Explaining Tim Duncan's Resurgent MVP-Caliber Season for San Antonio Spurs
Throughout his prime, Duncan garnered a reputation as one of the most fundamentally-sound players to ever step foot on the hardwood.
Throughout his acclaimed career, the big man has racked up a pair of MVP awards as well as three Finals MVP's.
However, as Duncan grows older, his production is no longer what it used to be, and prior to this season, a steady decline was inevitable.
Still, the power forward found ways to be effective despite passing the leadership torch to point guard Tony Parker.
This year has been a completely different story.
Playing at a level that no 36-year-old should be able to, the veteran big man has reclaimed the torch and has been the Spurs' incontrovertible leader throughout their continued success.
Averaging 17.7 points and 9.6 rebounds in just 30 minutes of action, Duncan has built up recognition as one of the team's top players of the season, contrary to initial speculation.
While a resurgence from other players may be expected following an offseason, Duncan really shouldn't be getting any better at this point in his career.
Still, the sensational big man's improvement cannot be denied, especially when you look in depth at what has caused this sudden resurrection.
Big men often struggle at the charity stripe, so poor shooting from the line is never questioned, even from a star.
Despite being one of the league's best ever, Duncan was never an exception to this generality. A career .690 free-throw shooter, the superstar never hit over 80 percent of his attempts—and had only hit above 73 percent twice in the last 15 years.
This year, however, Duncan's foul shooting has improved drastically, with really no prior indication. Connecting on 81 percent of his attempts, the veteran is easily shooting a career best and currently ranks third at his position.
While the added points from these trips to the stripe may help minimally, his newfound ability has given him the ability to play hard inside without fearing a trip to the line.
Though he's no Blake Griffin or JaVale McGee, the veteran big man has certainly pushed around opposition in the paint, finishing with dunks, strong layups or a trip to the charity stripe.
With added confidence, Duncan now attempts 4.8 shots per game at the rim, as opposed to his 4.0 last year. With those added attempts comes increased success, as Duncan has finished on 73 percent of those tries, a 10 percent increase from his total last season.
This trust in his free-throw shot is opening up more opportunities for the veteran, who—despite aging—is becoming more and more powerful.
Another statistic that Duncan has improved substantially in his blocks per game.
He leads the Spurs with 2.5 blocks (an entire block higher than his total average last season), which trails only Larry Sanders, Serge Ibaka, Roy Hibbert and Dwight Howard—whose average age is 25.
In addition to their third-ranked offense, the Spurs have improved defensively as well, and while they certainly do not compare to the San Antonio defense of the previous era, this improvement is indisputable.
Duncan is the prime reason for this refinement, as he has held his own against younger opponents on the defensive end.
A partner in the post
Even though he was slowing down, Tim Duncan was undeniably the Spurs' top option in the post—and there really wasn't anyone close.
DeJuan Blair was undersized, as was Boris Diaw. Matt Bonner isn't a post player by any means, and Tiago Splitter's production oscillated too greatly for him to be considered a viable second option down low.
This season, however, Splitter has been more than adequate for San Antonio, giving opposing defenses another body to control down low—unlike last year when Duncan was the team's lone star in the frontcourt.
Splitter, now a regular in the starting lineup, is become accountable on both ends and has developed fantastic chemistry with his All-Star counterpart.
As defenses relax their coverage on Duncan, he is given extra space in the post, allowing him to be more productive.
The Duncan-to-Splitter connection has become a regular occurrence for the Spurs, who now feature two viable options at the power positions.
So while Duncan may be getting older, he most certainly isn't playing like it—and it definitely isn't solely due to a dip in the fountain of youth.
Even at this point in his career, the legendary big man has found ways to improve his game—with an obvious resurgence on both ends of the floor.
All stats are accurate as of January 6, 2012.
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