Psst….Tim Duncan is quietly getting better

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In the words of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love is “a really strange dude.”

“He’s a great player, but he is strange,” Popovich said. “When you combine his skills with his body, he looks like he should be doing different things. And even when he does those things, he looks different than anybody I’ve ever seen doing them.”

Love has also been, arguably, the best power forward in the NBA this season. A unique combination of Dirk Nowitzki’s shooting range, Dennis Rodman’s rebounding, and a not quite Chris Webber-ish feel for the game on the offensive end.

Last night the (current) best power forward of this generation was reminded by the greatest power forward of any generation that he still has a ways to go to carry the mantle.

While the year began with reporters questioning Tim Duncan’s basketball mortality—questions he answered with as much frustration and incredulity as his stone-faced façade would allow—the San Antonio Spurs franchise player has quietly been getting stronger as the season has gone along.

Duncan’s per game averages have increased across the board with each passing month, lifting his points per game average from nine to 16.8, and his rebounding from six to 10.7. More importantly, his efficiency is improving. Duncan is once again approaching the 50 percent shooting mark for March and getting to the free throw line roughly six times a night since the All-Star break.

When granted rest, Duncan is even able to provide a reasonable facsimile of his former self, putting up 19.5 ppg and 12.5 rebounds on three days rest (two games), 17 ppg and 10.4 rebounds on two days rest (seven games), and 14.5 ppg and 9.3 rebounds on one day of rest.

“Tim’s been really fresh all year long,” Popovich said. “I’m really enthused about his health and his body. He’s got quickness and he’s got more agility than he’s had in a while. He’s had it for the whole season, so it’s been fun to watch.”

Before the game Popovich praised the weight loss of Kevin Love, noting the significant differences it’s made in his game.

“It helped him a great deal,” Popovich said. “He moves better, he’s more efficient. Everything he does is quicker.”

While Love has received credit for the work done on his body, a svelte Duncan has received little attention. But everything Popovich said about Love pertains to Duncan as well, and that rediscovered agility was on full display last night when Duncan (21 points, 15 rebounds) gave Love the quick hint of a fake and went right past him for a layup.

There are some that will point out that the lost bulk has made dimmed some of Duncan’s ability to hold position in the post, and perhaps they are right. But for a player with not insignificant knee problems, the sacrifice in the name of mobility and durability are well worth it.

According to Hoopdata, Duncan is getting the rim nearly six times a night over the past 10 games (and they’ve improved steadily each month) and shooting 65.5 percent once he gets there. The return of Duncan’s dunks are not merely a mirage, they’re a visual representation of the improved mobility at his disposal.

Watching the game last night, our own Andrew McNeil came up with an interesting theory. The rate of decline in Duncan’s knees may have, for the time being, leveled off. It might be reasonable to expect Duncan to carry on at this level past this season, and there are a few reasons to believe this might hold true.

Thus far, Duncan is moving better than he had at any point last season. And difference between last year’s playoffs, and the year before that (when Duncan moved around with a noticeably pained gait) are night and day.

If Duncan’s knees bottomed out during the second round loss to Phoenix, and the two-year regimen of weight loss and reduced minutes have stabilized things, we might have one strong Duncan post season run after all.

“This is the Tim I have always known, he is moving great,” now and former Spur Stephen Jackson said. “From watching him last year to now, he definitely looks like the old Tim Duncan. To get where we want to be, we are going to need him to play like that.”

While Duncan is long past the player Jackson once played with, for now that speaks more to how dominant Duncan was in his prime than it does his effectiveness now. For now it’s enough to hold off talks of retirement, and Kevin Love, for just a little bit longer.

  • sam

    i would like to see him sit a few games .   and get splitter more playing time .   just to keep him fresh    since   we will have back to back to back  games coming  .     hopefully  pop  will sit him  on at least one of those games.   same goes to parker.  he has been playing alot of minutes and  i don’t wonna see him slow down at end of season.     

    i think our young guys can log alot of minutes and hopefully they use those chances to improve their play.  esp.  james anderson   i like to see the guy stay with us.   he can work on his shot over the summer  and get his confidence back   he is still very young 21 i think   .     he didn’t   play well when he was given the chance this season .   

