San Antonio Spurs 118, Golden State Warriors 98: Who is Tim Duncan? Human after all

by

water color

painting by Jesse Blanchard

If the San Antonio Spurs’ season narrative has been  about the transition of the team from Tim Duncan’s steady brilliance towards the speed and creativity of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, last night Tim Duncan interjected with a reminder his presence can still carry a couple chapters.

During the Spurs 118-98 win over the Golden State Warriors Duncan found the fountain of youth — the Warriors defense — and rode it all the way back to 2003, recording his first regular season triple-double since March of that year.

While still struggling to find a rhythm with his shot (6-15, 15 points), there was Duncan grabbing 18 rebounds, blocking two shots, diving to the floor, dunking, and even attempting (and, in a sign of the times, missing) an alley-oop. And with the 11 assists, Duncan displayed his wonderful basketball IQ, still showcasing a game built off fundamentals, angles, and symmetry.

Symmetry is an important concept to remember. In FreeDarko Presents: The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac, Tim Duncan’s career numbers are compared to the Fibonacci sequence. But his career also fits symmetrically with another set of numbers, these forever tying him to another Spurs legend — David Robinson.

Drafted 10 years apart, Duncan now finds himself in a similar transition to the one once undertaken by his retired fellow twin tower. Still the anchor of a defense for an elite team, Duncan’s role in the offense has increasingly diminished. Now, looking back 10 years, his numbers are eerily similar to Robinson’s at the same point in their careers (Duncan 2010-2011, Robinson 2000-2001):

Player Points FG% Rebounds Blocks Steals Assists Minutes
Duncan 14.0 48.9 9.2 1.8 .8 2.8 29.4
Robinson 14.4 48.6 8.6 2.5 1.0 1.5 29.6

For David Robinson, it was the middle of a steady descent into retirement, the last of his All-NBA (third team that year) honors, and final All-Star appearance. Two years later, the Admiral put up eight points and eight rebounds a night through back problems on a farewell tour that culminated in an NBA championship.

Duncan has vowed to keep playing until the wheels fall off, but reasonably a similar 2-3 year window is fair enough to expect with this season being the most important year of what’s left. This fact is not meant to temper the enthusiasm of a great start, but as a reminder to enjoy this while we can — though no one is rushing him into retirement any time soon.

Interestingly, it is in these fleeting moments that we might come to know Tim Duncan best. That the Spurs longtime franchise player finally becomes relatable and personally interesting.

Though many of us have grown up alongside the Duncan era, how much do we know about him beyond the efficiency in which he puts up double-doubles?

Like Robinson, he’s a husband and father, but how many people think of him in those terms?  Allegedly, he’s witty with a wicked dry sense of humor, but how much of that has been caught on camera?

Because of this, Duncan has often been compared to a machine, or robot; an emotionless vessel put on Earth to put up 20 points and 10 rebounds a night with no delight or regard for anything else.

But Duncan is not a machine, his parts cannot be replaced.

If the above numbers can be used as a road map to the end, it’s not a far drive. But in these instances of greatness despite obvious signs of mortality, we can start to see a glimpse of Duncan’s personality.

Because at this point there is nothing left to prove. Duncan could retire today and would still be considered one of the top 10 or 15 all-time greats and perhaps the best player of his generation.

There were moments at the end of last year where retirement did not seem too far off. Watching him walk from the floor to the bench, and from the bench to the locker room, at times it was a wonder how he was able to run up and down the floor at the pace of some of these younger athletes, let alone making a double-double seem effortless.

Yet after a disappointing playoff exit Duncan spent the summer retooling his body in the hopes of squeezing another full season of peak performance out of it. So that despite lacking a logical need to do so, he could log a team-high 33 minutes against a thoroughly mediocre Warriors team on the front end of a meaningless back-to-back that will be forgotten in a month.

Fighting age and time is something we can all relate to, and to watch Duncan hold off its effects while still being visibly affected by it, to reenter a game that had so little at stake, it’s a remarkable display of an indomitable competitive spirit.

To see a night of greatness, despite increasing flaws in what once were flawless displays, shows a completely new side of Tim Duncan — one that is interestingly human.

  • Ian

    Excellently written piece as well as the painting Jesse. I was going to argue that a 7 footer with 34 years of age recording a triple double can’t possibly be a human but then again, what you’ve written up there sounds just about right lol. It’s a pity that a player as great as Tim Duncan will have to retire at some stage.

    I sometimes wonder what the league will be like (for me personally) when TD retires. He was the reason why I started to cheer for this team after all.

