Tim Duncan’s a Power Forward, and The Best Ever
Sorry Mailman, Sir Charles and McHale.
by Sandy Dover / @SandmanSeven
Two weeks ago, I read a Sports Illustrated column that said Tim Duncan wasn’t in the top 10 all-time best NBA players in its history. I wasn’t quite indignant, and while it was an opinion, I still felt it wasn’t really big enough to merit much discussion, because the current players who without doubt are most likely on that short list (Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson [?], Julius Erving [?], Jerry West [?], Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and maybe LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or Karl Malone) might not yet concede to the big man.
Then last week, I was reading Kelly Dwyer’s Yahoo! Ball Don’t Lie column on Scottie Pippen and Malone being inducted into this year’s Hall of Fame, and Kelly said Karl Malone was the game’s best-ever power forward because Duncan didn’t count, since apparently Duncan’s a center. This incensed me, it inflamed me, and it struck me as negligent in a sense. I say this without any real beef, because I respect and enjoy Kelly’s musings and his writing in general, but I couldn’t get over that tidbit.
Any true fan of the game and observer of Tim Duncan’s known basketball journey knows he started out as a center — OK, no big deal. He played center for Wake Forest University’s Demon Deacon basketball team, and was drafted as a collegiate center in 1997 by the San Antonio Spurs, but really, that’s when he stopped playing the position full-on–in college. Duncan played power forward next to David Robinson for six whole years as a true power forward. He played next to Nazr Mohammed, Radoslav Nesterovic and Francisco Elson–all of whom are true centers–who started next to Duncan for championships in 2005 and 2007. With the exception of this year and last year, where the likes of “centers” like Matt Bonner, Antonio McDyess and Dejuan Blair have completed the frontline with TD21, Duncan has always been a true power forward in the lineup.
Yes, he can play center with ease and with equivalent results to the power forward position, but does that mean he should be re-canonized as a center solely? That totally disregards the history of his play in the NBA and it invalidates his greatness playing at that specific place. Just because Karl Malone was an absolute “hoss” and a high scorer/moderately good rebounder (considering his bulk and ability, he probably should’ve grabbed more) and his being part of the one of the truest dynamic duos in NBA history with John Stockton, I don’t think it means that bumping Duncan off to another position is fair to history, and it might speak to the essence of lying to one’s self about the facts. Timmy D has been one of the truest game-changers on both ends of the floor, he’s carried inferior supporting casts to actual championships and he has been one of the most sound players of the modern generation.
Mind you, this is definitely my opinion, but much of what I’ve said is legitimate fact. Tim Duncan is a power forward who can also play center; for that, instead of being cast aside from the forward spot, he should maybe get some play as one of the greatest centers also. If observers of the game are bumping guys off of the positions they mainly played at (if said observers prefer another favorite player), I guess both Kobe and His Airness should be considered small forwards, because that’s what they were/are half of the time in the triangle offense (the “attacker” position, it’s called, according to Phil Jackson and Tex Winter)–it would be fair to canonize them on the “Greatest 3s” list, too; I already despise when people consider Pippen a “point forward” when he was for sure playing point guard in Chicago equally with small forward run (and getting minutes at all other positions as well)–it has been a device to keep people from mentioning him in the same breath as Magic at those similar sizes, even though the Michigan State product played all positions as well; I guess since Charles Barkley played a lot of small forward, he should get bumped from being considered a power forward (his primary position), too. That goes for The Big O; ditto for Kevin McHale when Robert Parish went for breathers.
If I haven’t been any clearer, it’s that Duncan is what he is–a very functional, versatile, sound, extremely talented player who was able to make a transition to another position despite his being known as (and looking like) somebody different. He’s been typecast for so long, but how about just appreciating him for what he has been all along?
A power forward…and the best ever.
Sandy Dover is a novelist/writer, artist and fitness enthusiast, as well as an unrepentant Prince fan (for real). You can find Sandy frequently here at SLAMonline, as well as at Facebook, Associated Content and Twitter.