Tim Duncan vs. David Robinson: Who Would Win?


Jun 7, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21) during practice before game 2 of the 2014 NBA Finals at Spurs Practice Facility. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

As you may have heard over the last few days, David Robinson went on ESPN’s First Take (why, David?) and had some interesting thoughts on the NBA, the NBA Finals, and Tim Duncan’s retirement plans.

Then he dropped this bombshell.

When asked who would win in a 1v1 match up, The Admiral promptly said, “In our primes? I win that one, easy.”

Now, Tim Duncan might have something to say about that (or maybe his four rings would have something to say…), but when we look at it a little closer, the statement might not be as ridiculous as it seems on the surface.

Many experts across the industry have Duncan ranked as the top power forward of all time and one of the 10 best players in NBA history. Even casual fans can’t honestly say that Duncan isn’t a lock for the Hall of Fame.

There’s a special place in hell for those who won’t readily admit Tim Duncan is greatest PF in #NBA history. Column—http://t.co/pqdIRDrHLw

— Dan Favale (@danfavale) June 2, 2014

But what makes Timmy so great is his ability to get the most out of his teammates and work within the system. Even though everyone knows that Duncan is a great individual defender, people seem to always rave about his team defence and help defence more than anything.

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  • This lack of individual defensive credit could be one of the main reasons that Duncan has never won the DPOY. Even though he clearly is, no one refers to him as a lockdown defender. His reputation may actually hurt him in this regard. Post scorers rarely even both trying to score on Duncan because they know he is so good, so people watching the games never see him play post defence.

    Even though help defence is just as important (or maybe even more important for a big man) than guarding your specified man, you don’t get the opportunity to earn the “shut down defender” tag if no one ever goes right at you.

    Similarly, even though he is an absolute beast on the block and has basically trademarked the bank shot from 15 feet, fans always notice how he makes the right passes rather than beat his man (three assists per game for his career, vs 2.5 for Robinson). Even earlier in his career when he could simply overpower his defender or use trickery to get by him, Duncan preferred to pass for a better shot than claim the glory by making a difficult one.

    Duncan knows that a corner three is a better shot in terms of value provided than, say, a contested fade away jump shot while being double teamed.

    But that’s not to say Duncan can’t make a contested fade away jump shot while being double teamed, he just choses not to so he can help his team. Carmelo Anthony (who is widely regarded as one of the league’s top scorers) loves the fade away jumper, and makes it at a relatively high clip. As fans, we assume that Melo is better than Duncan because he takes on, and makes the low-percentage shot.

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    All of this is to say that Duncan exceptionally excels at the parts of the game that lead to winning and helping your team (and teammates) do the best they possibly can. He is still great at individual production, but that is a relative weakness in his game (although this sounds too harsh, as I am typing it).

    In a game of one-on-one, Tim wouldn’t be able to make his incredible outlet passes, or to box out a dangerous rebounder and let the ball fall to his teammate; He wouldn’t have a Danny Green or a Bruce Bowen in the corner to shoot wide open threes.

    In one-on-one, all you have is your opponent, your moves and a ball. So even though Tim Duncan was clearly the superior player in their primes, and would be your first choice in terms of building a team around them 100 times out of 100, he might not actually be the favourite in a game of one-on-one to eleven buckets against the man we know as The Admiral.

    P.S. David Robinson taught Tim Duncan how to shave, as well as the difference between roses and daisies.