  • Bob

    What happens when Duncan gets defended by a longer player like Millic or Pekovic? I have no doubt Duncan can still put up 20 and 15 on smaller players but he’s struggled with longer players. If I am the opposing coach I put my 7 footer on Duncan and force him to beat me with his speed.

  • grego

    You will likely get your wish this weekend with the first back-to-back-to-back to kick off the 6 games in 8 nights. 

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Craig-Thomas/1541940034 Craig Thomas

    Once I saw Duncan do his patented back-down, spin off baseline for an and-one against who I believe was Serge Iblocka, during the critical possession of the Spurs-Thunder game, I knew Duncan was truly back in business. He looks fresher, more agile, and most importantly, with something to prove. I think everyone watching that game was in disbelief as they saw Duncan, not Parker or Ginobili, get the ball on the critical possession against the Thunder. I think Duncan is hungrier than he was the past season and he knows he knees can probably only make it through one more full post-season before he has to call it quits. 

    I’m so excited for this year’s playoffs. If we play good team defense, there is going to be no one who can stop Timmy-D from getting his 5th ring!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Craig-Thomas/1541940034 Craig Thomas

    Pump fakes do a lot against jump-prone big men. 

  • Len

    Hell yeah Jesse!  Timmy has looked great, esp since the ASB.  

    I really thought that Timmy took last night’s game personally.  He was very aggressive from the get go and it was AWESOME to see him be able to raise his game.  I would venture to say that Timmy didn’t take Love’s comments about the ASG last year too well.  

  • grego

    The key is spreading the defense so it’s all one-on-one ball. Spurs look like they’ve done a better job of picking up the players to do that, especially now that Jackson is on the club. With Diaw (possibly), they’ll have another guy who can help spread the floor. 

  • aespurs

    I was at the game last night and had some pretty good seats and was able to see the mystery of a player that is kevin love and what makes him so great…the guy plays pretty dirty. He uses his elbows a tooooon and its really frustrating. On screens he uses extends his elbow a bit to give his man more room and when rollin on screens he pushes off with his elbow. With rebounding this is all he does too he nudges and pushes with his elbows in peoples sides and backs but the way he does it and positions himself makes it look like he’s also getting beat up down there. He’s not great physically. Like pop said his body doesn’t go with his skill set, but he knows how to get past the refs eyes and that’s why he’s so good

  • theghostofjh

    Duncan is MUCH quicker this year (his jumper is also as good as I’ve ever seen it – he’s getting more lift). It’s startling, and I’ve been afraid to even think that it’s going to last. IMO, it’s got to be more than just the weight loss and conditioning. I don’t know the details of his knee condition, but the way it looks now I’d say his knee may have even gotten healthier, not just stabilized. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed.

  • Colin

    Any update on Tony Parker’s hamstring?  

  • Colin

     Milicic?  Really dude?

  • Colin

    Beware the fury of a patient man!

    That man is Tim Duncan

  • Len

    I laugh when I read about Duncan’s “impending retirement”.  Timmy obviously isn’t the same as 2003 or even 2007, but games like last night’s show that he isn’t even close to the Supersonic Ewing or Raptor Olajuwon stage yet.

  • http://twitter.com/nudityJ Nudity J. Fandango

    It’s not been a huge issue this season for him.  The thunder and a lot of teams have exceptionally long athletic bigs, and Timmy has been nimble enough to get the job done.

    We don’t run the offence through Timmy nearly as much these days, and more than ever we have Shooters all over the floor to ease the double team burden. 

    Rest is what he needs.

  • Colin

     He has arthritis, it doesn’t get healthier or stabilized.  He’s playing on borrowed time at this point and I have never appreciated his game so much as I do now.  I think the weight loss has helped. 

  • Bestpool

    Mr. Duncan  living basketball legend , it is very rare to have this kind caliber player with in every 100 years or so . Champion & god person and  somthing that young kids should look for .He know how to win and if health aloud him and his team they will win all the way this year !!

  • Bob

     We’re going to need more low post scoring in the playoffs. Duncan will probably need to get 20 and 10 for the Spurs to have a chance.

  • STIJL

    It was this same time last year Duncan was having some of his best numbers of the season.  Lets hope it can be a continuous effort into the playoffs this year without injury that set him back like last year.

