People are often quick to tag basketball as a young man's game.
In his prime, Duncan was one of the best—if not the best—players in the league, and his renowned career will one day earn him a spot in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as one of the all-time great players.
Now at 36, Duncan is no longer a budding star. Instead, he is a seasoned veteran, although he hasn't shown any difficulty competing at a high level despite the inevitable aging process.
A lot has changed since Duncan was drafted in 1997, but one thing has stayed consistent—Duncan is one of the league's best big men. And he's playing better than he has in a long time.
While Duncan has remained a heavy producer, reduced minutes have resulted in a decrease in statistics for the big man, who hasn't averaged 20 points per game since 2006-07. These past two seasons in particular, Duncan has witnessed his stats diminish the most, averaging 13.4 and 15.4 points in 2010-11 and 2011-12, respectively. He also added 8.9 and 9.0 rebounds in each of those seasons as well.
However, any signs of slowing down have been erased this season, with Duncan's 2012-13 campaign being the most productive in a while. This increase in efficiency is not only evident in Duncan's statistics. His refueled style of play has translated to team success and has been the main reason for the Spurs' 7-1 start.
This year, Duncan has seen a slight increase in playing time, however the Spurs use their big men at a fairly consistent rate as last season. According to NBA.com's Advanced Stats, Duncan's player usage is estimated to be 27 percent, only a 0.7 percent increase from last year's percentage.
So if he's being utilized in a similar fashion, then what is the driving cause behind his sudden overhaul?
The primary reason is actually Tim Duncan himself. While age normally takes a toll on a player, Duncan has actually been on the rise since 2010-11. This year in particular has been a complete flashback of his early years, with strong totals of 18.8 points per game in addition to 9.6 rebounds per game.
His shooting percentage has risen above 50 percent which, from his shot selection, is no surprise. Last year, Duncan shot only 63 percent of his attempts from the restricted area. This year, he has spent more time around the rim, attempting 70 percent of his tries from that area.
More importantly, however, has been Duncan's increase in efficiency on the defensive end. With the Spurs' new focus on defense, Duncan has put a strong emphasis on his role as the team's anchor in the post.
His block numbers have spiked, and Duncan is playing with a higher level of confidence than he did last year. Instead of worrying about his age, his mentality has returned to that of the MVP he once was.
He has reclaimed the torch from Tony Parker, becoming the focal point of the offense. Watching the Spurs, it is plain to see that Duncan touches the ball several times each possession, often with plays concluding with an inside attempt from the big man himself.
The sample size is still very small, but from what we've seen so far, Duncan has stepped up his game yet again. Age is no longer an issue for the veteran, whose name has been jolted into MVP consideration after the NBA's third week.
Whether or not he'll return to earth will only become evident as the season continues. However, even if the Spurs reduce his minutes, with his smarter shot selection in addition to his rejuvenated defense, his overall production shouldn't waver too greatly going forward.
All stats are accurate as of November 14.
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