Where does Tim Duncan sit historically and why is this question so difficult to answer?
Tim Duncan is probably one of the five or six best NBA players of all time, and yet, most people struggle to slot him into their top ten. How can this possibly be? Can anyone honestly say that a prime Duncan did not give a team one of the best chances to win a title? This is a man who threw up an ungodly 24 points-15 boards-5 assists-3 blocks in one NBA Playoffs, has two MVP’s, three Finals MVPs and five titles to his name. Bird (widely considered the best or second best forward ever) has three MVP’s, three Finals MVPs and three rings but he only played nine years. Magic lost out on the end of his career due to contracting HIV but won five titles and changed the game forever.
The question is simple: does Tim Duncan in his prime give you a better chance to win a title than Bird or Magic?
What makes it virtually impossible to accurately measure Duncan’s career (and understand exactly how good he is in a historical context) is the fact that he never cared about anything but winning. Tim Duncan is the best teammate of all time – and that is not even close to up for debate. When he was at his best (2 MVP’s and literally unstoppable) he was never considered “better than Kobe or LeBron” simply because the entirety of his impact is unmeasurable. Here is what we know: his teams never missed the playoffs, he got significantly better when it mattered most (upped his ppg / rpg / minutes) and he pushed his team to their absolute best. Should he be punished because his coach (Pop one of the two or three best ever) smartly limited his regular season minutes to keep him fresh? Should he be punished for playing in one of the best systems the league has ever seen? Or for being quiet when others were loud but not as good?
Tim Duncan’s peak was never as transcendent as LeBron’s, Kareem, Jordan or even Magic and Bird, but he has been one of the best players in the NBA for more than 19 years – and his five titles attest to his impact on the league. However, as Bill Simmons points out in his column today; would you take 19 years of Duncan, or 9 of Bird? It is a diabolical choice for a reason.
Here is what we know – Tim Duncan does not care how he is viewed historically and he will be the last guy in the world to tell you how great he is. His game stands for itself. His record stands for itself. He allows his five titles to speak for him.
They speak rather loudly.