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Friday
Apr062012

Why Isn’t Anyone Talking About…

One has the stats but a sinking club. The other is quietly leading his team into the West's top spot.…how much of a positive impact Tim Duncan is having on the Western Conference’s top-seeded Spurs, and how it’s probably far more of an impact than almost all of this year’s All-Stars are having on their clubs?  For starters, his stats aren’t the utter crap many fans seem to assume. He’s averaging 15 ppg, 9 rpg, and 1.5 blocks, all in 28 minutes per game on a team that goes out of its way to spread minutes and points around during the regular season. How good are those rebounding numbers considering his low amount of minutes played? His 18.4 Rebound% sits at 7th-best in the NBA, statistically right in the middle of Kevin Love’s 3rd-best 18.9 and Blake Griffin’s 10th-best 17.9. His scoring doesn’t look like anything much, but again we’re talking about a team that goes out of its way to get everyone meaningful touches (just like the Celtics in the 60’s), so he’s actually the team’s 2nd-leading scorer and his 47% eFG is slightly ahead of the 46% of Kobe, someone universally lauded as an impossible-to-stop scorer. Considering Duncan’s willingness to defer shots when it matters least (regular season, blowout wins/losses, 2nd quarter, etc.) is part of the reason his teammates get into rhythm, gain confidence, feel more comfortable when called upon in tougher situations, and follow the captain's lead in being unselfish when it benefits the team--which subsequently raises the team's offensive efficiency (FG%, 3FG%, eFG%, Ast/Tov, that sort of stuff)--it’s not a stretch to say Duncan is the largest reason the Spurs’ Offensive Rating of 109.3 is 2nd in the league this year. Many other superstars in their 30’s refuse to defer any part of their individual offense for various reasons even when it’s directly hurting their team’s offense and its ability to gel and stay unpredictably diversified, so Duncan’s deference can’t be pooh-poohed as something that’s being forced upon him by age; he has the clout to demand more shots in order to pad his own numbers and legacy, but he’s consciously doing what’s best for the team, and it shows as guys like Gary Neal and Kawhi Leonard contribute in a way that’s only possible because Duncan is a hyper-intelligent, franchise-conscious superstar in a league full of players gunning for their own stats. Throw in his 2.4 apg (vs. only 1.7 turnovers) and an exceptionally-high-for-his-position 14.1 Assist% (topped only by Pau Gasol and Greg Monroe), and it’s clear there’s a reason the team’s offense is doing so well even with an oft-injured Manu Ginobili, a very-good-but-not-amazing year from Tony Parker, and a cast of mostly no-names populating the rest of the lineup. Then there’s San Antonio’s continuing-to-improve defense, which as always is anchored by Duncan both physically and emotionally – he’s averaging 1.5 blocks in his low amount of minutes (league 15th-best Block% at 3.8%, ahead of Tyson Chandler’s 3.6%), but it still needs to be mentioned that he’s the defensive orchestrator who does the majority of the talking and directing when the Spurs don’t have the ball. He gets guys into the right position without insulting them or hurting their confidence, still rotates better than almost any other big man in the game today, can still guard virtually any back-to-the-basket C or PF one-on-one, is somehow 2nd in the league in Defensive Rebound% (28.9%, only behind Dwight Howard), and is still the Spur who steps up in late-game possessions when an opposing center or forward will be the man taking important shots (e.g. Duncan guarding Paul Pierce at the end of their recent W over Boston). And if you didn’t notice, the Spurs defense is much better now than it was earlier in the year, and the pressure to perform is on the team now more than it was earlier in the year, and Duncan is playing more minutes now (especially in the 4th quarter) than he was earlier in the year. Again for the zillionth year in a row the Spurs defense is humming late in the season due largely to Duncan, and many fans remain blind to the fact that his offensive contribution goes far beyond stats (which aren’t even bad) and is the backbone of San Antonio’s get-everyone-involved offensive identity, the type of team identity that can only exist when it’s what the superstar captain wants. And Duncan wants nothing more than to win, so it's what the wants.

