Tim Duncan Is the Best Power Forward of All Time, and It's Not Close

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Tim Duncan Is the Best Power Forward of All Time, and It's Not Close
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Gravy.

That's all Tim Duncan's fifth NBA championship would be: gravy. The cherry atop his already cherry-topped sundae. He doesn't need it, but he'll be happy it's there—like a pair of fat pants, if you will. Winning a fifth title would be Duncan's fat pants. 

All capturing another championship does is reaffirm what we already know about the ageless, forever stoic San Antonio Spurs superstar: that he's the best power forward in league history, and it's not even remotely close.

 

Obvious Separation

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Not even a little, teensy bit close?

Nope.

Never at any point in NBA history has there been a power forward like Duncan. There have certainly been more prolific scorers, omnipotent rebounders and eruptive athletes, but there has never been a power forward outfitted in the entire package—not like him. 

First thing's first: Duncan is a power forward. Call him a power forward-turned center if you want. That's totally cool. A majority of his minutes in recent years have been logged at the 5, so the urge to classify him as a center can be persuasive. Just don't give into it. It's not true. He's a power forward and will be remembered accordingly.

For 17 years he has epitomized demonstrative consistency. Passive in interviews, but an animal on the court—that's Duncan. 

From ESPN's Marc Stein

It's a work ethic and hunger that runs counter to the notion that the native of the Virgin Islands just wants to keep things laid-back. Duncan turned 38 in April, has clocked more than 50,000 minutes in this league when you add the postseason to his total and, according to his good buddy (and former teammate Malik) Rose, isn't looking ahead to retirement with any semblance of relish.

'He's not ready for it all to end, and he doesn't want it to end,' Rose says. 'I know that for a fact.'

If he were to retire after the 2014 NBA Finals, he would walk away with lifetime regular-season averages of 19.9 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.2 blocks per game. Only one other player has matched his career output. He wore goggles, came complete with a dangerous sky hook and could touch the top of Manute Bol's head without standing on his tippy toes. He goes by the name of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Perhaps you've heard of him. 

Timmy D also joins Abdul-Jabbar—a center—as the only other player to tally career totals eclipsing 24,900 points, 13,900 rebounds, 3,800 assists and 2,700 blocks, because 1) Abdul-Jabbar is straight up crazy and 2) Duncan remains equally cray-cray.

Take a moment to notice that we're not mentioning any other forwards—just Duncan. Dirk Nowitzki, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley and Kevin Garnett aren't in his company. They are all a cut below The Big Fundamental, which is where they shall stay.

Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images
Everyone from Nowitzki to Malone to Garnett is a cut below Duncan.

Though there's almost something unfair about admitting this, we have no choice. Duncan is in a class of his own, by himself, lording over everyone else. He's never pontificating, but is visibly aware that he could sit perched atop a soap box and everyone would listen. 

The gap between him and everyone else is that wide. One could fit about 52 blue whales between Duncan and his closest competitor and still have room for a baker's dozen's worth of southern elephant seals. 

Time has actually aided in Duncan's tacit quest for distinct separation. No one is truly ageless—especially big men with 15-plus years of wear and tear on their treads—but Duncan, unlike his power forward brethren, comes pretty close.

This past season, his 17th in the league, Duncan averaged a modest 15.1 points, 9.7 rebounds, three assists and 1.9 blocks per game—in just 29.2 minutes of action. No other player has done that before. Duncan is the first in NBA history to reach benchmarks of 15 points, 9.5 rebounds, three assists and 1.5 blocks in under 30 minutes of action per contest.

You can't make this stuff up. Well, you could, but then it wouldn't be true and, therefore, not as freaking awesome. 

