Tim Duncan is the perfect embodiment of the San Antonio Spurs. As a team, they are consistent, effective, low maintenance and silent. The Spurs rarely (and by rarely, I mean about as often as a real life Superman and Batman sighting) make headlines, choosing instead to emphasize basketball.
San Antonio operates as a team in the truest sense possible. Players cut, spot up, run to open spots, set screens and take open shots. Rarely does the ball ever stick in the hands of one player.
When Tony Parker has the ball in his hands, he’s not simply sizing up his defender and looking for ways to get himself going. Instead, he is going through a multitude of ball screens, giving the ball up, getting it back via hand offs and then attacking whatever crevice the defense leaves for him.
These actions all happen in concert with each other. While Parker gets defenders shifting with his ball screens, his teammates run through picks and remain active off the ball.
Thus, the Spurs offense is a puzzle that continuously evolves on each and every possession as Popovich adds wrinkles to give defenses more things to think about. This happens with little to no fanfare and makes basketball purists drool.
Duncan makes all of this happen. He is perfectly content with setting ball screens, rolling to the basket, setting another pick for an off the ball player and then restarting the process all over again.
He is that rare type of superstar that routinely executes the little things that typically is left up to role players. His interior defense is superb if not legendary both from an individual and team standpoint.
The way he nullifies opponents’ rebounding edge is rather sensational. In fact, one struggles to recall an instance where an opposing frontcourt simply consistently manhandled him on the boards.
His willingness to play like both a superstar and role player has afforded him a plethora of one-on-one opportunities down on the low block. Indeed, the constant movements of his teammates combined with the screens away from the ball make it difficult for even elite defenses to keep track of every Spur.
Consequently, Duncan will often catch the ball in the low post with the benefit of only facing his lone defender. That’s a scenario Popovich will take every single time especially with Duncan converting 46.3 percent of his field goals in post up situations in 2012-13 per Synergy Sports.
The team takes its notes from the Big Fundamental as much as he takes his from the team.
There is one aspect that rarely gets mentioned about Duncan that would have become a huge headline in any other market: his willingness to pass the torch.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ Kareem Abdul-Jabbar eventually aged and ceded the reins over to Magic Johnson. Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant coexisted as Lakers but the passing of the torch never occurred and one of them was traded away.
Dwyane Wade and LeBron James of the Miami Heat shared the spotlight initially but Wade eventually gave ground and allowed James to truly flourish as the team’s best player.
In the case of Duncan, many point to his passing of the torch to Parker as one of these famous occurrences in NBA history where a superstar passed along the alpha male status over to a teammate. Mind you, many forget the two-time league MVP has actually done it twice.
Indeed, Manu Ginobili was also briefly given a chance to be the team’s top guy but his availability eventually forced a downgrade in role.
Duncan is the best power forward of all time and also one of the 10 best players ever. And yet, he accepted the natural evolution of the team and never made a public a fuss about ceding ground to two players.
While some superstars struggle to cope with allowing one guy to take his spot, Duncan gave in and let two players do so for prosperity’s sake.
His sensational basketball skills as a big man coupled with his understanding of the concept of team basketball have allowed him to become best four-man of all-time.
It’s been a long and interesting journey for the Spurs’ superstar. One in which he has been consistently exceptional and yet quiet in his greatness.
His unique personality as a superstar is one of the reasons Duncan is now only one win away in the 2013 NBA Finals from his fifth title. The biggest surprise of it all is that no one is truly shocked by this.
And that’s a true testament to his greatness.
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