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Reader Comments (21)

You seem to be the only writer/blogger out there who actually watches Spurs games. Everyone else just assumes they already know what is happening and figures he's in normal decline, the team is old, boring, etc. Of course, in actuality they feature a ton of young, hungry players who get after it and are, as you note, allowed to succeed because of Duncan's willingness to defer. As DeMarcus Cousins told Timmy after their last game against the Spurs: "F**k, you're good."

April 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMJG

@MJG
Thanks for the comment. What's really nuts is that most fans have no clue how close the Spurs have been to winning multiple other championships with underwhelming supporting talent comprised of low draft picks (Duncan's teammates have combined for 2 ASG appearances and 0 All-NBA selections in SA's 4 Championship seasons) and numerous injuries along the way. But alas, Duncan defers for the good of the team (I'm not sure there's been a player who more resembles Bill Russell in this regard) and people get hung up on his shrinking stats as if it's a direct indication of his shrinking role/value. I guess if he was one of the 95% of stars who is hyper-aware of his own stats and makes accruing them their top priority, this would be true, but that's never been Duncan's MO so fans who don't watch the "boring" Spurs miss what's really going on, which is a real shame.

April 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterZachariah Blott

I'd love Tim Duncan to pick up another ring and it looks very possible this year. Zach, how would you rank Tim Duncan among current players if everyone retired right now? Personally I think him and Steve Nash are the two best non-retired players in the league.

April 8, 2012 | Unregistered Commentergavriel

Not even close - Duncan is #1. Beyond that is a tricky mess, but Kidd, Nash, and Garnett are probably the next 3, in no particular order, in terms of positive impact they had on their teams.

April 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterZachariah Blott

And you wonder why I call you a Kobe hater.

April 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJamesD

@JamesD

Get over yourself. It's okay for people to think Duncan is a good player w/o hating on Kobe. There was only one mention of Kobe, and that was to illustrate how good Duncan is, not how un-great Kobe was. Geez, you are just a Kobe troll.

April 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGav

In a Kobe fan's head:

Kobe is just about equal to MJ despite all statistical and contextual facts that say otherwise: PERFECTLY RATIONAL
Any other player could possibly be better than Kobe: MUST BE A KOBE HATER

Much like Duke fans, if Kobe fans could ever recognize that the "hatred" others have is for them and their irrational, fact-free (at the very least, context-free which means fact-light) way of looking at things, and not the team/player they pledge undying allegiance to in the face of all reason, we'd at least be able to have a real discussion. As long as Kobe fans fall back onto very tired and easily torn down comments like "count the rings" and "he scores a lot so who cares how low his FG% is every year," a true discourse can't be had. As long as those fans refuse to let any other facts into the conversation or that offending party will instantly be labeled a hater, it's not a conversation, simply someone with a faith-based opinion that repels all numbers and objective research as some sort of magical mumbo-jumbo born in Sodom and Gomorrah. Fans who reject more or new information about a discussion point no longer have a leg to stand on from a "rational argument" standpoint - they simply have an opinion steeped in faith that can't possibly be 100% factually based. Which is fine, but at least recognize what it is and where the "hatred" of others is really aimed.

April 9, 2012 | Registered CommenterZachariah Blott

Excellent article!

April 11, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkavika6

@Gav

I didn't say anything about you so I don't understand your comment. If you think Nash is the 2nd best non retired player then your opinion really is suspect.

@zach

Have no problem with the opinion of Tim being #1. The Kobe hater post refers to skewing the question in the answer (Beyond that is a tricky mess, but Kidd, Nash, and Garnett are probably the next 3, in no particular order, in terms of positive impact they had on their teams). Don't change the question, answer it. There is no way Kobe isn't at least 2nd. At some point the accomplishments need to be credited. When you are man enough to hold players you like and those you don't to the same standards when evaluating them, then there is nothing anyone can criticize you for.

I have never made an argument like the beginning of your post. Of course, Kobe haters take argumnents to the extreme to discuss them because that is the only way their points can be made. Nor have I ever rejected more or new information, I have questioned your use of them as the basis for your arguments.

