Greatest Players in NBA History: Tim Duncan

In this section of the Lab I pick one of the top players in NBA history as voted on in this project and discuss some of his career accomplishments…in other words, what made him so great that he deserves a spot among the greatest?  This week’s player is Tim Duncan, who is on the short list of best players ever despite the fact that he doesn’t get nearly as much mention as he should.  Duncan’s case, as you might expect, is based on very simple, fundamental reasoning.

1. Since the inception of the award in 1969, Duncan is tied for the second most Finals MVPs in history with three, behind only Michael Jordan (tied with Magic Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal). 

2. Duncan is one of only five players in NBA history with multiple MVP and multiple Finals MVP awards.  The other four are named Jordan, Magic, Kareem and Bird (Russell, Wilt, and George
Mikan would also be on the list if the Finals MVP existed over their entire careers).

3. Duncan has been named to the All NBA First Team nine times in his career (13 times All-NBA, and has been named to the NBA All-Defensive First team eight times (13 times All-Defense).  Only Jordan (18) has more combined first teams than Duncan's 17.

4. Duncan is a member of the 21,000 point, 12,000 rebound, 3000 assist, 2300 blocked shot club.  The only other known members are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, and Hakeem Olajuwon (and if you set that assists threshold at 3200 it would knock Hakeem off the list).

On the message boards, there is a tendency to group together 6 players: Jordan, Magic, Bird, Wilt, Russell and Kareem into what has become known as the "Immortal 6", six players that are acknowledged on the boards as the best in history bar-none in some order.  I loathe this convention with all of my being, because there is no real way to directly compare players across multiple eras as though it were fact.  In other words, in my opinion, there are tiers of great players and if a player reaches the highest tier in his own generation he can legitimately be compared and/or ranked with the best of any other generation.  As such, in my opinion Duncan deserves to be mentioned in the same breath with anyone who has ever played.  He may be boring and fundamental, but he was also that good.

What is your opinion?


By: Mark Stopa
On: 1/26/2012 8:03:00 AM
I went to Wake at the same time as Duncan, and one thing I've always loved about him was that he such a genuinely nice guy. He dated a hallmate my freshman year and was always friendly as he walked by to/from the booty call. My junior year, I found out where he lived (a very simple, small, one-bedroom, on-campus dorm room), and knocked on the door. He unassmingly said "come in" and was as pleasant as could be as he granted my request for an autograph. More important than my silly anecdotes, you never heard anything bad about him in the NBA, either.
By: Mark Stopa
On: 1/26/2012 8:04:00 AM
Oh, and BTW, lower-level courtside seats for every Duncan home game, for free, back in the days when the ACC ruled the land, is about as good as it gets.
By: kennruby
On: 1/27/2012 9:55:00 AM
Is he the last great player to spend four years playing college ball? Off the top of my head I'd say yes, but I'm sure I've forgotten someone. Mark - love hearing the personal stories. He does seem more approachable than most star athletes.
By: Poincare
On: 1/27/2012 11:33:00 AM
kennruby, I actually think he is the last great player to spend four full years playing college ball. The most effective way to answer your question would be the make a list of all the "great" players in the league since Duncan was drafted. I'm not sure how long your list would be; mine would have fewer than 10 names on it. Once you have your list look up each guy's college career. You would have a definitive answer in under 30 minutes.

The reason I believe that Duncan IS the last great player who used up all of his college eligibility is that I was recently checking out the NBA drafts year by year. If you really look at the draft lists since Duncan came out it is beyond obvious that with each passing year fewer and fewer "seniors" have been drafted at all. None of the guys we think of as the top young players today played four full years in college. At least I can't think of one. If there is anybody out there who knows a player who qualifies then please let us all know. I will readily admit I was wrong. I honestly don't think I am though.
By: nayfel
On: 1/27/2012 12:17:00 PM
Let's focus on TD because this s his blog. Even in his own blog, he gets overshadowed, ha.

Anyway, I got to agree. He did everything on the court that all those other greats did short of averaging close to 30 ppg for a season. His high was twenty five ifnim not mistaken. He did as much as his team needed so I think on a weaker team with a weaker coach, he could have done it. He did everything else: played best defense, led amazing team defense, hit big shots to win big games etc. Also was a great teammate by any measure, as he integrated into Robinsons' team, which Rob gets more credit for the great relationship than he does. Worked well with all sorts of personalities, from T Parker and Manu to SJax types.
Could have played center or PF and never put himself before the team. Even now, he is easily capable of avg another 3-5 pts per but he knows what's best for his team.
As good as it gets.
By: Poincare
On: 1/27/2012 11:29:00 PM
OK nayfel, let's focus on Mr. Duncan. I agree with you and the Professor that he is one of the best to ever play the game. I will admit that I haven't followed his career as closely as I did the stars of the 1980's and early 1990's but the four bullet points above say more than enough. Duncan is the best player of the past dozen years (with respectful nods to Shaq and Kobe). If I had to play one basketball for all the marbles and I could pick my team from anybody I had watched in my lifetime my starting five would be Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Tim Duncan. Damn! I love that starting line-up!

Back to Duncan, one of my favorite things about him is that he genuinely seems to care more about winning than anything else. His statistics are very impressive but I honestly don't think he cares all that much how many points he scores or how many rebounds he gets as long as he helps his team win the game. It sounds corny I know, but I genuinely believe it. Kind of a modern day, bigger, stronger, more offensively gifted version of Bill Russell. That's high praise I know, but it's also well deserved. My hat's off to a truly great basketball player and a real class act.

Leave a comment

Commenting is restricted to registered users only. Please register or login now to submit a comment.

Tell Someone

  • Digg it
  • submit to reddit reddit
  • Add to Mixx!

Recent Favorites

What I Think You Should Know About The USMNT
Needless to say, it's been a great World Cup thus far. The USMNT having some success would be awesome.
La-La-La-L.A. Gets Lord Stanley!
Just a few things that caught my eye:
  • Alec Martinez's Cup-winning goal celebration? # priceless. I wonder if he'll ever get his gloves back.
  • Henrik Lundqvist stopped the 50th shot of the game. He couldn't stop the 51st. #connsmythe if the Rangers had found a way to come back in this series.
Do Analytics Take the Fun Out of Sports?
Apparently that was the topic of one of the presentations at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston last week. The presenter, Yale's Edward Tufte, opined:

Don't let people tell you analytics are reductionist and take the joy out of sports. They mostly just take the stupidity out of sports.

Is he right?

RotoWire's AL LABR Squad
The 2014 AL LABR auction went down at the Arizona Republic offices in downtown Phoenix Saturday night. It's a 12-team, 5 x 5, AL-only league with 2 C, 1 1B, 1 2B. 1 3B, 1 SS, 1 CI, 1 MI, 5 OF, 1 U and 9 pitchers. Everyone has $260 to spend.
The Problem With Drafting Billy Hamilton
Billy Hamilton went for $28 in the NL LABR auction this past weekend. I discussed this with a fellow writer who participates in Tout Wars with me later this month and we discussed the problem with investing heavily into Hamilton.

RSS Feeds