Tim Duncan: Winning Fifth Championship Would Make Him Greater Than Kobe Bryant

Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse more stories
Tim Duncan: Winning Fifth Championship Would Make Him Greater Than Kobe Bryant
Harry How/Getty Images

 

We often hear arguments about what happens if Kobe Bryant wins his sixth ring, and where that would place him in relation to Michael Jordan. However, there is another question that is rarely discussed, and which this year could be far more possible.

If Tim Duncan wins his fifth ring, does that move him past Bryant as the greatest player of this generation?

Do not be so quick to guffaw at this notion.

Yes, it goes against the prevailing view, but that view is distorted.

Duncan should already be in the conversation, but he is not. His playing style has not been as entertaining and his team has been a small-market team. He has not been signing a huge number of endorsement deals. All of that works against him. 

Let’s not confuse “fame” with “greatness.”

Bryant is easily the more famous of the two, but that does not mean he is the greater player. In fact, when you take a look at the details, it is easy to establish that Duncan has accomplished at least as much as Bryant on the court in all ways but one.

There's a solid argument to be made for this, and as with any sound sports argument, it starts (but does not end) with looking at the numbers.

First, let’s look at the basic total numbers from their careers. 

Player

G

MP

FG%

3P%

FT%

Bryant

1,161

42,377

.453

.337

.838

Duncan

1,111

39,369

.507

.177

.688

Player

TRB

AST

STL

BLK

TOV

PTS

Bryant

6,142

5,418

1,722

594

3,432

29,484

Duncan

12,533

3,428

822

2,469

2,854

22,558

The overall numbers are close. Bryant leads in the areas where you would expect a guard to lead—scoring, assists and steals—while Duncan leads in the areas where you would expect a big man to lead—field-goal percentage, blocks, rebounds and turnovers. 

While there is no clear winner here, it is easy to establish that they are effectively on the same level. They both lead in four major categories.

If you do a kind of “ballpark” estimate where you just total the five major stat lines and subtract turnovers (points+assists+rebounds+blocks+steals-turnovers), then Bryant has the slight edge in totals, 39,928 to Duncan’s 38,956, while Duncan has the slight edge in averages per game, 35.1 to 34.4.

In other words, you could probably find a way to spin it so that either player has an advantage, but it is close enough that you’d be hard-pressed to make a clear case either way.

Now let’s take a look at the advanced stats.

Player

PER

TS%

eFG%

USG%

ORtg

DRtg

NetRtg

Bryant

23.4

.554

.486

31.8

112

105

+7

Duncan

24.7

.551

.508

27.7

110

95

+15

Player

OWS

DWS

WS

EFF

Bryant

115.5

46.9

162.4

26,073

Duncan

87.3

88.6

175.9

28,169

When we get to the advanced stats, we once again see Kobe Bryant leading in the areas you would expect him to lead and vice-versa. However, here the slight edge goes to Duncan. Especially when you look at the metrics, such as win shares, net rating, efficiency and player efficiency rating, Duncan has a clear advantage.

I’d like to balance that a bit, though, by saying that none of those things include unassisted field goals, the thing which Kobe has done best over the course of his career.

At the same time, they do not really include how Duncan has consistently owned the paint defensively throughout the course of his career, and the full impact that has on games. 

The point being, there are things that the stats do not take into account for both players. Before jumping on the "stats do not mean everything" argument, remember that they do not mean everything for either player. 

In the end, it is hard to conclude that either player is provably greater when it comes to the regular-season stats. That in itself says something, though. It establishes that Duncan is on the same level as Bryant statistically. 

How about the postseason numbers? 

Player

G

TRB

AST

STL

BLK

TOV

PTS

FG%

Bryant

217

1099

1029

306

144

641

5524

.448

Duncan

181

2222

615

128

462

533

4073

.502

Once again, each player has the advantage where you would expect him to. Once again, Bryant has the advantage in totals if you take all the stats in summation, 7,461 to 6,967. And once again, Duncan has edge if you take the averages per game, 38.5 to 34.4.

How about the postseason advanced stats?

Player 

PER 

TS% 

USG% 

ORtg 

DRtg 

NetRtg 

WS 

Eff

Bryant

22.3

.541

30.9

110

106

+4

27.7

4,731

Duncan

25.4

.550

28.3

110

98

+12

29.7

4,974

Here is probably the only clear statistical advantage that either player has over the other. The advanced stats are strongly in favor of Duncan. The only area where Bryant has the edge is in usage rate, and in spite of that, Duncan has the edge in PER, offensive rating, win shares and efficiency.