I am only calling you zach blott, a kobe hater. I am not calling anyone who doesn't say Kobe is the best a kobe hater nor have I ever said that. My comments are strictly about you. Of course your comments are about how you perceive Kobe fans in general rather than address my comments and me specifically. Of course you'd have to acknowledge I am not a big Kobe fan. I am a basketb all fan that hates to see incomplete analysis.

Most rational objective basketball fans can use both advanced stats and things like championships to assess an individual's greatness. Of all of the non retired players, only 2 of them are considered to be in the "10 best who have ever played" category. One is Tim the other is Kobe. For you not to include him in your rankings is preposterous. Further, to skew the intial question as a way to eliminate him shows a lack of objectivity. When I see this, and the other things I have read from you, and your altered biography,I reach the conclusion you are a Kobe hater.

You limit the facts you use in your opinions then question when others do the same. If a Kobe fan does only look at titles thats the same as you only looking at advanced fg%. When fans who like Kobe use the same tactics as his haters, don't whine about it.

April 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJamesD

For what its worth I actually thought Kobe may have nudged slightly ahead of Tim once they beat the Spurs 07-08 in the pkayoffs. Lakers down 20 in game 1. From that point until the series was over 4-1, I thought Kobe played at a an extremely high level. No that isn't a large enough sample but I thought Kobe beating Tim without Shaq, even though he always played well against San Antonio in the playoffs, was necessary for him to be even considered equal to Tim.

April 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJamesD

@JamesD

A good PG to me is gold. Besides the big men (C and sometimes PF), they are what set up the tempo for the team's offense and ultimately their success. Nash is unquestionably one of top PG of all time, let alone of current players. He's extremely efficient and effective ball handler.

It's fine if you disagree, but I think he's a great individual and team player.

I'd rather not turn this into a Nash vs. Kobe thread, since I don't like to compare PG to SG, they play two different of roles. Both are great players and future hall of famers.

April 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGav

@JamesD
I promise I'll have a proper reaction to your comments later, but I'm getting ready for a meeting and only read the first part of your first comment from this morning. If you think I'm supposed to judge how good players are based on something other than impact on their clubs, then we're not on the same page. Wilt had all the skill and physical advantages, but he couldn't impact his team to nearly the degree Russell did, that's why he went through 9 coaches, was traded twice in his prime, was benched at the end of the '68 playoffs (think I got the right year), never won like BR despite having great surrounding talent for the last 10 years or so of his career, and the Laker players voted against adding him to the roster 3 years before he actually did. If you're simply going by skills and ability to make a tough play happen, then Maravich is the greatest player ever with Jason Williams in close second, but we include things like impacting a team (How great was the Lakers rebounding and interior O and D last night? Sound like anything I've mentioned at any point?) because there's no point having great skills if they're wasted on forcing terrible decisions (like shooting lots of long 2-pointers) instead of simple ones that improve the team.

April 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterZachariah Blott

@gav

Nash is a great ballhandler. But he can't guard his position and is a cut below the true superstars in this league. He is having a great statistical year this year. Team isn't winning. But he can't take over a game when needed and, more importantly, he cant guard his position on most nights.

@zach
Our disagreement is usually around the word "impact". You seem to limit impact to the regular season. I am more concerned about winning a title relative to the era you play in. We can agree that Kobe doesn't always play the "right" way, but to put inferior players ahead of him because of this wreaks of bias.

You brought up MJ in your previous post. Were you as critical when he went 5-19 and 6-23 (i'm prob off) against Seattle in game 5 and 6 in 96 and did question him winning finals MVP that year?

April 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJamesD

@JamesD

Name me all the PGs that if retired today would be considered better than Nash. I want to hear all of them since he's "cut below the true superstars in this league" as you claim. The only one that could be argued is Jason Kidd, any others would be pure folly.