  • ITGuy

    “Why DeJuan Blair might not work for the Spurs”

    Well, Blair played a pretty good game last night, hopefuly he will continue to do well.

    Nice write up and painting by Jesse Blanchard.

    Go Spurs Go!!

  • baudkarma

    Something I realized a day or so ago, which I haven’t read anywhere… Duncan has a chance to achieve something that no other player in NBA history has. He could win a championship in three different decades.

  • rob

    Great read. Really nice painting. Any books out there you may have written/had published with your artwork instilled?

    Regarding the game. It was the type of performance many of us come to hope to see during the season.

    With regards to our bigs putting up great numbers…again I have to temper the results compared to who we were playing. But it was a nice change of scenery compared to our post production of the past several games. Great job of Blair to go along with Duncan’s triple D.

    Limiting Ellis to 12 points. I hope that kind of perimeter defense receives it’s due recognition as well.

  • ITGuy

    Here’s how a California blog describes the game:
    “Tuesday night at the Arena the Spurs picked apart the Warriors with one perfect offensive set and defensive adjustment after another. It was cold, calculated and demoralizing, more like a tutorial than a competition.”

    Go Spurs Go!!

  • tim

    Nice sketch!! wow!

  • http://www.bpifanconnect.com Alix Babaie

    The Spurs were solid last night. The Spur’s starters tore GS a new asshole and it was nice to see DB45 hang a double double on an obviously lesser opponent in the Warriors. The whole starting 5 scoring in double figures along with a couple of guys off the bench showed off the depth of this team.

    Is it just me or does R-Jeff look as athletic as he was in New Jersey?! That “hug my nuts after this dunk” moment he had at the expense of David Lee was awesome! The Spurs have always been the nice guys and it was nice to see a bit of swagger in a game this season.

    Duncan was contributing in so many ways, TP was slashing to the bucket, DB45 was working hard inside and then you had, in my opinion, the leading candidate for NBA MVP in Manu Ginobili doing his thing!

    This Spurs team is exceeding everyone’s expectations and has the ability, depth, tempo and coaching to get ring #5 come June. As long as everyone plays their role, this team will be extremely difficult for ANY team to match up with come this post season.

  • agutierrez

    And the Lakers lost to Memphis. It was a good night indeed.

  • Tyler

    I used to think the Warriors were bad because they played at such a fast pace. But after last night, I was wrong. They’re terrible defensively because they give absolutely no effort on that end of the court.

    One play stood out for me – RJ’s fast break dunk at the start (I think it was our second bucket). After knocking it away, Blair (who was on the low block when he deflected the pass) beat every Warrior down the court except for two guards (who started the play at the top of the key). After replaying it a couple of times, the other three Warriors had barely ran to the 48 ft line by the time the ball went through the basket. In the process of turning and getting back down the court, Biedrins actually slowed down to fix his sweatband on his forearm – and he ended up being the 3rd Warrior in the picture just as the play ended!

    Watching that play actually made me mad in a way. If it hadn’t been the Spurs, I probably would have changed the channel immediately. We scored 118 when we probably could have scored 140. Even just a vanilla PnR and the defense was confounded. In terms of effort, communication, or even a discernible game plan, there was none for GS.

    Sigh.

    Anyway, we took care of business. TD probably had the quietest triple double I can remember. Good to see Dejuan play well. Besides TD being TD, not much else to take away from this game though….

    Might TD get the Clippers game off?

  • http://hecatr.livejournal.com/ Joseph Dooley

    Beautifully written piece. Any Spurs fan over the last 15 years has an appreciation for Duncan much deeper than his numbers. His calm, professional demeanor and his ability to self-criticize serves as a role model for the younger players on the team.

  • Dr. Who

    “baudkarma
    Something I realized a day or so ago, which I haven’t read anywhere… Duncan has a chance to achieve something that no other player in NBA history has. He could win a championship in three different decades.”

    Great nugget! I guess that is true. On a side note… Blair had a great game against subpar competition. Great game no less, perhaps he reads 48MOH???

  • Bert

    I sometimes debate who my favorite spur is Duncan or Ginobili.

  • http://www.48minutesofhell.com Len

    Very funny example of GS apathy Tyler.

    And no, I doubt Timmy gets the night off. The Clip show can jump up and bite every now and again, especially on the road (ask the Hornets). I do expect a heavy dose of the Blair/Bonner/Tiago monster.

  • http://www.operaforthemasses.com David G

    In this article (which was great by the way) it states that Duncan is considered a top 10-15 player ever. I agree with that but I’ve always thought, “shouldn’t he be higher?” Nobody ever agrees with me but isn’t he better than Larry Bird and Magic Johnson (two guys often found in people’s top 5 all time list)?