The advanced stats show that Duncan has been a superior postseason player to Bryant when it comes to individual success.

One other thing that should be mentioned in terms of the statistical comparison is that while Bryant has made no secret that the stats matter to him over the years and has stuffed the stats from time to time, Duncan has never been that type of player.

That's not say that Bryant is just a "stat-stuffer," but if even one percent of his numbers are "stuffed" that's one percent more than Duncan. 

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Whether you are talking about regular-season or postseason stats, there really is no argument that Bryant has done more than Duncan.

Certainly, there are areas where he has done more, but there are also plenty of areas where Duncan wins out. In the grand scheme of things, it is at least a tie, and if it’s not a tie, it is Duncan by a nose.

When you factor in that Duncan owns two MVPs to Bryant’s one, it strengthens the argument in favor of Duncan. The reality is that there's already a conversation to be had about who is the greater player.

There is an argument for Bryant over Duncan, though; it's in the rings. Bryant has five, Duncan has four. That’s a fair and reasonable argument.

Some would argue that Duncan’s four should count just as much as Bryant's five, because he played a more significant role on all four.

However, that’s a fairly tenuous position. Bryant has two Finals MVPs and he arguably could have won a third. He was fairly even with Shaquille O’Neal when he won his third championship. It’s not like he was a “Robert Horry” on the team; he was a major factor in their winning.

You could also point out that David Robinson was there for Duncan’s first two rings, and that Tony Parker was the Finals MVP for another one. It’s worth pointing out the same sort of semantics can be applied both ways. 

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The distinction between Duncan’s role in his championships and Bryant’s in his is negligible. Both were major factors in their respective championships. It does not benefit the conversation to take credit away from either player for the rings they earned the right to wear.

The argument becomes moot, though, if Duncan has the same number of rings as Bryant. Five rings with a minimum of three Finals MVPs trumps five rings with two Finals MVPs, particularly when you factor in that Duncan has had more personal success in the postseason statistically.

That subtle edge which Kobe presently owns in the conversation for greatest of their generation shifts in favor of Duncan if he wins a fifth ring.

There is another aspect to the conversation as well. While all but the most ardent Bryant fan would concede that Bryant is, at best, the second-greatest shooting guard of all time, the majority opinion is that Duncan is the greatest power forward of all time.

Who else is even in the conversation?

There is Karl Malone, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Charles Barkley and maybe Bob Pettit. Duncan has twice as many championships as those five players combined.

He was the first, and until last year, the only power forward in NBA history to win a Finals MVP, and he has three.

For those that want to say that “rings don’t mean everything,” bear in mind that is a blade that cuts both ways. Rings are the argument that’s been used to put Bryant over LeBron James for the last several years.

One other thing that is interesting to me is that while Kobe Bryant has been celebrated for spending his entire career with the Lakers, Duncan has spent his entire career with the Spurs and has gotten a fraction of the credit for doing so.

Spending your entire career with the most historic franchise in the history of the NBA is hardly the sacrifice that spending your entire career carrying a small-market team is.

Why is Kobe celebrated for staying at the top of the heap his entire career, while Duncan gets ignored while actually making a sacrifice?

If the Spurs win the title this year, who should be considered the greatest player of this generation?

Submit Vote vote to see results

A large part of Bryant’s fame is because of his play, but let’s not ignore that he’s gained a huge benefit being a Laker his entire career. Playing for the world’s most popular franchise and in the nation’s second-largest city was hardly career suicide.

Duncan could have left San Antonio, but he didn't. He never threatened to leave. He’s embraced the city since day one and never left. That arguably could have had a detrimental effect.

In fact, it is a pretty safe argument that if the roles were reversed and it was Duncan playing for a major-market team his whole career, and if Bryant had not demanded his way out of playing for Charlotte all those years ago, the prevailing view would be that Duncan is the greater player of their generation.

There will be those who read this as taking a swipe at Bryant. It is not. Giving Duncan credit is not insulting Bryant. Seeing it as an insult to Bryant, though, is an insult to Duncan. Both are top-10 players of all time. Giving either credit as such takes nothing from the other. 

If Duncan wins another title, he will have as many rings as Bryant, at least one more Finals MVP, one more regular-season MVP and a slight postseason overall statistical edge, while being effectively “tied” with Bryant statistically in the regular season.

He already is considered the greatest to play his position, while Bryant is not. 

Objectively, he will have a stronger case than Bryant for greatest player of their generation, even if he is not the most famous.

Load More Stories

Follow B/R on Facebook

Out of Bounds

NBA

Subscribe Now

We will never share your email address

Thanks for signing up.