July 16, 2016, 5:28 am
One Big Thing: The Big Fundamental
One of the first ‘real’ books I remember reading was a short history of the San Antonio Spurs. It was still a kids’ book, so it didn’t really get into the specifics of Spurs basketball but it did give a good overview of the organization’s history from foundation to the then-modern day.
Most importantly, it brought Tim Duncan into my consciousness. For the first time, young me had a concrete idea of how dominant Duncan and David Robertson were together, and how dominant a young Duncan already was. The book was written in the early 2000’s while Tim Duncan was still on the rise so that sense of greatness came even before we consider everything that he accomplished after 2002. While I quickly learned how to properly pronounce St. Croix, it took while to grasp the sheer brilliance of Duncan’s career.
The St. Croix native grew up a swimmer until Hurricane Hugo destroyed the island’s only Olympic-sized pool. Rather than swim in the ocean, the shark-fearing Duncan turned to basketball in 9th grade. It was a good call.
Duncan went to Wake Forest, where he lit up the NCAA. His college statistics are absolutely fabulous; he never shot below 54.5% and averaged a double double every year except for his freshman campaign when he posted a paltry 9.8 points and 9.6 rebounds. By his senior season he was up to 20.8 points and 14.7 boards on 60.8% shooting. He became the first player ever to hit 1,500 points, 1,000 rebounds, 400 blocks and 200 assists. Duncan stayed in college all four years to earn a psychology degree, fulfilling a promise he made to his mother shortly before she died of breast cancer when Duncan was just 13. As a senior he won both the Naismith and John Wooden Awards and was named AP Player of the Year.
The Spurs made him the first overall pick in the draft, and the rest is history.
Duncan is one of only three players in history to spend 19 years with a single team. He is, again, one of three players to record 1,000 wins and the only one to do so with a single franchise. The Spurs made the playoffs in every single season Duncan was there and managed to win at least 50 games in 17 straight years. The Spurs are a team that we can basically pencil into the playoffs before every season, so it’s truly insane to look at all of their success laid out in front of us.
His individual numbers and accolades are staggering. If you scroll past the Awards and Honors section of his Basketball Reference page it looks like you’re skimming a TXT file.
Duncan is the San Antonio franchise leader in games played, minutes, points, rebounds and blocks. He played in 251 playoff games, the NBA’s all-time leader in playoff minutes and blocks.
Duncan was named to an All NBA Team 15 times, with 10 of those selections being to the First Team. He was an All NBA Defensive Team member 15 times as well with eight First Team nods. He was a 15 time All Star and was of course 1997’s Rookie of the Year. While ROY is a great honor for any first year player, Duncan managed to also make the All NBA First Team and All NBA Defensive Second Team.
Oh yeah, he also won two MVP Awards and three Finals MVPs to go with his five NBA Championships.
He won his first Finals MVP in 1999 when the Spurs beat the Knicks in five games. Duncan dominated the Knicks, averaging 27.4 points, 14 rebounds and 2.2 blocks with a net rating of +23. San Antonio’s second leading scorer, David Robinson, finished at 16.6 points per game. The Spurs defense stifled the Knicks, holding them to 79.8 points per game in a fairly easy victory.
His second came in 2003 when the Spurs dispatched the Nets in six games. Duncan obliterated the Nets, averaging 24.2 points, 17 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 5.3 blocks per game. He finished with an absurd +26 net rating as the Nets had no answer for Duncan’s presence. This series was capped off by a legendary Game 6 closeout performance when Duncan triple doubled* with 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and 8 blocks for good measure. Perhaps even more frightening is that Duncan held his counterpoint, Kenyon Martin, to 3-23 from the floor. In a closeout game, he held his opponent to 13% shooting while dropping a monster line.
His last Finals MVP came in 2005 when the Spurs outlasted the Pistons in a low scoring, drag out slugfest. While Detroit’s frontline of Antonio McDyess and Wallace’s Ben and Rasheed held Duncan to just 41.9% from the floor, he still averaged 20.6 points, 14.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.1 blocks. Duncan outworked Detroit’s elite big men on the glass and schooled the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Big Ben. Duncan was slowed but still dominated.
Slowing Timmy was a rare occurrence in either the regular season or the playoffs; stopping him at any time was impossible. When he was on the court, Duncan’s teams were simply juggernauts.
Basketball Reference’s play index only goes back to 2000, so Duncan’s +7630 is surely undersold. Either way, he dwarfs the competition; Dirk Nowitzki is second at +6587 and LeBron James is third at +5702. Fourth and fifth on that list are Duncan’s Spurs buddies Tony Parker with +5496 and Manu Ginobili at +5137. Nobody else is above 5000.
It’s fitting that those three Spurs occupy the top of any statistical list, as they formed the core of an unstoppable basketball machine. They’re not nearly as sexy as the more modern Big 3 groups we’ve seen come and go, but there’s something to be said for their longevity, commitment to each other and sustained excellence.
Moreover, Duncan and the Spurs had a wonderfully symbiotic relationship going as it pertained to flair and personality, or supposed lack thereof. I mean, the guy’s retirement came in the form of a team press release. It’s so supremely Duncan.