  • LPspursFan

    that’s where Timmy’s improved 18-foot jumper brings the 7-footer away from the basket, at which time TD drives to the hoop for the dunks…

  • LPspursFan

    true, but if Timmy’s playoff minutes increase from 28 to say 33 or 34, his points and rebounds should likewise…

  • Bob

     Didn’t happen last year against the Grizzlies. Duncan could only average 12 and 10 against Gasol in a series where they needed those extra easy baskets. In fact he seemed gassed with the extra minutes. That’s one thing I fear about Pop limiting minutes. Playoff minutes are more intense than regular season minutes.

  • Bob

     It would be neat if he can get the Kobe surgery if it would allow him to play longer. The team has some good talent overseas that will help them compete in the next few years.

  • LPspursFan

    but everyone’s talking about how healthy Timmy is looking this year and how it is translating to his more aggressive and improved play; and I agree…so until proven otherwise, I’ll continue believing that last year against Memphis was the aberration and that this year (3-0 so far in the regular season) is the norm

  • Lvmainman

    Tim Duncan’s effective production is clearly tied to the limited minutes he plays. Come playoffs if the minutes are increased, his production will go down like in last year’s playoffs (and it will look like Duncan’s getting old). That’s why Pop should be ready to increase Splitter’s minutes come playoff time.

  • theghostofjh

    I thought it was chronic quad tendinosis. Are you sure that it can’t be improved some? I assume he has some permanent degeneration going on, but with ongoing and/or different treatment protocols perhaps it’s been possible for him to achieve partial recovery over time. I just find it difficult to believe that the improvement this year in explosion off the dribble could be fully accounted for by weight-loss and conditioning alone.

  • grego

    They are, but the schedule and the locations are more stable. You aren’t traveling as often. 

    Duncan was a little bit banged up going into the Grizzlies series. That didn’t help either. Manu being out game 1 and not being near 100% also hurt. When the team is healthy, the defense of the opposing team has to focus on much more. 

    Spurs are also better up front, even if not as much as we’d all want. Guys like Kawhi and Green add an extra added touch. 

  • http://twitter.com/nudityJ Nudity J. Fandango

    It’s odd, I feel like we are a much better team this year even though last year we had an outlandish record.

  • grego

    It seems more like they are playing it super safe since he didn’t look to be limping at all and he looked fine at the retirement ceremony. 

  • STIJL

     Yeah…at the start of this season…many teams were just letting Timmy take that shot uncontested.  They know he’s more prolific with it and are now having to defend him closer than before leading him to (if not always exploding to the basket with youthful vigor) at least creating a situation with his defender to committing a potential foul while driving to the basket.

  • Tim in Surrey

    Yeah, one of the reasons why veteran teams do so much better in the playoffs is because of rest, rather than “experience”, “composure”, or any of those other vague intangibles that bad writers seem to rely upon. Veteran players get plenty of rest between games in the playoffs, so they tend to play more like their younger selves. Last year against Memphis was a difficult matchup when we were unhealthy and facing a hot, aggressive team that could exploit our weaknesses. And I still think we likely would’ve beaten them if we hadn’t lost Manu. This year, however, Memphis is struggling a bit and we’re looking deeper and healthier.

  • STIJL

     The intensity level of playoff basketball will be a telling sign of just how conditioned Timmy has made himself as well as how effective Splitter will be compared to regular season results.  Agreed…more time for Tiago should start to increase as playoffs get closer.  If for anything…to at least get his endurance level adjusted.

  • Tim in Surrey

    Well… Timmy’s certainly a great player, but I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call him a “god person”. :)

  • Michaelalava

    Hey bob are you kidding me? Millic or Pekovic can not guard timmy one on one if no body will help them on the defense.

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  • Colin

     Thank you. 

  • Colin

     He does have a history of quad tendinosis since ’09.  However, that condition does improve and fluctuates significantly in how it feels.  Tendinosis isn’t necessarily “degenerative” to the point where it only gets worse.  Tendinosis can improve with good treatment which is hopefully what we’re seeing.  However, he also has some DJD in the tibiofemoral joints which does not improve and amplifies his tendon issues.   

  • theghostofjh

    Okay. I’m not familiar with “DJD”? Degenerative Joint Disease?

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  • Nisiandrew

    It truly makes me proud to be a spurs fan when I read all these comments from fellow fans