Tim Duncan: Old Reliable Still Making the Case for MVP

Justin KeyCorrespondent IJanuary 17, 2011

SAN ANTONIO - MAY 07:  Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on May 7, 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

At 34 years old, Tim Duncan runs like a government-issued vehicle, built to last and expert in its craft. Through 13 seasons in the NBA, Duncan has been the best at his position and arguably the best to ever play position in any era.

Not only has Tim Duncan accumulated personal accolades along his journey—Rookie of the Year, two MVPs, and three-time NBA Finals MVP—but he’s also led the Spurs to four championship seasons.

Duncan has also been the poster boy for NBA professionalism, a quiet giant with a not-so-gentle side.

The success of Tim Duncan can be defined in one word: Consistency. Everything, from his first touch of the game—the classic face-up, multiple jab steps, and the smooth kiss off the glass—to the Spurs' incessant relevancy year in and out in the hunt for glory, can be distinctly identified as reliability, a vehicle that will never die.

Heading into the 2010 season, the Spurs weren’t on anyone’s mind. All the talk surrounding the Western Conference revolved around the Los Angeles Lakers and their believed competition, the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The only aging team worth talking about was the Boston Celtics, the undying squad that laughed at age-ologists and persistent naysayers—San Antonio’s alter ego.

And, why not? The Spurs basically snuck into the playoffs last summer. They almost predictably beat their Dallas rivals, only to be swept by the up-tempo Phoenix Suns.

The Spurs looked slow—too slow for the modern NBA.

Head coach Gregg Popovich went back to the drawing board this summer and changed things up. Ol’ Reliable needed a tune-up. And an organization that had consistently been characterized as always believing in function over form, found a way to have both speed and success.

The humdrum, half court offense was thrown out of the primary playbook

New plan: Run and shoot.

Where Don Nelson, Mike D’Antoni and multiple other run-n-gun coaches failed, a stern fundamentalist would get it right. Go figure.

While much of this season’s success can be credited to Pop insisting change, the consistent factor behind all of his success has always been Tim Duncan, the most symbiotic of all NBA relationships.

And although Tim Duncan’s numbers have continued to reflect that the league will soon lose one of the most important players in NBA history, he’s still making a serious case for a third MVP.

Duncan is only averaging 13.7 ppg, his lowest season average since he was a diaper dandy at Wake Forest, and obviously his smallest tally as a professional. He’s not even averaging a double-double for the first time in his career.

But none of that matters. It’s almost irrelevant, depending on how important statistics are to some.

If there is a number that matters, it’s the Spurs’ 35-6 record. And while Duncan is surrounded with talent and the major statistical contributions are coming from Manu Ginobili, Duncan is still this team’s MVP.

And maybe the MVP of the league.

Duncan has reinvented himself in a system that he isn’t best built for. Duncan is best in the half court offense, setting screens and scoring buckets in the paint.

What gives his MVP-case validity is his anchorage. He may not be the 25-13 player he was when he brought home the MVP trophy in consecutive seasons from 2002 and 2003.

But he’s doing whatever his team needs to win, a very literal but fair translation of Most Valuable Player.

In the Spurs’ most recent game, Duncan recorded only nine points, missing the double-digit marker for the 14th time in 41 games. But he blocked three shots, dished out three assists and nabbed 16 defensive rebounds. It was the seventh game that Duncan grabbed 15 or more rebounds, and the 16th time he blocked three or more shots. More importantly, San Antonio walked away with its sixth straight win.

But Duncan has also shown glimpses of his former self, including a 25-point, 17-rebound, and three block effort in a win against Phoenix early in the season.

And while Duncan’s game may be less glamorous than ever, the Spurs are sitting atop the highest point of any team in the NBA, and by a long shot. Only Boston has a comparable record and less than 10 losses.

Analysts are ranting and raving, rightfully so, over Derrick Rose in Chicago and Amar’e Stoudemire in New York, but will not forget Tim Duncan as the second stretch of the NBA season begins.

The combination of Popovich’s genius and Tim Duncan’s adaptability will force the voting committee to give first-place votes to Duncan’s third MVP candidacy.

Duncan has redefined himself and the Spurs, while simultaneously denoting the MVP award in a new way, characterized by the acceptance of change and perpetuation of greatness in any form necessary.

The Spurs and Timmy keep plugging along.