    If you move beyond impact on the league, popularity, and even how fun they were to watch and just compare their actual games isn’t Duncan better?

    Offensively you could argue that Bird or Magic were better but Duncan, if not equal, is awfully close.

    Defensivley it isn’t close at all. Duncan is an all time great defender, while Bird or Magic were neither. Neither were guarding the teams best offensive weapon and both had to be hidden on defense at times.

    Leadership- This is much harder to quantify but Bird hated some of his teammates and was a loner and Magic had his coach fired early in his career. This shouldn’t be held against either of them per say, but Duncan has nothing to blemish his record here.

    Championships- Duncan has one less than Magic, one more than Bird (hopefully he’ll tie Magic this year :). I think it would be extremely easy to argue that both Magic and Bird often had vastly better surronding casts.

    Shouldn’t Duncan be considered a top 5 player?

  • http://fundamentally-sound.blogspot.com Jaceman

    Duncan is traditionally touted as the “Best Power Forward of All Time” despite all of the controversy over whether or not he actually is a power forward.

    Great post Jesse.

  • http://www.bpifanconnect.com Alix Babaie

    IMO, Duncan is definitely top 10…..here is the way I see it:

    1. Bill Russell
    2. Michael Jordan
    3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
    4. Wilt Chamberlain
    5. Oscar Robertson
    6. Jerry West
    7. Bob Cousy
    8. Magic Johnson
    9. Larry Bird
    10. Tim Duncan

  • http://www.bpifanconnect.com Alix Babaie

    Those guys were all game changers and Duncan is not only a game changer but he is also a throwback to several of those eras with his fundamentally sound approach to the game. It would only be fitting if he were to become the 1st player ever with an NBA title in 3 different decades.

  • DieHardSpur

    Why doesnt Blair dunk the ball?

    If you remember last year, Blair/Ginobili combo was a virtual dunking highligh reel. How many of DB’s lay-ups almost didn’t go in? Stuff the ball already.

  • NYC

    Spurs scoring 118 and shooting 87.1% from the free throw line. Popovich reinserts Duncan late in the game, early on in the season… against the Warriors.

    The world is upside down.

    How much you wanna bet Popovich plays Duncan again tonight? It’s like he’s thrown out the playbook from the past few seasons and cashing in all his chips for this one. One more drive for five! GSG!

  • annie

    Once more Duncan has treated us to a fine performance just when everyone media wise and a substantial number of bloggers and fans point out his age and declining numbers.

    So be it. Every athlete ages, some better than others. Can you imagine Bryant or Jordan graciously realizing their roles are evolving? And in Duncan’s case something more than he has ever been?

    Duncan is gracious in everything he has ever done and will do.

    The painting is how I will always think of Duncan:elbows crossed and those eyes wide with an enthusiastic glower. A glower that said the game’s serious while on the court and away from it:its what it is. A game.

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  • http://www.48minutesofhell.com Len

    Wonderfully put Annie.

    This point gets lost on so many NBA fans. Year in and year out the “boring” Spurs go about their business on the court with pinpoint precision and relentless consistency. But why can the Spurs do this when most of the league comes up short?

    It all starts at the top. And by “top”, I mean the leader of the players. Almost all the coaches want this performance but, the players play the game. It’s the entire Spurs team that takes these subtle ques from Mr. Duncan. Don’t get to high during the wins and don’t get to low during the losses. Be professional, give everything you’ve got on the court (including THINKING) and have priorities off the court. Tim’s leadership skills are tremendous and far too often, taken for granted.

  • E-spur

    Permission to use this photo as my facebook profile picture with due credit to artist. Love it!

  • badger

    While I was reading this post, and I kid you not, a guy who works for me saw what I was reading and says to me, “I like Duncan and all, and I know he’s talented, but I guess I’ve always thought he looked so slow and methodical, almost mechanical. I mean, he never seems to have the fire or the athleticism like Kobe, Jordan, or Lebron. Why do you think he’s so great?”

    I paused, looked up, and tried very hard to hide my irritation at his insane comment. I took a deep breath, then calmly said:

    “He has been the most important piece in each of the Spurs 4 championships, a true “franchise player”. He is, by most accounts, the best power forward that has ever played the game. His game, especially when he was a bit younger, is a thing of beauty to nearly all basketball purists. Although he’s aging now, he’s still a HUGE part of nearly every victory, in ways that are not always easy to see on a stats sheet. By the way, other than Manu, I don’t think there is one player on that team with more fire, more determination to win, more drive to achieve basketball glory than Tim Duncan.”

