago and he’s still putting up comparable numbers to guys who are supposed to be dominant bigs nowadays? at the end of the day, he’s still an impact player, but in desperate need of frontcourt help his better days are behind him, that’s for sure, but he can pretty much put up these same numbers until he retires because his game’s not built on athleticism, and truth be told, the big men of today really suck.

  • http://slamonline.com spit hot fiyah

    @nbk the fact that he plays those minutes speaks for itself, he can’t handle more. They try to save him for the playoffs and there his numbers drop even more. end of the road

  • Gene T


    While I’m a big fan of TD and would give his admittedly declining game a couple of +spots on the list because of his general, overall dependability (his minutes and numbers are down but not the consistency of his game) but to rank him currently at #30 is really a stretch.

  • Marcnificent

    This guy is not a Power Foward and hasnt played that position in like 12 years stoppit lol

  • http://www.slamonline.com UNFROZEN CAVEMAN LAWYER


  • http://Slamonline.com nbk

    The Spurs ran a completely different offense last season. Te idea that you can do that for 82 games and then switch back for the playoffs is the single biggest mistake of Poppovich’s career. And it clearly reflected terribly on Tim Duncan.

  • http://www.jcolemusic.com Showtime

    With his age and minimal mins still getting more rebounds then brook lopez, & being on part as stats with gasol and bynum, I say spot well deserved

  • ai come back

    hes saying he WONT do any of those things video game covers sell magazines etc..

  • http://www.slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    I meant ’88, good call @penny_dunk.

    Also, UNFROZEN CAVEMAN LAWYER cracks me up…maybe because I’m old enough to remember the SNL skit.

  • haslem

    I don’t know why you guys are jumping all over Duncan because of the 13/9 he put up in limited minutes. Look at all the guys you say should be before him: Andrew Bynum, 11/9, lamar odom 14/8, joakim noah 11/10, garnett 15/9. 13 points and 9 rebounds in 29 minutes on a deep team is nothing to sneeze at. And his defense is still top notch.

  • Drig


    As far as I remember, this list is supposed to give us an idea of who is gonna be the better player for their team NEXT YEAR. So you’re willing to bet Bynum/Marc/Bogut NEXT SEASON (when all three of them enter their prime. Well….not Bynum I guess :P ) is gonna suck more than an aging Duncan? Pfft……..

  • http://slamonline.com LakeShow

    Great spot. Garnett should be right around this spot also..

  • rainman10

    I’m glad SLAM got one of the best to write about one of the best. Good stuff.

  • haslem

    Drig, Duncan had a better PER than all three of those guys you mentioned last year, and if we were friends and had some money to bet I would definitely throw down on Duncan having a better PER than all three of them again this year, with some definite reservations considering Bynum will most likely have a monster year. Marc and Bogut? A 35 year old Duncan is still more valuable than either of them, at least at this point.

  • Rainman

    @ ab40: Jordan was in NBA live 02 and 03. And he was in the all star game of live 04 as well.

    But if u meant Chicago Bull Jordan, i digress.

  • Mike

    As an old dud with a #14 PER, he’s still kicking most players backsides.

  • Magnus

    January 17, 2014

    When most people have said that Tim’s career was winding down, or that he should probably think of retiring, or that he’s finally done, Tim kept proving them wrong.

    It’s 2014 and he’s still kicking asses and taking names.