San Antonio Spurs All-Time Lists

Spurs' 5 Best defenders of the 21st century

Tim Duncan, Bruce Bowen
Tim Duncan, Bruce Bowen / Lisa Blumenfeld/GettyImages
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San Antonio Spurs
Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan / Ronald Martinez/GettyImages

1. Tim Duncan

Pretty much every single All-Time Spurs list has Tim Duncan at the top, regardless of category. Most NBA lists have Duncan at least in the top ten, although the top five seems a bit more realistic. In the 21st century, he made 13 All-Defensive selections, which ties the all-time record. If you add his 1998 and 1999 selections into the mix, he runs away with the all-time record.

How he never won a DPOY award is lost on me. He consistently averaged 2.5 blocks per game during his career and added 12 boards a game to go with it.

All of that was just in the regular season too. In the playoffs, he brought his game to a whole new level. He was a menace when it really mattered. To put the Nets away in the 2003 Finals, Duncan put up an insane 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists, and eight blocks. It is one of the best playoff games ever. No one could score on him, even if they were dumb enough to try. 

Tim Duncan is undoubtedly the best player to never win a Defensive Player of the Year award. Of the last five forwards/centers to win the award (Gobert, Giannis, Gobert, Gobert, Green), Duncan’s average season tallied more blocks than they did in their award-winning years. The same can be said for blocks+steals, with the exception of Gobert in 2019, who edges Duncan out by 0.1. 

The same can be said for advanced stats. Duncan had a career defensive box plus/minus average of 2.3. In their DPOY-winning seasons, Gobert, Giannis, and Green were all within 0.4 of that in either direction. Defensive win shares are a similar story. Duncan averaged 8.9 a year, and only once in the last six seasons did the DPOY even reach half of that number. Gobert got to 5.7 in 2019, but no one else is close. 

If you really wanted to, you could claim that Duncan is the greatest defender ever. Better than Jordan, Pippen, Wallace, or Howard. In fact, in 2005 when the Spurs met the Pistons and DPOY Ben Wallace in the Finals, sure, Wallace had more steals and blocks, but their defensive rating was within two, and the Spurs prevailed in that series, getting Duncan his third Finals MVP.

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The fact that Duncan never won an individual award for his defense is absurd, but I think would rather have a fistful of rings to cement his legacy. Even without that hardware, he is the greatest defensive Spur of the 21st century.