Tim Duncan: Where Do You Rank Him All Time Among NBA Big Men?

Raymond SettlesContributor INovember 30, 2010

SAN ANTONIO - APRIL 29:  Forward Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs takes a shot against Brendan Haywood #33 of the Dallas Mavericks in Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on April 29, 2010 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

I am going to start with a disclaimer.  I loved the NBA more before Air Jordan moved the focus of the game from the paint out to the perimeter.  I would say that is because I played inside during my illustrious high school career. 

As a result, I have always liked seeing how the Power Forwards and Centers collided and battled in the Association.

Having said that, I am willing to acknowledge, albeit of necessity, that the NBA game now is so much more perimeter-oriented. 

That doesn't make it better, in fact, its gotten worse as King David has tried to legislate the concept of physicality out of the NBA and make it a giant-laden ballet. 

It is sad to see so many seven footers and guys who are 6-foot-10 shoot jumpers and are nearly allergic to the paint.  To be a perimeter-based big man takes away from your inherent advantage of being tall!  Duh. But I digress. 

Okay, now that the gripe has gotten out of me, let's tend to the matter at hand, shall we?

Since Tim Duncan was a sophomore at Wake Forest in 1995, he was touted as the No. 1 draft pick in whatever year he chose to declare.  Unlike ACC classmates Joe Smith and Rasheed Wallace, he didn't leave after that season.  Nor did he join the big man class of 1996 of Marcus Camby, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and the late Lorenzen Wright. 

No, Duncan did the unusual, and did not become a pro until after he exhausted his four years of playing eligibility in Winston-Salem.  He did become the top pick, going to the Spurs, joining The Admiral David Robinson, winning Rookie of the Year, two NBA MVP awards, four NBA Titles, three Final MVP awards, eight times All-Defensive first team, etc. 

His legend has been established as arguably the best big man (along with Shaquille O'Neal) of the 90's into the 21st Century.

With his career approaching its final laps (I don't see him going more than two more seasons after this one), it seemed appropriate to look at his career comparatively against other Big Men of the NBA.

But where would you rank him in terms of the best of the best among all-time NBA big men?

I am going to disregard the whole, "is he a PF or C" question, as that is not as important here, because most teams tend to have one premier inside threat.

As I peruse through the history of the Association, Duncan is not only a Top 10 Big, but even Top 5!

Without further ado, the other candidates are:


Wilt Chamberlain

The NBA literally changed offensive goaltending to try (vainly) to mitigate his ability to dominate on the offensive end.  To no avail, he still left the game as a two-time champion, the all-time leading scorer, rebounder and the only center to lead the league in assists. 

His dominance was only muted by the Boston Celtic dynasty, led by Red Auerbach.  That referees allowed so much physical abuse, that because he would not retaliate with in a like manner (due to his freakish strength and ability to possibly maim someone), only adds to his legend. 

The Big Dipper truly revolutionized the NBA as its biggest attraction and best player of his day, and any day, in my opinion.


Bill Russell

Mr. William Russell was to defense what Chamberlain was to offense.  He literally changed the pro game with his ability to orchestrate and run the Celtic defense. 

He could run like the wind, knew how to be most effective without the ball in his hands and focused on winning like nobody else before and maybe since.  An underrated scorer, he averaged 15 ppg and an insane 22.7 rpg! 

Though his 11 NBA titles dwarfs Chamberlain's two, the many Hall of Fame teammates had as much to do with that as anything else.


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

The natural heir to both Chamberlain (offensive prowess) and Russell (defensive abilities and thinking game), Abdul-Jabbar was the baddest cat of the 70's through mid-1980's. 

His unstoppable skyhook, developed when the NCAA outlawed the dunk (to keep him from dominating), reeked of the NBA's attempt to shackle Chamberlain. 

No bother, Abdul-Jabbar still became the NBA's all-time leading scorer, supplanting Wilt, his friend and mentor.

In addition to the scoring records, he also was a six-time NBA champion, six-time MVP, two-time Finals MVP, 19x All-Star (a record) and the only practitioner of the only shot that CANNOT be stopped.  Maybe some of today's bigs need to watch tapes of this man!


Shaquille O'Neal

I cannot honestly disregard the Big Aristotle, Big Cactus, Big Heatian, Big Leprechaun, or whatever moniker he chooses today.  O'Neal and I entered college in the same year, so I have literally walked lockstep with his career. 

His sheer mass, power and abilities cannot be downplayed.  His Rookie of the Year award, four-time NBA Final titles, three-time Final MVPs attest to his skills. 

His career averages of 24 ppg and 11 rpg, along with the second highest career field goal percentage (58.1) point to his dominance. 

While he has been a media favorite since going to college, his playing always seemed like he was always a little shy of pure domination, despite his assertions that he was the MDE (Most Dominant Ever).

So, with these five giants of the league, where do I rank the soft-spoken, yet ultra-competitive future Hall of Famer, Timothy Theodore Duncan?  Here we go:

5. O'Neal.  He just seems to have been playing at 75 percent efficiency for his entire career with the exceptions of the 2000-2002 postseasons.

4. Russell.  His offense does hold him back, as does his not having the weight of the whole team on his shoulders, as have the others listed here.

3. Duncan.  As well-rounded as his game has always been, he does come up a little short against the Top Two, as they were more dominant than he has been.  This is obviously no shortcoming on his part.

2. Abdul-Jabbar.  Kareem was The Man for the first 15 years of his career.  His career achievements stand second to none, but his ranking in my eyes does to the best Big Man Ever in NBA history...

1. Wilton Norman Chamberlain.  Career averages of 30 ppg, 22.9 rpb and 4.4 apg, and sheer dominance at the highest level of basketball from 1959 to 1973 cannot be disputed. 

He left a legacy that every physically imposing center has tried to emulate or live up to since.  He is inimitable and without peer in the paint.  He is the Greatest of All Time.  That's it.  That's all of it.

As always, I look forward to your thoughts and opinions.


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