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The more things change, the more the Spurs stay the same

As the entire NBA has evolved over the past couple decades, one thing has remained certain: Tim Duncan is a phenomenal basketball player.

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Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

As the Spurs took on the Orlando Magic Wednesday night, Tim Duncan was reliable as ever. He scored 26 points on 11-17 shooting, recorded 10 rebounds, and played his usually excellent defense. For the Spurs, it was just another ho-hum night. For the Magic, it was yet another look at what could have been.

15 years ago, Duncan almost signed with the Magic. They were on their way to signing Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady, and Duncan would have been the perfect fit for a devastating Big Three. Hill was a versatile star, able to score on his own as well as set up teammates. McGrady was a young, uber-athletic wing, barely tapping into his potential. Hill and McGrady would have been far more than Duncan had in San Antonio, where there wasn't much more than the aging David Robinson. He was this close to taking his talents to central Florida.

We all know how the story goes by now. Duncan was wowed when he visited Orlando with Hill. He even delayed his flight home to stay another night and have dinner with Magic executives. Then, as Duncan's time in with the Spurs seemed as it was coming to an end, Robinson cut his off-season vacation short to try and convince him to stay in San Antonio.

Things never worked out the way they were supposed to in Orlando. Grant Hill succumbed to injuries, and was never the same player again. McGrady lived up to his individual potential, becoming a dynamic swingman, one of the best players in the league. But he was not enough to make the Magic a legitimate contender. In McGrady's years there, the Magic made the playoffs three times, but never got out of the first round. After four seasons with the team, he was traded to the Houston Rockets as part of a mega-deal for Steve Francis.

Orlando eventually recovered from their Big Three plan blowing up in their face, taking Dwight Howard first overall in 2004 and building around him. The Magic even went to the Finals in 2009, but that proved to be their peak, as they couldn't to build off that success. The roster began to fall apart, and as Howard demanded to be traded in 2012, the Magic hit the reset button yet again.

Meanwhile, Duncan found his championship running mates in Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and cemented himself as one of the very best to ever play the game of basketball. Since choosing to stay in San Antonio that summer, Duncan has played 15 more seasons in the NBA, made 13 more All-Star teams, and won 4 more championships.

After all his time in the NBA, Duncan has remained nearly as effective as he's ever been. Sure, his per game averages have dropped as the obvious result of playing less minutes and resting on the occasional second half of back-to-backs. But his per 36 and advanced stats show that he's still maintained the same high level of play his entire career. His offensive numbers have dipped slightly due to the Spurs shifting the focus to Parker, Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard; but the efficiency is still there. Defensively, he's as great as ever, anchoring a top 5 defense.

He has been San Antonio's rock ever since he stepped into the league, and as he showed Wednesday night, he remains so. When the offense's flow gums up, and no one can get anything going, the Spurs can still run 4-down, throwing the ball to Duncan on the block to jump-start their collective heart.

At 38 years old, he is still one of the best players in the league; defying time in ways that other superstars from his era could only dream of. That ability to impact a basketball game at a high level despite so much changing around him is what has made the Spurs great. They've been able to re-tool schemes in ways that are best for the team, and Duncan has adjusted to every new scheme. That's what could have made the Orlando Magic great. Instead, thanks to David Robinson, they have to settle for watching his greatness from the opposing sideline.


Kawhi Leonard - 18 points, 7-9 FG, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals

Aside from Duncan, Leonard was the biggest contributor on the night. As usual, he had his hands into everything, setting teammates up, getting rebounds, and forcing turnovers. Another great night from the Spurs' best player.


"My guess is that he'll go for another one"

--Gregg Popovich, talking about Tim Duncan's future plans, via Sam Amick

So this quote isn't from Wednesday, but it's important enough to draw attention to anyways. In Amick's artice for USA Today, Popovich spoke at length about his and Duncan's future in San Antonio. Though many believe that Duncan may retire after this season, Popovich seems to think differently. Of course, since this isn't coming from Duncan directly, there's nothing certain; but knowing how close Duncan and Popovich are, there is some more hope for some more time with Duncan in silver and black.


27: Team assists for the Magic. San Antonio was solid defensively, but Orlando was just on their game tonight. The 27 assists came on 42 makes, more than half of their made shots. Elfrid Payton especially was helping out teammates, recording 9 dimes of his own.

14: Quality minutes from Aron Baynes. With Tiago Splitter scratched from the lineup because he wasn't feeling well, Baynes stepped in and played some nice minutes. He only scored 4 points, but he rebounded well, and played solid enough defense against a Magic team that was having a great night.

10: Assists for Manu Ginobili. He filled up the stat sheet, scoring 13 points on 5-9 from the field and snatching 6 boards in addition to his assists. He was all over the floor, and kept the offense running smoothly all game.


  • Marco Belinelli was the x-factor in this game. After not scoring in the first half, Belinelli scored 11 points in the second, including going 3-4 from deep. It seemed like every time the Magic got close, Belinelli made a big shot to keep the lead safe. Although he can be erratic at times, the Spurs are more than happy to have a wing shooter like him back in the rotation.
  • The bench unit for the Spurs was all kinds of wonderful versus the Magic. The Foreign Legion was out in full force, whipping the ball around the horn and getting good looks. It was a joy to watch, and barring anymore injuries, bodes well for the remainder of the season.
  • Kawhi Leonard has improved so much as a passer in his career, especially in the past season or so. Tonight, he had 5 assists, and showed off some impressive court vision. He had a couple plays where he would attack a closeout, go baseline, see the help come over, and then read the weakside defender to figure out where he should kick out to on the perimeter. He's shown flashes of being a solid playmaker before, but this kind of attention to detail and self-assuredness shows how far he's come.