    He shrugged and said, “I always thought Garnett was better.” What the $%*@??????

    Unlike my employee, whose judgment I will now question forever, I am so glad I’ve had a front row seat to his unbelievable career!!!! I am also sad to see so, so many casual basketball fans who remain utterly ignorant of the one in a million kind of talent that Tim Duncan has graced us with for the past 11+ years.

    As an aside, I’ve seen him in public places three times over the years, once with Amy at HEB when he was a rookie, once at HEB this past summer with his kids, and once at a Petsmart with his kids not long ago. Although my kids were with me and happen to be almost exactly the same age as his two kids, and although I so very badly wanted to thank him and tell him what I thought of his contribution to the Spurs and his game in general, somehow I knew that he really doesn’t want all the fanfare and that he probably doesn’t even want to be noticed at all when he’s off the court.

    I don’t regret not talking to him, but like the post above, I hope before he’s out of the game entirely, he’ll let us see more of who Tim the person really is. We’ll really feel the loss when he’s grabbed his last rebound or set his last screen for Tony or Manu. Let’s enjoy every single moment in the mean time.

  • badger

    Oh and no offense Alix, but “definitely top 10″? I’m thinking definitely TOP 5!!!

  • New Fan

    Can someone explain why that’s the most common image of tim duncan? Not the robot thing, but that hugging the ball photo.

  • jsilguero

    Great to read all the comments about our Spurs and how this season is progressing. Any publicity T. D. gets is great, and its nice to hear fans appreciating every facet of what T. D. offers our team, organization, and community.
    That said, can we please find another entirely different term to associate T. D. and David Robinson with other than “twin towers” or “tower”. That is a term coined for Olajuwon and those other scrub big guys in H-town back in their short-lived hey day. Our two guys are already legendary role models for anyone who aspires to play any form of TEAM basketball without living for a highlight reel that gets slammed in our faces by networks such as Espn. Check a dictionary synonym or something but please come up with another term or phrase to describe our big guys. I assume some form of journalistic background is required to write on the Spurs blogs. Please come up with something genuine for more than deserving guys. Thanks.

  • Moni

    I read that duncan has more post season tripple doubles than regular season (4 vs 3). I found that amazing. I disagree with the robinson comparisons though. I think in the playoffs you’ll see 20-10-3 from him again. He’s playing less and not gassing himself. Duncan is the epitome of a player who steps it up in the post season.

  • Gus

    Love the painting and the article. I missed last nights game,but just reading how Tim played and how his performance fueled yet another win for a team that is hardly ever spoken about, reminded everyone that he’s still one of the best players, on one of the best teams, with one of the best coach out there in the NBA.

  • markuz

    Tim Duncan is the reason why I became a spurs fan and an avid NBA player. He thought me how to play basketball. I always try to immitate his moves hehe. Sadly, his bank shot is a bit harder to do. Duncan is an icon. Yeah, Each time I watch the old games, when I see him shoot the ball so accurately in the post, I always say to myself “I wish he’s still playin like this” . Timmy is not the same as he was but is still the heart and soul of my spurs. The leader. The one that really has the passion for the game that sacrificed even part of his income. Maybe he not the same as he was but I can still bet against all of those who writes him off: watch him when playoffs comes, It will be a different story. Tim can still score 20-30 points a game and rebound 10plus a game.. when it matters most.. the playoffs.. and championship.

  • d.iyer

    I became a San Antonio fan after watching Tim Duncan play. And I am from Chicago so I did not catch as many games as most of the Spurs fans. He has been my favorite player for the last 12 seasons.

    TD is definitely the GOAT power forward. He is also the best player of his era. Some may say Kobe or Shaq, but both have had better talent around them during their championship runs. Manu and TP are great, but the Lakers have a deeper starting 5.

    Also, the Spurs have been title contenders in the last 8 seasons. They have won 50+ games and never missed the playoffs. And it all starts with the foundation, Tim Duncan.

  • Cary Byrd

    I have to agree with everyone else . . .Great article and great picture to match. I can’t believe the time has come to where we are talking about Timmy retiring – I believe it’s way to early and I feel he has so much more to give. I , like Tim refuse to accept that :)

    If anyone is interested in joining the first “true” new social network for Spurs fans please go to http://www.spursconnect.com/signup. You can win cool prizes for talking about the best team in the NBA – Our beloved San Antonio Spurs – Go Spurs Go!

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