Tim Duncan, the rock, the anchor of the Spurs for 15 years, the most consistent player to ever grace the NBA hardwood, has had a curiously drastic change in his game this season. Amid the injuries, the December schedule and Tony Parker's struggles sits what can only be described as a weird development in the steady Duncan's game -- he's given up his jumper.
At an age where most players have completely turned to their jumper as a way to hang on for just a little bit longer in a league full of incredibly athletic men in their mid-twenties, Duncan has continued to be the Spurs' best all-around player without moving his game outside. Instead of shooting, he's rolling, cutting and driving like a man in his prime, not like the nearly-39-year-old that he is.
I think Tim shooting fewer jumpers is something that every Spurs fan has noticed, but I've been surprised by how extreme the change has been. Take a look at the following tables and I think you'll be surprised at just how drastic Tim's abandonment of his J has been.
[All data is from synergysportstech.com]
|PnR Roll Man|
|Pick and Pop||ppp||% No dribble jumper||Roll to Hoop||ppp|
[ppp: points per possession]
After Tim's nice performance with the pick-and-pop in 2012-13, he shot more often in that situation in 2013-14 but saw his ppp drop dramatically as he struggled with his form. This season, despite Tim actually posting a higher ppp on the PnP than during the 2012-13 season when he made a living at the elbows, he's more than flipped his pick-and-pop to roll ratio. It's not exactly automatic that he's going to roll after setting a screen this season, but it's so lopsided that it's remarkable that Duncan has been able to produce so well rolling to the hoop. The scouting report at this point must mention the fact that on PnRs, TD is mostly rolling and even when he doesn't roll, almost half the time he's driving after receiving the ball instead of popping after shooting three quarters of the time last season.
|overall % of time||ppp||no dribble jumper||To Basket|
[Overall % of time refers to the percentage out of all of his possessions that resulted in this shot type.]
Look at that drop off. The numbers are jarring. He's driving to the basket over five times as often in spot up situations compared to last season. Not only that, but he's turned away from the jumper so much that more of his attempts this season have come from put-back situations (7.9%) than have come from spot-ups (4.5%). A raw number to illustrate just how little Tim is spotting up -- he's only attempted nine spot-up jumpers since December 5th.
Here's a typical spot-up possession (not that it went in, but that he looked to shoot it) from Duncan last season.
This is more typical of Duncan this season. He doesn't even consider taking the shot in this play, instead immediately driving middle and working in the paint to get his attempt.
The above GIFs paint a nice picture of how Tim is shying away from shooting, but a look at the numbers when it comes to his catch-and-shoot possessions is even more telling.
|Catch and Shoot|
|overall % of time||ppp||fg%|
Perhaps after shooting such a low percentage last season, Popovich and Duncan decided that Tim was going to shoot less this season. He's certainly shooting less, which would also make you think he's being more selective when he does shoot, but that hasn't helped his field goal percentage at all.
Finally, let's look at all of his jump shots regardless of how they came.
|Overall % of time||ppp||fg%||Jumpers per game|
As you can see, he's gone from taking jumpers on 37% of his shots two seasons ago to just 15% this season - basically 2.5 times less often. Is there a similar case of a player going away from their jumper as they age out there? If there is, I've never heard of it.
If numbers aren't your thing, here are a couple of GIFs to illustrate just how dramatic Duncan's shift from the jumper has been.
Here are all of his shots from the past three seasons.
[Thanks to the wonderful basketball-reference.com for the above heat maps and shooting charts.]
So where's Timmy's J? I have a couple of theories. First, Duncan and the coaching staff made a conscious decision for him to move away from the jumper after last season's poor showing. Considering that he pretty much shut it down in the 2014 playoffs while the Spurs excelled, that would make some sense. Second, Tony Parker's struggles this season, with Tim as his PnR running mate since The Crusades, have resulted in fewer opportunities for the big man to get his J on. Third, the legend has just lost confidence in his shot.
That's a strange thought. Duncan has spent his career as one of the most mentally tough players this game has ever seen. His trademark for years was his unchanging facial expression in the face of adversity and in triumph. I mean, the Chinese have nicknamed him Stone Buddha. The explanation that Duncan's vanishing jumper as nothing more than a mental block seems too easy.
The other interesting fact is that most players lose their jumper last. It's the part of the game that requires the least amount of athleticism and is a skill that can be honed and improved for decades. So it's strange that Tim's still above average when he rolls and cuts to the hoop, and he's still an elite rebounder, shot-blocker and overall defender. For some reason, the least physical part of the game is being avoided by the Spurs' anchor.
This isn't meant to be any kind of indictment of Tim's game. It's just an observation. Tim is still doing so many offensive things well above average that he'd still be valuable even if his defense wasn't still truly elite. But he is still excellent in his own end and his overall effectiveness this season deserves a post of its own -- I won't get into that here, although that post is coming.
My best guess as to why the jumper is now a rare occurrence is that it's a combination of the three theories above, with the possible addition of Kawhi Leonard's emergence as a sometime first option -- although that's not nearly enough to account for the drop off.
In typical Duncan fashion, when a part of his game isn't what it used to be, he's made up for it in other ways (getting to the foul line at a career high while rolling, exploiting defenses with well-timed cuts that lead to easy scores and crashing the offensive glass harder than he has in half a decade) and his numbers remain remarkably steady in Tim's 18th year. The grizzled vet has plenty left in the tank even if this trend continues and he remains hesitant to let even open looks fly.
I'd love to know what's up with Timmy's J, but as a Spurs fan, I'll take some measure of comfort in Gregg Popovich's recent revelation that, "...my guess is that [Tim Duncan will] go for another [year] because he has been so consistent this season."
I'm comforted with Pop's outlook on Tim, even as I continue to wonder what's happened to his jumper.