Unlike the positions of shooting guard and center, there's a legitimate debate as to which player is the best power forward of all time.
Tim Duncan's resume sparkles thanks to his four rings, two MVP awards and perennial appearances on the All-NBA team. But a case can be made for a number of others, including Karl Malone (second in NBA history in total points with 36,928), Charles Barkley (an 11-time All-Star with averages of 22.1 PPG and 11.7 RPG for his career), Bob Pettit and Elvin Hayes.
Yet if Duncan can lead the San Antonio Spurs to the franchise's fifth title, there are no more arguments to be made: The former Wake Forest standout will undoubtedly be the best to ever man the 4 spot in the history of professional basketball.
Longtime Utah Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan said the following about Tim Duncan back in 2007: "He is probably the best player to ever play the position the way he plays it." It should be noted that Sloan coached Malone for 14-plus seasons that included back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals.
The main knock against Duncan is that he's actually more of a center than a true power forward. And over the last several years, the 36-year-old veteran has probably logged more minutes at the pivot that he has as an actual forward.
Such delineations are akin to nitpicking, however—Duncan is one of the best big men in NBA history regardless of what positional number is assigned to him. The fact that the Spurs are now largely Tony Parker's team is a more valid argument, but one that holds little weight as well: Duncan clearly keys the San Antonio attack on both ends of the floor.
"He may be a 7-footer, but he's basically a quarterback in shorts," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich in an interview with David DuPree of USA Today.
In terms of endorsement deals and accolades, Duncan's lack of flash has worked against him his entire career. The 6'11" forward rarely shows emotion on the basketball court (unless Joey Crawford is around) and is generally seen as "boring."
His game, however, is anything but. No player in the league has better moves in the post than Duncan, and his signature jump shot off the glass is just one of the reasons why "The Big Fundamental" nickname is remarkably on point. And while most of the attention is paid to his prowess on the offensive end, Duncan also made 13 straight NBA All-Defensive teams at the start of his career, and he ranks fifth all-time in Defensive Win Shares with 93.4.
It may sound like blasphemy to say, but if Duncan captures his fifth Larry O'Brien Trophy, he might not be just the best power forward ever, but the most dominant player of his generation as well. Only Kobe Bryant owns as many rings, but the Lakers' superstar teams haven't been as consistent as the Spurs have been throughout Duncan's career. For the record, San Antonio's current streak of 14 consecutive seasons with at least 50 wins is the best mark in NBA history.
In what's supposed to be the twilight of his career, Duncan's per-36 minute averages in 2012-13 (21.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.2 blocks) are in line with his figures from his prime. So while the 16-year veteran may not be able to play 38 minutes per night like he used to, he's still as productive as ever. According to Rob Mahoney of SI.com, Patrick Ewing is the only player in NBA history who has played as well as Duncan has over the age of 35.
"The minute [Duncan] doesn't think he can perform like he is now, he'll just quit," said Popovich in an interview with Sam Amick of USA Today. "His focus is pretty unique, and something that we really respect."
We may be years away from that day, however: The way Duncan is playing these days, there's no reason to walk away from the game just yet. He may already be the best power forward ever, but he still has time to remove the doubt from everyone's mind.