San Antonio Spurs: The Definitive Tim Duncan GOAT Case
Definitive Reason 3: Best Defender...Ever?
Duncan wasn't just besting the top defenders of his era on offense, but he was also surpassing them all with his own defense. FiveThirtyEight shows when combining the impact measuring Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) and Win Shares, Duncan ranked ahead of ALL players from 1973-2016. Yes, that includes MJ, LeBron, you name it.
The lynchpin to this rating, Duncan's defensive score of 110.3, was mountains ahead of his competition - the next closest score was Hakeem at 93.3. THINK ABOUT THAT.
Duncan also played in perhaps the least friendly era for recognizing his personal style of defensive dominance. In the Russell-Chamberlain era without the 3-point shot, less emphasis on outside spacing, and more available missed field goals becoming rebound chances inside, it's not impossible to think he wouldn't have doubled his rebounding and block numbers.
In today's era with more attention on advanced defensive stats, is it really so hard to think that he would walk away with multiple Defensive Player of the Year awards?
I don't think so, and here's why: Duncan's advanced numbers look remarkably similar to Rudy Gobert's, who is likely on his way to winning his third DPOY. Duncan's defensive rating ranks third all-time, ahead of all other GOAT candidates, and includes four first-place finishes, 13 seasons in the NBA's top four, and never dipped below the top 13 in 19 years.
While his block rate was impressive, Spurs fans know Duncan prioritized altering shots and blowing up penetration over swats. And this is where Duncan absolutely excelled. Among all players defending over at least 15 field goals per game within five feet of the basket, Duncan led the NBA in lowest field goal percentages by opponents a whopping four times, finished second another two, and totaled 11 top-seven finishes.
Duncan remained strong further from the hoop, consistently holding opponents in mid-to-low thirties from deeper ranges. Surprised? Don't be. Duncan was asked about his ability to guard small forwards on draft night. He was never the most mobile, but Duncan's lateral quickness was underrated to the point where combined with his elite defensive timing, positioning, and length, he excelled as more than just a rim protector.
Duncan deferred plenty of opportunities on the glass, constantly giving his teammates easy rebounds; even on the boards, Duncan involved his teammates. This deferential approach to rebounding plus the minute restrictions placed on Duncan throughout the back half of his career make it absolutely remarkable that Timmy never finished outside the top 16 players in defensive rebounding per game until the final season of his 19-year career.
Duncan also led the league in defensive rebounds per game in 2001-02 and had nine top five finishes. If he snatched all the uncontested ones and played comparable minutes to contemporaries like Kevin Garnett, Ben Wallace, and Dwight Howard, Duncan's output could have eclipsed them all.