Respecting Tim Duncan

Picture this:

It’s June 23, 2005.

Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

Detroit Pistons at San Antonio Spurs.

In a close game, the Pistons are not able to repeat as NBA Champs. Instead, the Spurs win. They are led by Tim Duncan, who finishes the game with 25 points and 11 rebounds.

Spurs saddle up their third title | The Spokesman-Review
Tim Duncan celebrating his 3rd championship in 2005 (Credit: Associated Press/The Spokesman-Review)

At 29, Duncan has just won his 3rd championship, as well as his 3rd Finals MVP. He becomes the fourth player in NBA history with 3 Finals MVPs, joining Michael Jordan (6), Magic Johnson (3), and Shaquille O’Neal (3).

Duncan is the third player on that list to have won 3 Finals MVPs and 2 MVPs, joining Jordan and Magic.

Simply put, at 29, one of the greatest resumes ever.

But just how impressive was it?

Quite possibly one of the best starts to a career in NBA history.

During his first 8 seasons in the NBA, here’s Tim Duncan’s resume:

  • 3x NBA Champion (1999, 2003, 2005)
  • 3x Finals MVP (1999, 2003, 2005)
  • 2x NBA MVP (2002-2003)
  • 8 top 5 MVP finishes (1998-2005)
  • 7x All-Star (1998, 2000-2005)*
  • 8x All-NBA First Team (1998-2005)
  • 6x All-Defensive First Team (1999-2003, 2005)
  • 2x All-Defensive Second Team (1998, 2004)
  • NBA Rookie of the Year (1998)

*no All-Star Game in 1999

I mean wow, it’s amazing… criminally underrated.

There’s not much else Duncan could have done better during this time.

WATCH: Popovich has been urging Tim Duncan to coach since 2014 | WOAI
Duncan might be on his coaching staff now, but he almost left Popovich and the Spurs after the 2000 season (Credit: Eric Gay/AP)

On top of this, his team was winning… and a lot. In games Duncan played during the regular season in his first 8 seasons, the Spurs went 418-168 (.713); that’s the equivalent of winning 58 games per season. In the playoffs, the Spurs won 17 of the 21 playoff series Duncan played in. Unluckily for the Spurs, in 2000 he did not play in the playoffs and the team lost in the first round. As some might know, he was a free agent that offseason, and came VERY close to joining the Orlando Magic. LUCKILY for the Spurs, he stayed in San Antonio.

How does Duncan’s first 8 seasons compare with the first 8 seasons of other legends?

Very, very well.

This is completely arbitray, because talking about NBA players through their first 8 seasons leaves out, you know, the rest of their career. I get that, and I’m not trying to disrepect anyone I mention moving forward.

With that in mind, we need to put the start Tim Duncan had to his career in perspective, and this is how we can.

I’m going to compare Tim Duncan to the following players through their first 8 seasons:

  • Michael Jordan (1984-1992)
  • LeBron James (2003-2011)
  • Larry Bird (1979-1987)
  • Magic Johnson (1979-1987)
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1969-1977)
  • Kobe Bryant (1996-2004)
  • Shaquille O’Neal (1992-2000)

NBA Championships:

  1. Magic Johnson, 4
  2. Larry Bird/Kobe Bryant/Tim Duncan, 3
  3. Michael Jordan, 2
  4. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar/Shaquille O’Neal, 1

Finals MVPs:

  1. Tim Duncan/Magic Johnson, 3
  2. Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, 2
  3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar/Shaquille O’Neal, 1


  1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 5
  2. Larry Bird/Michael Jordan, 3
  3. Tim Duncan/LeBron James, 2
  4. Magic Johnson/Shaquille O’Neal, 1

Top 5 MVP Finishes

  1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar/Larry Bird/Tim Duncan, 8
  2. LeBron James/Michael Jordan, 6
  3. Magic Johnson, 5
  4. Shaquille O’Neal, 4
  5. Kobe Bryant, 3

NBA All-Star (percent made)

  1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar/Larry Bird/Tim Duncan*/Michael Jordan/Shaq*, 100%
  2. LeBron James/Magic Johnson, 87.5%
  3. Kobe Bryant*, 85.7%

*No All-Star Game in 1999, did not want to penalize them for this

NBA Analyst Picks Tim Duncan Over Kobe Bryant For Having a Better ...
Between 1999 and 2014, the West ran through the Lakers and Spurs, and more specifically, Kobe Bryant (right) and Tim Duncan (left) (Credit: Essentially Sports)

