Psst….Tim Duncan is quietly getting better
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.