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Tim Duncan: Still Elite and Underappreciated

Timmy didn't make the All-Star team, and the coaches that didn't vote for him should be ashamed of themselves. George Karl said that Timmy would retire after this year. Maybe Tim will decide to hang 'em up, but it won't be because he can't play at an elite level -- Tim is still the best two-way big man in the world.


Someone recently commented that Tim was arguably a top-5 big man. Forget top-5, he's still the best two-way big in the league. Since Dec 1st he's averaging 16.8 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game. You know how many guys are putting up those numbers this season? Zero. He's doing it in just 30 minutes a night, shooting 51% from the floor, and he'll be 38 in seven weeks. We've been mentioning it all season, but what he's doing is wholly unprecedented and still underrated.

Tim's been one of the best rebounders in the game through five presidential terms. Think about just how long he's been elite. He was grabbing all of the boards before people who are now driving were born, back when the mail came from some dude and we used phone lines to connect to the internet. We all know he's one of the all-time great rebounders, but did you know that Big Fun is rebounding at a career-high by the minute?

That's just effort and cunning. We always talk about Tim's vast array of fundamental post-moves, or his banker, or his basketball IQ. We point to these and talk about how his game is built to age well and doesn't rely on much athleticism, and that's true enough, but it's just as much his work ethic that has allowed him to defy time.

He's the first one in the gym, and he reportedly lives on a diet of blueberries. He's improved his free-throw shooting as he's aged, and he practices the shots he knows he's going to get in a game. He is somehow rebounding and blocking shots above his career per-minute rate.

He's been the best and most consistent player for his team all season, and it's not like he can't still be the go-to guy on offense for stretches. Through all of the team's injuries, Tim was at his best when his team needed him the most. Remember that double-OT thriller against the Wizards in early February?

The Spurs were playing their second game of the RRT at the hot Wizards, who had just beaten OKC and Portland. The Spurs needed late-game comebacks to win their last two vs. Sacramento and at New Orleans to break their losing streak as the Spurs had lost the previous three games before those two. It could easily have been a six-game losing streak for San Antonio, but Timmy stepped up. He put up 23 points, 17 rebounds, five assists and two blocks against Sacramento, followed by 21 points, seven rebounds, and six blocks against New Orleans. The Spurs entered the Wizards game without Manu Ginobili or Kawhi Leonard, and Tony Parker was unavailable to play in the second half with lower back tightness.

Timmy Hall-of-Famered all over Washington, scoring 31 points, grabbing 11 rebounds, dishing five assists, snatching two steals, and blocking three shots. Never mind the two steals or five assists, no one before Duncan had ever put up 31 points, 11 rebounds,  and three blocks at his age. After the game Popovich said it was one of the best wins he's ever been a part of.

Or how about that RRT game in Boston where Manu, Tony, Kawhi, and Splitter were all unavailable. Tim led the team to a road win and put up a 25 and 9 with a game-high +18. The Spurs started the fourth quarter up five, and when Timmy checked out with two minutes left they were up 15 and the game was won on the back of Tim's 11 fourth quarter points.

It goes well beyond the box score though. We've always known this. Just like Manu, much of what Tim does isn't quantifiable. Sure there are the easy ones: Screens, outlet passes, and hockey assists, but what about the harder ones? Emotional leadership, sideline coaching, or his poise in the face of adversity. When the Spurs were deep into their injury plague and the days were dark, there was Duncan in his quiet way, setting the tone for the team. Unwavering in his determination to steady the ship, to put the team on his back and stay afloat in the standings. How much is that worth?

Tim's one of the greatest teammates of all-time. He's never said a bad word about a teammate, never once thrown someone under the bus. He's always there at the end of games, high-fiving and head-patting the fellas, always the last one off the court. When he's had the night off he's been the team's biggest cheerleader, constantly cheering and shouting words of encouragement to the guys. When the Spurs clinched the Western Conference last season, the team wasn't happiest they were going to the Finals, they were happiest because Timmy was. His teammates love him, and he has always made everyone on the court with him better. Just how much is that worth?


People often refer to Tim as a humble guy. I think they have mistaken humility for his reticence in talking about himself. Perhaps people think he is humble because he will downplay his accomplishments, or that it's his nature to not blow his own horn. Don't kid yourself though, Tim knows he's one of the best basketball players ever. He has just as much pride as any other great. You don't get to be as good as he is without thinking that you're the best player on the floor. Just because he doesn't feel the need to proclaim his greatness doesn't mean that he isn't fully confident in himself, that he doesn't know how great he is.

He's every bit as competitive as Ginobili or Kobe, or anyone for that matter. You just have to look deeper to see it. We see Gino get that almost angry look and it's clear that he is a fiery competitor. We hear about Kobe working hard or we see him unable to play, sitting on the bench but obviously caring more than anyone actually playing. Tim's fire is a quiet fire, hidden from the world, but it's as big as it gets - still burning some now extinct ultra-dense hardwood.

When he slapped the floor in Game Seven of the Finals with his heart on his sleeve we got the rarest of glimpses into Tim. Clearly full of passion for the game, for winning. It was Tim, often likened to a robot for his stone face and relentless and timeless ability to execute, the human being. It was heartbreaking and beautiful. It's still heartbreaking and beautiful, even if it wasn't enough to get the national media to appreciate his passion for the game. Then they asked him about retirement. It didn't even occur to me that Tim would call it quits after the Finals. I mean, here's this legend, still one of the best in the game, who clearly loves the game and came seconds from another championship. How could he possibly not give it another go?

Beaten but far from broken, there was Timmy a couple of days later in the gym. This 37-year old, whose career accomplishments would take paragraphs to list, with a lifetime of basketball behind him and nothing to prove. Here he was, working on his game after the toughest loss of his life. Within days according to R.C. Buford. That sets a tone. How much is that worth? The national media wrote the Spurs off, saying they couldn't bounce back from that devastating Finals loss. Parker and Diaw went and won Eurobasket. Ginobili got healthy, and Timmy kept working - still elite, even hungrier, and wiser.

Tim's played the most minutes on a team that's just a game back from the top spot in the West, despite the team suffering through a slew of injuries. Tony may drive the offense when he's out there, but this is still Tim's team, and just like it's been for the entirety of his career, you can pick out a game at random from this season and you've got about a 70% chance that Tim was one of the two best players in the game and that the Spurs won it.

We always say that the Spurs are greater than their parts, but maybe it's that as Spurs fans, even we don't properly value just how great Tim is, just how much better he makes the team. I kept asking how much is that worth? and I don't know the answer to that, but there's far more to Tim Duncan than what is on the box score.

The box will tell you that Tim is still going strong and is still among the elite, but it can't show you what he really means to this team. After 1446 games and 17 years, he's still the best player on one of the best teams in the league. And he's still the best big man in the game.

I won't speculate on his retirement, because somehow boring, old Duncan never stops surprising me. The most consistent player ever consistently leaves me befuddled and amazed.

Tim Duncan 2013-2014 Block Highlights

Tim is still top-5 in the league in blocks per game, and his defensive rating is the best on the Spurs and seventh in the league. Let's celebrate the veteran with some of his blocks from the season set to Medeski Martin & Wood's Smoke.