Tim Duncan came into the NBA as a lanky big man who could give David Robinson some help. He would leave the NBA as one of the greatest big-men of all time. He is most known for playing by the fundamentals as his nickname was “The Big Fundamental”. One of his signature moves was the bank shot, as he perfected it to the highest level. Even with all his individual success, he was always a team-first player helping his team win five championships. With San Antonio not being the biggest market, the “Twin Towers” brought back relevance with their first championship in 1999. His legacy since then still lives on.
Career Profile: Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan being inducted into the 2020 Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame was well deserved and really puts his illustrious career in retrospect.
After playing all 4 years at Wake Forest, Duncan was selected #1 overall in the 1997 NBA Draft. With David Robinson’s season-ending injury the year prior, it was a blessing San Antonio ended up with Duncan. Within their first season, the Spurs were already a playoff team, losing in the 2nd round to the Utah Jazz. Duncan earned 113 first-place votes giving him a near-unanimous Rookie of the Year.
The following season, the Spurs finished with the #1 seed in the Western Conference. They ended up winning the NBA Finals in 5 games against the New York Knicks. Tim Duncan won Finals MVP, being the first 2nd-year player to win the award since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1971. In the NBA Draft, understandably, the Spurs only managed to get the 29th and 57th picks in the draft. However, with the 57th pick that season, the team selected Argentian guard Manu Ginobili.
For the next three seasons, San Antonio failed to make it to the finals but managed to be a strong team through that run. In 2001, the Spurs selected Tony Parker with the 28th pick, who made an immediate impact on the team. In 2002, Duncan won his first MVP award at age 25, averaging almost 26 points, 13 rebounds, and 4 assists a game. Despite this, they still lost to the Lakers in the playoffs for the second straight season. Eventually, changes and improvements had to be made.
Entering His Prime
On July 17th, 2002, the Spurs signed Ginobili to a 2-year deal. In this same summer, Ginobili went on to average 14 points and 4 assists in the 2002 FIBA World Championships in only around 22 minutes of playing time. He made an immediate impact averaging around 8 points on solid efficiency during his rookie season. On the other hand, Duncan also had an amazing season winning his 2nd straight MVP award. He led the Spurs to the #1 seed and they finally beat the Lakers who were coming off a threepeat. They would go on to face the New Jersey Nets, that year, in the NBA Finals. Tim Duncan put up an absurd stat line in the Game 6 win with 21 points, 10 assists, 20 rebounds, and 8 blocks!
In the following years, Duncan proved he was one of the best forwards in the league. He played with fundamentals and that led to wins. In 2005, the Spurs won their third championship in 7 years, with Duncan winning his third straight Finals MVP. His teammates, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, also were entering their primes at that moment, making key plays as well. In 2007, the Spurs won another championship, with Tony Parker this time earning the Finals MVP nod.
The Spurs were still dominant in the few years after that, but it was obvious that they weren’t the favorite out of the West anymore. The Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Hornets, and the Los Angeles Lakers were also in the race to make it to the NBA Finals. Duncan was still continually an all-star, throughout this stretch.
Duncan’s decline began around 2010 when the Spurs were just not the same team anymore. In 2009, the Spurs finished as the #3 seed in the West, yet fell in the first round to the #6 seeded Dallas Mavericks. The year after, they made a surprise visit to the 2nd round but lost convincingly to the Phoenix Suns. Even though Duncan was never the same player, however, he was still a very talented player who had a lot to offer. He still made winning plays and was very impactful, but his overall talent and energy were not even close to where it was just 5 years prior. But, help was on the way.
In 2010, the Spurs picked up wing Danny Green off waivers, in hopes of providing another solid spacing option. The Spurs ended up winning 61 games that season, their highest since 2006. However, an entire collapse occurred in the playoffs, as they couldn’t make it past the 1st round and lost to a rising Memphis Grizzlies squad. Despite this, the Spurs knew they were capable of bigger things in the small window they had left before Duncan eventually would call it the end of his career.
In the 2011 NBA Draft, the Pacers drafted a young wing by the name of Kawhi Leonard. That very same day, Leonard was traded to San Antonio along with a few other players for George Hill. Leonard proved his value immediately, as he was inserted into the starting lineup. That season, the Spurs ended up with the #1 seed, but still didn’t make it to the finals, as they lost to a young Thunder team. Minimal changes were made going into the following season, however, Leonard improved his play. Duncan also had a solid bounceback year as he averaged solid numbers. They cruised their way to the NBA Finals, avoiding a Thunder team due to the injury of Russell Westbrook.
They met the Miami Heat in the NBA finals, led by LeBron James. Though they forced the series to 7, they ended up losing. The following season, the Spurs won 62 games and Leonard was awarded a spot on the All-Defensive Second Team. They cruised their way to the NBA Finals, where they met up again against the Miami Heat. This time, however, Leonard’s improved play combined with the Spurs being the better team allowed them to win the championship comfortably. Leonard was awarded Finals MVP for his stellar two-way play.
The Spurs ran it back the following season but wound up losing in the 1st round to the Clippers. The following season, the Spurs brought in LaMarcus Aldridge who was coming off a career year in Portland. The Spurs tried running it back for the final time with the addition of Aldridge and won 67 games. However, this still wasn’t enough to give them the #1 seed as the Golden State Warriors were unstoppable. They lost in the second round to the Thunder, and Duncan would eventually retire.
Tim Duncan’s Legacy
As arguably the greatest Power Forward of all time, Duncan will be remembered as a quiet assassin. He never fooled around on the court and was willing to learn as much as possible to improve his play. With a legacy of being a 15x All-Star, 2x MVP, and a 5x NBA Champion, it’s no wonder he was a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. All the tough battles he had to encounter on the court increased the level of competition of people trying to beat the Spurs.
He also embraced loyalty, as he stuck with the Spurs franchise his entire career. Only a few players have played 19 years in the NBA for the same team. The draft selection of Duncan turned basketball in South Texas around. With the Spurs being 5-time champions, they went from being a mediocre franchise to one of the best franchises to exist. With that all said, Tim Duncan created a lasting positive impression around his opponents and teammates, and will always be remembered for being the player he was.
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