Refreshed Duncan continues to captain Spurs defense


AT&T CENTER — While back-to-back 20-point games are garnering most of the attention, for the Spurs the early season spring from Tim Duncan is paying dividends on the defensive end as well. Duncan came into the game with six blocked shots on the season and added another three to his total in a 110-100 win over the Utah Jazz on Saturday night. And he almost extended his 20-point streak to three games (Duncan finished with 19).

More than just what’s seen on the box score, though, are what he’s able to do without chalking up a statistic. So far this early season, the Spurs are able to funnel ball handlers to Duncan for stretches, where his positioning and discipline have altered far more shots than the three blocks per game he’s averaging. Duncan knows where to be far before he needs to be there, which is a blessing for a 36-year-old whose foot speed has diminished (economy of movement is what it’s called). And in part because Duncan was never really a leaper, his timing on blocked shots is excellent and discipline to stay on the floor when opponents pump fake is second-to-none.

All this to say, Duncan is still a great defensive center. Positional controversy aside, when it comes to defense, Duncan is a center. He doesn’t defend power forwards due to the aforementioned physical limitations.  Much has been made about the physical condition Duncan entered the season in — and for good reason, go look at a picture of him from his rookie season and marvel at how much he’s slimmed down — and that shape has been a catalyst for his play in this early season.

“It’s just a credit to his professionalism, his character, his understanding of the human body and that there are only so many steps and years you have,” Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich said before the team’s game against the Jazz. “He’s taken the best advantage he possibly can to extend that as long as he can.”

And what he’s done his help the Spurs defense get off to a fast start. Through three games this season, San Antonio is putting up a 98.3 DefRtg. That puts the Spurs at 13th in the league upon posting of this story, but the numbers are skewed because of the small sample size. Last season a 98.3 DefRtg would’ve put the San Antonio as the fifth-best defense in the league at the end of the year.

The Spurs entered their game against the Jazz with a 94.6 defensive rating, but one third quarter barrage from Mo Williams later, and their defensive numbers jumped a bit. Outside of that quarter against the Jazz and a rocky first period last week when the opened up the season in New Orleans, and you could argue that the Spurs defense has been stellar in this short season.

And that all leads back to Duncan. Well, Duncan and the havoc-wreaking tendencies of Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi could be the defensive leader Coach Pop says he is (“We followed his lead defensively”), but Duncan is the one who pulls the strings on the backline of that defense. And if the Spurs are to continue to slow opposing offenses the way they have been, Duncan needs to avoid the wear-and-tear of a long season as much as possible. The longer Duncan plays in a game, the better chances the Spurs have of winning.

While Coach Pop can do what he can to creatively keep 21’s minutes down this season, Duncan aims to take his fate–and that of the Spurs’ title chances–into his own hands.

“I don’t talk to him about it, I don’t tell him what to do, he does what he does on his own: flexibility, strength, diet, all those things,” Coach Pop said. “He’s just magnificent in that regard.”

Statistics courtesy of

  • Gomezd

    We lucked out with Duncan. There might be a few stars that rival Duncan in the basketball court. But as a person and as a team member he is unparalleled I think he is perhaps THE most professional basketball player of all times.

  • Chris G

    I would put David Robinson slightly ahead of Timmy in that respect. After all, the sportsmanship award is named after The Admiral.

  • assistman

    That’s an award for humanitarianism. Timmy is by far the more professional basketball player. Robinson refused to work on his game in the off-season, and was encouraged by coaches to be more like Sean Elliot in his work ethic throughout their years together. There are several other stars with a great work ethic,whereas Timmy not only works as hard as anyone could ever hope, and bears the standard of unselfishness and commitment to team that is unparalleled.

  • idahospur

    I always love to remind myself how many #1 draft picks win titles with the team that drafted them in the past 25 years or so…David Robinson and Tim Duncan!

  • Tim in Surrey


  • Jeffrey Thompson

    Add the fact this guy is pushing 40 and shows no signs of wear and tear. Kudos to him.

  • Stuart

    “He’s taken the best advantage he possibly can to extend that as long as he can.”

    And that’s one of the many reasons Tim Duncan is one of my favorite basketball players ever. His mental game is just as awesome as his physical game. If Shaq had cared about extending his career and kept in shape, then he could have been one of the best centers ever. But he relied purely on his genetic gift of size, and was lazy.

  • ThatBigGuy

    Anyone else enjoying this resurgence, but wondering in the back of their mind if Timmy might be blowing his wad a little early?

  • assistman

    Yup. If Timmy had Shaq’s body, or Shaq Tim’s mind, he would have won 10-12 titles for sure (8 minimum), and been the all-time number #1 bigman ever to suit up.

  • Jimbo

    Yep, although I’d go even further and say Shaq could have been the greatest player ever if he had dedicated himself to basketball. Even half-assing it, he was the most dominant player I’ve ever seen. The way he was during their 3-peat was ridiculous.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Until he blows a knee out.

  • Titletown99030507d

    You got that right. By the time the WCF rolled around he had no lift in his top of the key shot. But hey Pop’s the genius.

  • TD BestEVER

    TD was just fine in the WCF last year…. Now your cousin Tiago is the one who went all nose dive/face plant on us…….

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