Why the San Antonio Spurs Are No Longer Tim Duncan's Team
The era of Tim Duncan in San Antonio is almost too good to be true.
The numbers are staggering. He has been anchoring this team since 1997. Over that time, he has averaged over 20 points per game to go along with 11 boards and just over two blocks.
He has done this consistently for 16 years. Every season, every game you can count on TD getting his numbers.
But a funny thing has happened over the past few seasons. While Duncan has seen his numbers bottom out and then rebound this past season, point guard Tony Parker has quietly assumed the leadership role on the Spurs.
Parker's ascent to the top of the Spurs was a slow but steady one.
He was an unheralded rookie in 2001, who almost immediately took control of the starting job.
He went from averaging fewer than 10 points in that rookie campaign to eventually scoring 22 per game.
Every year, Parker seemed to be getting better, working on different aspects of his game and coming back each season poised to take that next step in his development.
But beyond anything that really shows up on paper, Parker's impact on a game is much more drastic than Duncan's.
Teams have to plan for Parker's ability to break down the defense and get to the hoop. His ability to do so places so much stress on the defense. Teams have to prepare for Parker's penetration because it frees up so much of the rest of the offense.
Sure, Duncan's ability to play with his back to the hoop allows for spacing and frees up shooters. But Parker does the exact same thing as well as opening up easy hoops for big guys and wings alike.
What is truly remarkable about Parker's ability to get to the hoop is that he has done this without having the benefit of a consistent outside shot. For his career, Parker is slightly better than a 31 percent shooter.
That means that teams know he isn't going to take the outside shot, and they still cannot keep him out of the lane.
Very rarely does Parker draw comparisons to past great point guards, but it seems as though this ability to get to the hoop at will puts him in the company of greats like Isiah Thomas and Kevin Johnson.
Perhaps it is his quiet persona or the fact that he was born in Europe, but for some reason, Parker never truly receives the credit he deserves.
But the simple fact is that the Spurs only will go as far as their point guard will take them.
Others are stepping up
In addition to Parker stepping up, the Spurs have been fortunate in their ability to develop other young players.
Danny Green was a revelation this season, knocking down big shots and opening things up down low.
But the real gem that has been unearthed by the Spurs was Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard was always projected to be a good pro, but the Spurs turned him into a budding star.
Armed with not only tremendous defensive instincts and rebounding skills, Leonard has also been able to develop a great three-point shot, knocking down 39 percent of his tries in the playoffs.
While the Spurs were defined by Duncan's stoic nature over the past decade and a half, the younger Spurs have a little bit more of a swagger.
Sure, the Spurs play and act as though they have been to the promised land before, but these young guys are constantly reminding you that they will be back.
Beyond everything else, the Spurs finally have a plan for moving forward once Duncan finally decides to call it a career.
Obviously Parker isn't getting any younger (31 entering this season), but the Spurs over the next few seasons are better poised to weather a prolonged absence from Duncan than at any point of the past 16 years.
Spurs fans no longer watch Duncan's diminishing skills with unbridled angst. Rather, now they can point to the development of other players as reason to believe that with or without Duncan, they will be just fine.
While the Spurs are no longer Duncan's team, fans can be optimistic about the future, not fearful of the present.
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