April 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGav

@JamesD
I'm not sure where you get some of your ideas about my use of the word impact, but to start with, the question I was asked was "How would you rank Tim Duncan among current players if everyone retired right now?". It doesn't say in terms of what to rank him, but I assume the commenter meant in terms of greatness of some kind. The most important type of greatness a player can attain is impact to one's club (both regular season and playoffs, no matter how much you want to pretend I've limited it to regular). If you don't agree with the statement that the best way to determine a player's greatness/value/ranking is in terms of how much better they are able to make a club (obviously we need to look closely at context here, but first things first), then we have nothing to talk about. I am not talking about how many fans show up to watch so-and-so because this isn't an economics blog. I am not talking about an undefined set of things you simply label "the accomplishments" because these accomplishments better have resulted in a team getting better. I can't believe you would actually concede that Kidd, Nash, and KG all had more impact on their teams but literally 2 sentences later say that "There is no way Kobe isn't at least 2nd." Second in terms of what? I cut/pasted the question, and it doesn't say. So if it's not impact on clubs winning which is this blog's forever repeated definition of greatness/value, then why are you saying I'm answering the question wrong? That clearly shows YOU are the one bringing a personal slant directed toward one player into this discussion.

I still have no clue how you are determining this ultimate ranking or method of weighing players. I would love to hear a very CLEAR definition of what that is (seriously, any year now). My definition is how much a player impacts a club positively toward winning, which again requires a very thorough look at context. I actually had a whole series of articles this past summer that examined how players impacted their clubs and the context of the impact, and you have decided that by me pointing out the FACT that the Lakers have always done just as well or better without Kobe than with him (considering he has this reputation for always being super competitive and always playing like it's Game 7, you can't blow off the results because they weren't in the playoffs, when his stats actually get worse than the inefficient ones he carries during the regular season) that I am a Kobe hater. I point out facts. Anything that's relevant and can help shed more light on a team's true value or a player's true value to a team, I will talk about it. I'm sorry none of these investigations yield any facts, evidence, or context that helps Kobe look like anything more than a volume scorer on a high-salaried team that wins because of great rebounding, interior defense, and high FG% from other players, but there's a reason those same things keep winning games for LA when he's hurt. But again I've pointed out an easily-identified fact that doesn't kiss Kobe's rear, so I must be a hater in the eyes of a Lakers fan.

April 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterZachariah Blott

@Gav

That is a completely different question. You pretty much ignored my point and went to a different place. When I said cut below I meant the Kobe's and Tim's. Nash IMO, is a pure system PG. He excelled in a system that caters to his talents. For all his regular season success in the past, he can't lead his team to the NBA finals. This year, his season is statistically amazing but wins are not being produced. The Suns with him at the helm have never been a real title threat.

April 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJamesD

@Zach

You forgot to answer the last part of my post. Could you please do that for me? I'm curious if you would be honest about what you felt about MJ in 96.

"The most important type of greatness a player can attain is impact to one's club" "If you don't agree with the statement that the best way to determine a player's greatness/value/ranking is in terms of how much better they are able to make a club then we have nothing to talk about."

So positive impact (in terms of advanced stats) sans wins (Nash this year) is better than negative impact (in terms of advanced stats) with wins (Kobe). I don't think the person who contributes more (in terms of statistical measures) to teams that don't win titles is better than a guy who is a major contributor (on paper, not by adv stat measures) to a title winner. Winning a title is what matters and what should matter.

Take Wed night. LA wins without Kobe, you use that to illustrate Kobe's value. Well how much value does tim have if the Spurs lose to a Kobeless team at home?

I have listed the reasons why I call you a Kobe hater quite clearly. Why you continue to avoid those reasons and create your own is mind boggling. If you just admit it, it will make your columns more honest and better. Your a Simmons fan. He notes his hatred for Kobe and it doesn't compromise his writing. Just think about that.

You wrote "I am not talking about how many fans show up to watch so-and-so because this isn't an economics blog." Then you post: "....Kobe look like anything more than a volume scorer on a high-salaried team ..." Salaries are economics, right? You use economics when it suits your arguments but not when it doesn't. Seems a lil biased.

You ask fans to use all information avaialble, yet you don't when you write about Kobe. Hold yourself to the same standard when you write as you ask fans to do when they evaluate players. Failure to do so makes you biased.

April 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJamesD

@JamesD
Still no clue what your criteria is for judging greatness, but what else is new? So again you want responses to things like 2 games in MJ's career (look at his stats for entire '96 playoffs - insanely good - so I guess that means my opinions on MJ in '96 are that he was insanely good) when I'm looking for responses to much larger questions that you obviously have no answer to.

