As it was announced on Monday, Tim Duncan has played his final game for the San Antonio Spurs and will be officially retiring as a player from the National Basketball Association. After 19 loyal seasons with the Spurs, Duncan will forever be etched into the history books of greatness. Arguably the greatest power forward the league has ever seen, at 40 years of age there was a certain air of inevitability surrounding his future. As an optimist, one could argue that San Antonio can benefit from Tim Duncan’s retirement. Duncan’s performances significantly curtailed last season, no doubt limited by his average 25 minutes of floor-time and a persistent knee injury which saw him miss 21 regular season games. Duncan was only averaging 5.4 defensive rebounds per game, compared to his career average of 8.1. His points production of 8.6 was a career-low as well, more than half of his career average of 19. While no doubt a San Antonio legend and future hall-of-famer, Duncan is professional enough to step down and let someone else fill his large shoes.
Up Steps Pau Gasol
The San Antonio Spurs once again looked to the free agency market to plug major holes in their system. Last season the Spurs signed 30-year-old LaMarcus Aldridge on a four-year deal which forced Duncan to play as a center for most of their time together. Now San Antonio will be hoping that the just-turned-36-year-old Pau Gasol can fill in for the ultimate teammate, Tim Duncan. Pau Gasol has agreed to a two-year deal with San Antonio and will no doubt begin his Spur’s career as a starter. At 7-ft tall, Gasol is more of a natural center than Duncan and should seamlessly make that position his own.
Pau Gasol first came into the league playing the center position, but has also played efficiently as a power forward throughout his career. During his time with the Memphis Grizzlies, Gasol made the All-Star team only once. It was during his time with the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant when Gasol really made a name for himself, winning two NBA titles and making 3 All-Star appearances. Although significantly aged, Gasol has maintained decent scoring and rebounding averages since his peak years with Lakers. The Lakers made a half-hearted attempt to keep an aging and injury-prone Gasol before he chose to sign a two-year contract with the Chicago Bulls in 2014.
Gasol is Perfect for the Spurs System
Even with small injury problems, Gasol managed to elevate his game once more in Chicago, averaging only 0.1 less points per game and averaging an extra 1.5 boards per game compared with his time in Los Angeles. Gasol also returned to the All-Star lineup, this time for the East, both of his seasons with Chicago. Most importantly, however, he averaged 4.1 assists per game last season, proving that his skill set suits his aging body and, indeed, the slow-paced methodical game plan of the Spurs. Tim Duncan was a great passer for a man of his stature and in his own right, but never managed more than an average of 3.9 assists during a single season. San Antonio is a team which can usually be found in the top five for assists per game, so with the addition of Pau Gasol fans can logically expect a slight increase in assist numbers.
Even in his advanced years, Gasol still managed to play more than 5 minutes per game than his predecessor and only missed out on 10 regular season games. Comparing the two players from last season, Gasol averaged 3.7 more boards, 7.9 points and 0.7 more blocks than Duncan. Gasol was more effective on both the offensive and defensive boards, making him a more natural player for the center position and no doubt an upgrade on the seasoned Tim Duncan. A proven winner as well, San Antonio will maintain their experience and championship caliber in Gasol. With Duncan, San Antonio managed to record a franchise record of 67 regular season wins – a fitting end to a stellar career. If the statistics are anything to go by, Spurs fans will be eagerly awaiting the debut of Pau Gasol in the San Antonio lineup, possibly anticipating an even better record and hopefully a championship to complement it with.