clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

A case for Duncan as the 2nd best basketball player ever

New, comments

The legendary big man has been at the top of the game for almost two decades. So where does he fall on the all-time list?

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Moore (@HPbasketball), of CBS Basketball and creator of Hardwood Paroxysmhas written about the inevitability of the Spurs in his weekly Power Rankings. He had some thoughts that he wanted to share that are sure to bring a smile to any Tim Duncan fan and posted them to his Facebook page:

You always hold back against comparing something new to something old and great, lest you get sucked into recency bias. You don't want to anoint things before their time. And even then, those things that were great have established importance. Like, "this isn't the best meal of my life," because you had that sushi place in Austin, or that barbecue place in Kansas City.

But at some point I think we do wait too long to look at things. And for those of us that cover basketball, I'm concerned that despite all the accolades and compliments, I think we still shy away from jumping in because we're afraid it's just a hot take pool.

I woke up this morning, and the question crossed my mind.

Is Tim Duncan better than Larry Bird?

"Nah, come on, Bird would TELL people how he was going to beat them and do it!" I said to myself. But Duncan never felt the need. His ego never needed that sustenance. His ego never needed anything.

"Bird was the ULTIMATE competitor, might have been the best shooter of all time if the 3-point line were around from the start of his playing career (it's Steph now), a monster on defense, and a brilliant passer," I thought. But Duncan isn't defined by any of those things, because he's defined by all of it. He's an even better defender than bird. He's a more consistent scorer than Bird. And he's been doing it, at an absurdly high level, his entire career. Bird was derailed by a back injury. That's not his fault. But it's there.

"Bird averaged 28 points, 12 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals per 100 possessions in the playoffs for his career!" I found out, feeling smug.

Duncan has averaged 30 points, 17 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks per 100 possessions in the playoffs. He doesn't even have him in the numbers department. He's done that in 239 games... ACROSS 17 YEARS.

He has more titles, he has more years, which should drag down his average, he has a better Finals record.

The more you look at it, the more it just doesn't seem close. The crazy part is those are tangible things you can point to. Not to go all Bill Simmons, "The Secret" on you, but isn't everything you learn about the sport, about teamwork and "greatness" everything that Duncan does? Not need a shot, not need to be on the floor, not need to be involved, just to do your job and make everyone better?

And when you factor in how great he is in those tangible aspects, and then how great he is in those intangible aspects, and how long he's been doing it, and not just "being around," but contending for a title year after year after year...

The names start to drop.

Magic has the same number of titles, doesn't have his career length (unfortunately and due to awful circumstances), his consistency, and Magic earned much of that success early in large part thanks to Kareem, who if not the top dog, was certainly the bedrock. Kareem was in many ways Johnson's Duncan, only not as good of a defender, or teammate. Kareem's a tough one because of his just-as-impressive longevity and his obviously insane numbers, but then you also cross into a much less talented and widely torn apart league in the 70's and early 80's.

Russell? Totally different era with so many fewer teams, and so few who could ever challenge him athletically. Also doesn't have the numbers or the consistency. Pioneer, sure. Maybe greater in terms of his social impact, and of that on the game? But better?

Wilt? With all the questions about his defense and status as a teammate, with all the concerns over his stat-padding, plus the era that he played in, that's a hard sell, too. Chamberlain gets over looked too often, but I still can't really believe he was as "great" a player as Duncan.

Kobe? NOPE, NOT GONNA TALK ABOUT THAT ONE. WHATEVER YOU THINK IS FINE. I HAVE MY OPINION, YOU HAVE YOURS.

I say this not to make a definitive statement on these things. Whoever you have on your "Rushmore" or whatever is fine, there are lots of opinions, this stuff is hard to parse; that's what makes it fun.

But I think I've really reached the point where I have to try very hard for a reason not to believe that Tim Duncan is the second greatest basketball player of all time behind Michael Jordan.

Because, I mean, let's not go crazy, here.

Jordan's Jordan.

I'm completely biased with Timmy as my all-time favorite, but over the past year or so I've had a thought about Duncan and where he is in terms of the all-time list. If you were able to draft players knowing that their career would go the way it actually went, where do you take Duncan? With 17 years of championship contention, at least five chips and an unmatched sustained excellence, I would take Timmy first. But I wouldn't argue with anyone who wants Jordan and six chips over an eight-year span even with the year of AA baseball that also comes.

What about you guys? Who's on your Rushmore? Who's in your top-10? Share in the comments.