Maintaining Duncan's level of production for a decade is difficult. Over the course of 17 years? Come on now. Look at how Duncan's greatest rivals fared in their 17th season of action. For those who never hit the 17-year mark, their final season was used:

Elite Power Forwards
Age MPG PTS FG% REB AST STL BLK PER
Barkley (1999-00) 36 31.0 14.5 47.7 10.5 3.2 0.7 0.2 19.8
Duncan (2013-14) 37 29.2 15.1 49.0 9.7 3.0 0.6 1.9 21.3
Garnett (2011-12) 35 31.1 15.8 50.3 8.2 2.9 0.9 1.0 20.4
Malone (2001-02) 38 38.0 22.4 45.4 8.6 4.3 1.9 0.7 21.2
Nowitzki (2013-14) 35 32.9 21.7 49.7 6.2 2.7 0.9 0.6 23.6

Basketball-Reference.com

In certain aspects, Duncan trails some of his comrades. But what he has lacked in statistics at his age and overall, he's more than made up for in gravy.

 

The Gravy

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Continued excellence doesn't seem as, well, excellent without the hardware—tangible and intangible—to go along with it.

Duncan has everything. Name something, name anything, and Duncan has probably laid claim to it. 

Through 17 seasons, he's secured 14 All-Star appearances, 14 All-NBA and All-Defense selections and two league MVPs. He was also named Rookie of the Year in 1998.

Under his watch, the Spurs have been simply incredible. They've won at least 50 games in 16 of his 17 seasons. The one year they didn't was the lockout-truncated 1998-99 campaign, during which they won 37 games, the equivalent of 61 in a normal season (they also won the NBA championship that year). According to For The Win, that gives Duncan more 50-win crusades than 26 of the 30 present-day NBA teams. 

Then, of course, there's his postseason dominance. 

Death & Taxes is averaging 21.4 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.4 blocks for his career during the playoffs. Hakeem Olajuwon is the only other NBA player to match that postseason production.

Overall, Duncan ranks second all time in postseason minutes played, fourth in total appearances and fourth in player efficiency rating (24.7) among those who have logged time in 150 or more playoff games—behind only Shaquille O'Neal (26.1), LeBron James (27.6) and Michael Jordan (28.6).

On the off chance your brain wasn't warped and impressed enough, he is currently tied with Abdul-Jabbar for second all time in playoff win shares (35.6). He trails only His Airness (39.8), and by the end of 2014, he should have sole possession of second place. 

This is the kind of stuff legends are made of.

That, and, in Duncan's case, four championships.

 

A Shift in Conversation

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Everything you just read was a colossal waste of your time if you're not into totally useful information.

The divide between Duncan and every other power forward has only grown over the years. He already has more championships than Garnett, Nowitzki, Malone and Barkley combined (two). You can add Chris Webber and Shawn Kemp to that list, and the result doesn't change. 

Right now, Duncan is one of only 35 players to have won at least four NBA titles. If his Spurs make the most of their latest crack at the Miami Heat, he'll become the 26th player to nab five. 

Mere mentions of his ring count and the potential to drum it up even further are auxiliary arguments, though. They have little to no bearing on Duncan's standing amid power forwards anymore. His championships are valuable within another discussion. They help answer a different, more pressing question.

Where does Duncan rank among every NBA great? 

That, more than anything else, is what Duncan is playing for at the moment—the chance to move up his generational ladder, as Bleacher Report's Stephen Babb so deftly explains:

However, there's a strong argument to be made that Duncan is really the bridge between MJ and LeBron—that, even more than Kobe, Duncan has risen to the top of his generation. The mere insinuation will smack of heresy to most Los Angeles Lakers fans.

But fans of the game itself should keep an open mind. Duncan is better than you think, which is really saying something given that most of us already have a pretty high opinion of him.

Transport Babb's observations one step further. 

More than Duncan's current exploits are a vehicle to him usurping Bryant, they are the finishing touches on a legacy so transcendent, it towers above comprehension.

Is Tim Duncan easily the best power forward of all time?

Submit Vote vote to see results

Is Duncan a top-10 player of all time? Top 15? Would winning a fifth title change that? If so, how much?

This is the conversation Duncan is forcing us, inaudibly begging us, to have. The other has become a formality. His reputation is primed for a new challenge.

"We're happy to be back here this year," Duncan said of returning to the Finals, via USA Today's Sam Amick. "We're happy to have another opportunity at it."

Opportunity is certainly knocking at Duncan's door. 

It comes bearing gravy. 

Timmy D already has the meat and potatoes. 

 

*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise attributed.


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