All-NBA First Team

  1. Larry Bird/Tim Duncan, 8
  2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar/Michael Jordan, 6
  3. LeBron James/Magic Johnson, 5
  4. Kobe Bryant, 3
  5. Shaquille O’Neal, 2

All-NBA (any team)

  1. Larry Bird/Tim Duncan, 8
  2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar/LeBron James/Michael Jordan/Shaq, 7
  3. Magic Johnson, 6
  4. Kobe Bryant, 5

All-Defensive First Team

  1. Tim Duncan, 6
  2. Michael Jordan, 5
  3. Kobe Bryant/LeBron James, 3
  4. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 2
  5. Shaquille O’Neal, 1

All-Defensive (any team)

  1. Tim Duncan, 8
  2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar/Kobe Bryant, 6
  3. Michael Jordan, 5
  4. Larry Bird/LeBron James, 3
  5. Shaquille O’Neal, 1

Regular Season Winning Percentage (in games played)

  1. Larry Bird, 75.4%
  2. Magic Johnson, 72.6%
  3. Tim Duncan, 71.3%
  4. Kobe Bryant, 69.7%
  5. Shaquille O’Neal, 68.5%
  6. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 67.2%
  7. LeBron James, 63.2%
  8. Michael Jordan, 62.3%

Playoff Series Won

  1. Magic Johnson, 21
  2. Larry Bird/Kobe Bryant, 20
  3. Tim Duncan, 17
  4. Shaquille O’Neal, 14
  5. Michael Jordan, 13
  6. LeBron James, 11
  7. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 8

Tim Duncan is not at the bottom of any of these lists. He’s at or near the top of a lot of them.

Now there are other accolades not included here that other players had but Duncan did not. Michael Jordan won Defensive Player of the Year in 1988, led the league in scoring 6 times, and led the league in steals twice his first 8 seasons in the NBA. Magic Johnson led the league in assists 4 times and led the league in steals twice his first 8 seasons in the NBA. Kareem led the league in scoring and blocks twice, as well as rebounding once, his first 8 seasons. Shaq led the league in scoring twice in his first 8 seasons, LeBron did so once.

Duncan did none of those things.

Don't Sleep On Him
Tim Duncan and Michael Jordan meeting at the rim during the 1998 NBA All-Star Game (Credit: Essentially Sports)

It was an amazing start to his career, no doubt, and he continued to play well to finish his career, but others here passed him in some categories.

Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won more championships (6); Michael Jordan won more Finals MVPs (6), while Shaq and LeBron tied him at 3; LeBron (4), Magic (3), and Shaq (3) won more MVPs; LeBron (12) and Kobe (11) made more All-NBA First Teams, while he finished tied with Jordan and Kareem at 10; Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan passed him in All-Defensive First Team selections with 9.

Where does Duncan still stand ahead?

He’s made the All-Defensive Team an NBA record 15 times.

He’s tied for most All-NBA Team selections all-time with LeBron, Kobe, and Kareem at 15

He has more rings than James, Bird, and Shaq.

He has more MVPs than Kobe and Shaq.

He has more Finals MVPs than Kobe and Kareem.

Now let me leave you with a what-if…

It’s June 20, 2013.

Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

San Antonio Spurs at Miami Heat.

Miami is winning 90-88.

Shane Battier misses a 3, and the Spurs gain possession with less than a minute to go. They bring the ball up the court and Manu gets the ball to Duncan in the post. Duncan misses his intial shot, but this time he MAKES the put back, tying the game at 90. He now has 26 points and 13 rebounds. Like Game 6, Game 7 goes to overtime… this time the Spurs get revenge, stealing the game, and they win the 2013 NBA Finals.

Tim Duncan now has 5 rings, making him 5-0 in the NBA Finals. His Game 7 heroics lead him to winning his 4th Finals MVP, putting him in rarified air. Only His Airness, Michael Jordan, has ever won 5+ championships and 4+ Finals MVPs.

We already know what he did in his career (including actually beating Miami a year later in the Finals), but if he makes that layup or putback, is he ranked even higher all-time…

Maybe… or maybe we should respect his place in history right now, and appreciate how great he was early, and how good he continued to be throughout his career.

Follow Nick on Twitter (@Nick_Collins14)

Author: Nick Collins

Boston sports fan sharing his love for sports and perspectives as a fan

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