Last month, Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs really pissed David Stern off. Three days after quietly becoming only the ninth player in NBA history to rack up more than 2500 career blocked shots—the milestone-setting rejection was against Andrea Bargnani in the San Antonio Spurs’ 111-106 double-overtime win against the Toronto Raptors—Duncan, along with Danny Green, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, stayed back in the Alamo City to do whatever it is that one does in San Antonio at the behest of head coach Gregg Popovich. They sat out for a nationally-televised marquee matchup against the LeBron James’ Miami Heat.
For Duncan, it was another “DNP-OLD,” but for Popovich, it was another “DNP-FU.”
Pop’s middle finger to the L resulted in the Commish apologizing on behalf of the league to fans before the broadcast and, after promising that “substantial sanctions will be forthcoming,” fining the Spurs $250,000 for resting its star players. The Popovich vs. Stern feud is a whole ‘nother can of worms, but here’s what’s allowing Pop to sleep at night when it comes to letting his stars catch a breather: you can’t put a price tag on extending the on court life span of a franchise player like Duncan.
That’s right Stern, this sh-t’s chess, it ain’t checkers.
Right now, Duncan is averaging 30.3 minutes per game, good enough for 82nd in the league, while averaging 18.1 ppg (22nd in the L), 9.8 rpg (13th) and 2.4 blocks per game (6th). The only player averaging more points in fewer minutes is Brook Lopez with 18.5 ppg in 29.7 minutes. Lopez’ production per minute played may be a smidge higher than Duncan, but Timmy’s PER blows his and other players out the frame. Currently, Duncan’s PER is 26.43, good for fourth best in the league behind Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant and LeBron James, players who are obviously very young and gettin’ it.
Timmy D’s longevity is priceless, not only because he’s the best power forward to ever man the low post, but because the Spurs’ offense and defense runs through him. Manu and Tony are remarkable, but San Antone is Duncan’s town. He’s “Planet Duncan” with ancillary players orbiting him like he’s the sun.
“There’ll be times this year where we’ll sit him in back-to-backs,” Popovich said. “Just because his conditioning and his age doesn’t change. It seems like it has for some magical reason, some strange elixir out there that he’s found, he and Kevin Garnett have found it and nobody else, maybe Jason (Kidd), but he was like this last year. I thought he was an All Star last year, I think that was an omission. This year, he’s playing the same way. He’s been our most solid player. Tony’s been great lately, but for a good portion of the season, Timmy’s carried us. Timmy’s been our base and our main building block as usual.”
This is Duncan’s 15th season in the league. At 36 years old, he should be slowing down like molasses, but thanks to Coach Pop’s minute manipulation and the unknown youth elixir he’s sippin’, the Wake Forest alum is still a classic like Nas’ Illmatic, standing the test of time with basketball abilities that haven’t diminished with time. The Big Fundamental is still killing cats down on the block with those bankers that kiss the glass and angle into the basket like a trick shot from a pool hall hustler; he’s still schooling cats with those unblockable righty jump hooks over his left shoulder. And just when you thought he didn’t have the uppies to elevate to the top floor anymore, he hammers home one of his one-handed tomahawk slams. Couple all that with his dependable “get that ish outta here” shot blocking, his signature outlet passing to start the break and his acute ball movement and assists out of the double-team in the post and it’s clear: Timmy’s still got it, got it good.
For those that like to crunch numbers like Nate Silver, Duncan has logged 1131 career regular season games for a total of 22,920 points, 12,728 rebounds, 3,479 assists and 2,517 blocked shots in 39,974 minutes. Mileage like that has taken Tim’s body way past the factory warranty. This is why he has to play limited minutes in the regular season. David Stern and his fines be damned. The Spurs need Tim Duncan to help them to another 50 plus win season, no question, but they’ll need him the most for the playoffs. That’s when it’s winning time and Tim Duncan is at his best.