Ordinary Routine Allows Tim Duncan to Remain One of NBA's Extraordinary Talents

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Ordinary Routine Allows Tim Duncan to Remain One of NBA's Extraordinary Talents
Garrett Ellwood

SAN ANTONIO — Tim Duncan just shared his secret to success.

He did so briefly and in his usual monotone, but it was there. And everyone should listen up, because we're talking about the guy who could soon accrue more playoff minutes than anyone in NBA history.

In typical Duncan fashion, the news is not at all dramatic and not particularly revelatory. What it is, however, is sound and true.

Basically, Duncan approaches his job and the game the same as ever—but different.

"I always show up and assume that the game depends on me," Duncan said Tuesday. "I know it does a lot less in these years and this season, but I still show up and I feel responsible for what happens out there—so I want to play as well as I can."

That's it. Nothing flashy, appropriately fundamental and the exact right way to do it when you stop and think about it.

That's precisely the accountability that encourages a franchise—or any boss in any workplace—to keep a guy around for 17 years. It's also the accountability that enabled Duncan to dominate the beginning of the Western Conference Finals Monday when the Oklahoma City Thunder defense did not show him the proper respect with slow and sometimes non-existent rotations to cover him.

Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images
Tim Duncan has averaged 19.9 points, 11.1 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game in leading the Spurs to four NBA titles in 17 seasons.

Duncan led the San Antonio Spurs with 27 points in Game 1. And he's preparing for a similar performance again in Game 2 Wednesday night, even if—as he acknowledged in the quote—his dominance happens a lot less than it used to.

"I don't know how he does it, but he keeps playing, he keeps scoring," longtime teammate Manu Ginobili said. "He keeps, with the same face, doing the same thing—but so effectively and reliably."

Duncan may be preparing for the same thing, but he's not determined to do the same thing. That delineation is a key second aspect to Duncan's mentality.

"I can't do everything I used to do," Duncan said in speaking about how he has adjusted his game at age 38 (with a left leg so weak he has to drag it up and down the court). "I'm able to play off my teammates and let them create for me."

To sum that up into one hyphenated word:

Self-awareness.

Rock Of Consistency: Tim Duncan's Yearly Production
Year Minutes Per Game Player Efficiency Rating Win Shares
1997-98 39.1 22.6 12.8
1998-99 39.3 23.2 8.7
1999-2000 38.9 24.8 13.0
2000-01 38.7 23.8 13.2
2001-02 40.6 27.0 17.8
2002-03 39.3 26.9 16.5
2003-04 36.6 27.1 13.1
2004-05 33.4 27.0 11.2
2005-06 34.8 23.1 10.8
2006-07 34.1 26.1 13.0
2007-08 34.0 24.4 11.1
2008-09 33.7 24.4 10.1
2009-10 31.3 24.7 10.9
2010-11 28.4 21.9 7.7
2011-12 28.2 22.5 5.9
2012-13 30.1 24.4 8.3
2013-14 29.2 21.3 7.4

Stats from Basketball-Reference.com

The sad story of the old superstar being the last to know he's not what he once was is not applicable here, because Duncan's ego will never lead him into that trap.

That lack of ego and disinterest in sharing himself as an inspiration to the world has unquestionably led Duncan to be underappreciated. Yet he has traded that for something more important to him...balance.

By now you know how Duncan's stability is at the crux of all that the Spurs have built over the past 17 seasons, including what is looking like an increasingly likely fifth NBA championship for Duncan this year.

"He's a mentally tough individual," said Gregg Popovich, Duncan's coach through all the years, "who really feels a responsibility to help carry the program."

A fifth Spurs title would tie Duncan with the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant among stars in this era in the one category Duncan definitely does track. In another way, Duncan will be passing Bryant sooner than that.

Assuming Duncan plays 57 minutes throughout the rest of the Western Conference Finals, he will pass Kobe (8,641) for second all-time in career playoff minutes, behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (8,851).

Steve Dykes/Getty Images
With one more victory against the Thunder, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan will become the winningest playoff trio in NBA history.

Bryant probably just closed his laptop upon reading that and is already hoofing his way into the gym, further determined to return to playoff glory. Duncan, though, doesn't chase records, because that's the kind of stuff that doesn't suit him and takes him out of that same-but-different balance.

Asked Tuesday what he thinks of Tony Parker, Ginobili and him having matched Michael Cooper, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of the Lakers for the most all-time playoff victories by a threesome (110), Duncan replied:

"I've never heard about it. So I haven't thought about it."

And the steady beat goes on—same accountability, same awareness…for every different game.

 

Kevin Ding covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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