If you look at the numbers, especially on defense, Tim Duncan is producing this season for the San Antonio Spurs, you’d be amazed to check out his birth date and realize he’s 36, and still posting career highs in defensive rebounds and blocks, making the most, especially on defense, of the time he’s spending on the floor.
Using the “per 36 minutes” scale is always a tad misleading, and Tim Duncan, playing 29.8 minutes a night this season, is going to enjoy a slight rise in his performance when being judged by the minutes and not the overall production. But it’s not just a stat glitch that makes him look so good, especially on defense, this season. He’s averaging 9.7 defensive rebounds per 36 minutes (11.9, almost a career best, toal) and 3.2 blocks in that timeframe as well.
He’s also third in the NBA in defensive rebound percentage (29.5%) and has the best defensive rating in the NBA at 94.4 per 100 possessions.
Duncan has lost some weight, and when rested (2 days or more) and not being bothered by his knee or feet, he just might be the best center, or big man if you’re not about positions, in the NBA. He’s averaging 17.1 points per game while shooting 50.4% from the field, adding 9.8 rebounds and 2.7 blocks (4th in the NBA) per game.
His minutes are up from the previous two seasons, and obviously the rest of his numbers are. He’s not just benefiting from his own improved health situation – he’s simply playing for a better team, leading the Western Conference, and while not as consistent defensively as Gregg Popovich would like to see from his guys, they’re better than they were last season.
Two reasons – Tiago Splitter getting more minutes allows Duncan to become a weak side defender down low, helping him get a lot more blocks. Splitter is an excellent post defender, giving Duncan the chance to play as an anchor instead of putting his body on every big man trying to post up in the paint, and uses his intelligence and excellent game-reading skills to direct the offense, when he can, into the direction more comfortable to him.
Another contributor to him being in that role, or contributors, are Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, both turning into possibly the best wing-defending duo in the NBA, as Duncan needs to worry less about stepping out towards dribbles blowing by his teammates. Taking more of an offensive role for both of them (both are scoring in double figures for the first time in their careers) gives Duncan, who needs every bit of rest he can find, less to worry about on offense.
Don’t kid yourself – This isn’t the Duncan of 2000-2005, when he was arguably the best player in the NBA. At 36, that’s impossible. But his improved health and improved team situation means he’s more likely to put up 25-10-5 nights this season than he was in the previous three or four, and nights of 35-36 minutes on the floor don’t mean he needs to take a month’s vacation afterwards.