I've never chimed in on this Nash discussion, so I'm not sure why you're making it part of your argument against me. I will point out that in the articles I did last summer, it's clear Nash's teams get worse without him to a degree FAR greater than Kobe's teams without him.

Tim's impact isn't affected by Kobe's loss. He plays against the big guys, who are great on LAL.

How about instead of high-salaried team I point out that it's a loaded team put together by one of the best GM's in the business with an owner who can afford the smart GM many more options than other smart GM's. On a side note, can you imagine how many rings Tim would have if he ever had an owner who was willing to actually pay for talent and go over the luxury tax? This is where context comes in.

I did the exact same type of "All About the W's" column for Kobe as everyone else, and he came out much worse. A simple look at context can quite easily explain why (bad shooter, stops the offense, rest of team plays with great efficiency and has many guys who shoot better), so I'm not sure why you're acting like I'm using different facts for him -- it was the EXACT SAME ARTICLE for everyone.

April 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterZachariah Blott

@JamesD

I originally said I consider Nash up there with the likes of Duncan, as one of the greatest players, playing now. You replied that he was "cut below the true superstars in this league"

Which is just pure nonsense. He is routinely considered among the top 10 PG of ALL TIME. I don't think anyone that is widely considered in the top 10 EVER in their position, is a cut below the true superstars, they are a true superstar.

He's lead his team to the Conference Finals on three separate occasions ('05, '06, '10) and in two of those cases they were beaten by the eventual Finals winners. Personally I don't like to put too much weight on Finals appearances/wins to a player's success, since that is a TEAM accomplishment, not an individual one. If you think that is the end all be all, then I suppose you think Derrick Fisher is the greatest PG playing today with his 5 rings!

As I noted he's extremely efficient shooter (unlike Kobe) and excellent what his position does best, that is assists (leader for several years)

Furthermore Nash has a great impact on his team see here: http://www.behindthebasket.com/btb/2011/10/6/its-all-about-the-ws-steve-nash.html

But since you want to bring Kobe up so much, maybe you should read the corresponding analysis on him: http://www.behindthebasket.com/btb/2011/9/1/its-all-about-the-ws-kobe-bryant.html

April 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGav

Why does every basketball discussion ever come down to whether Kobe is the greatest PLAYER EVER STUPIDS!!! Sigh. One issue I do have with advanced statistics is that sometimes people believe they are the be-all end-all of everything and can ignore the synergistic nature of basketball. It always seemed to me that one aspect of evaluating player greatness (and an admittedly subjective one) is to try and establish whether that player could effectively play with other types of players. I think everybody understands that if you put five one-dimensional scorers on the floor at the same time, no matter how great, the team can't function. So a key question is, How well could this player play on any given team historically? Let me try and give some examples:

Is there any team in history where you could drop Tim Duncan in and he would be a disruptive presence? I would say no. Bill Russell, same thing. Other players, not necessarily great in of themselves, also have this quality. You can stick Robert Horry on any team ever and he gives you all the fantastic little things that Horry did. Reggie Miller and Charles Barkley don't do as well in this evaluation - Miller is most effective in an offense designed to get him open shots, and Barkley had a tendency to dominate the ball to the exclusion of his teammates at times. One of the defining qualities about Magic and Bird is that the nature of their skills means that you could put them on any team in history and that team would improve significantly. This seems like an important quality to me, though I realize a bit hard to define. ZB, any ideas? Or am I off base here?

April 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMJG

I think you're right on with looking at how a superstar might disrupt different types of clubs. This is where someone like Wilt Chamberlain killed team chemistry all throughout his career and often removed just as much value from his teammates as he was adding himself. This is part of the reason fans might want to at least consider the possibility that Jerry West is a better guard all-time than Jordan -- West easily slid into the role of distributing PG as he got old and never got butt-hurt that he wasn't taking as many shots as he used to, finding other meaningful ways to add value to his team; many other top SG's (the weakest position historically) rely so heavily on their own scoring to define their value that they cannot co-exist so well with others who also score a lot (e.g. Iverson with anyone).

April 20, 2012 | Registered CommenterZachariah Blott

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