The Big Picture: An appreciation of Tim Duncan begins with his basic statistical record. The man was a guaranteed 22/12 per game for the first eight seasons of his career, and has since "declined" to 18/10, mainly because he's playing fewer minutes, in order to be ready for the playoffs.
Then, you can talk about his defense, and how he was a guaranteed 2 blocks per game for ten years, and, again, has "declined" to 1.5 blocks per game, mainly due to fewer minutes. And how, beyond that, he was the linchpin of a top-rated defense year after year, and his coach gave him all the credit in the world for directing traffic and remaining a constant force, even while the cast of characters around him changed.
But to my mind, Duncan's greatest accomplishment is not that he's won four titles, going 4-0 in the Finals; it's that in the post-1979 NBA (Larry,, et cetera), he is one of two Hall of Famers to lead his team to a championship without the aid of at least an All Star caliber sidekick. The list of teams to win championships with as little as one HOFer and no additional All Stars:
Hakeem - 1994
Duncan - 2003
Pistons (no HOFers) - 2004
And that's it. You could even make a case that in 1999, David Robinson wasn't quite an All Star sidekick, which would make Duncan the only player in the modern era to lead his team to multiple titles without that kind of help. All that's to say that Duncan may not have been as individually dominant as Shaquille O'Neal was in his prime, or quite as versatile as Kevin Garnett or Dirk Nowitzki, but he was certainly better than all of them at at least one important facet of the game while being nearly as good at everything else, for a ridiculously long period of time.
Knowing what we know happened since then, if the league started over in 2000, and held a dispersal draft, and you had the number one pick, I wouldn't blame you for picking Kobe Bryant, Shaq, or a fifteen-year-old LeBron James, but I'd probably go with Tim Duncan.
Musical Interlude: Canibus -- "Second Round K.O."
Key to Victory: Hardly anybody thinks of the Spurs as the vanguard of positional creativity and basketball freedom, but Greg Popovich and company have long resisted labels in favor of the role construct. Consider that Duncan has always been listed as a "forward", despite playing alongside shorter, more perimeter-oriented guys at "center" like Matt Bonner. Or that Manu Ginobili isn't really a "small forward", "shooting guard", or "point guard" so much as he's a dude who shoots when he shoots, passes when he passes, and slashes when he slashes. Or that DeJuan Blair isn't a "forward" or "center" so much as he's a monster rebounder trapped in a fire hydrant body.
The Bobcats are going to have trouble with Duncan. That's not difficult to predict. What is tough to predict is where the Cats might try to press an advantage on the Spurs. Tony Parker and George Hill can attack D.J. Augustin in myriad ways, but at the same time, I'm not sure either of them can really keep up with this new model of D.J., either. Ginobili plays a very similar role to Stephen Jackson, and I expect both badasses to go at it hard, and early, but if Jax's shots are falling, I don't see a strategic advantage to be gained there.
What I hope to see is Gerald Wallace abusing Richard Jefferson and making him curl up into the fetal position (metaphorically). Just because Tyrus Thomas is around for 20-30 minutes doesn't mean that Wallace should lower the swag and stop flying for rebounds, because two tornadoes on the floor is almost always better than one. Jefferson supposedly stepped up his workouts and shooting exercises this offseason, and through five games, he's taken a massive step forward. That said, it's just five games. Make him work, Gerald.
I also hope to see Boris Diaw actually putting his versatility to work and forcing Blair to defend in places and ways he's uncomfortable defending, and then I hope to see Thomas come in and change the whole paradigm. Of course, Tiago Splitter frightens me because if he lives up to his legend, he's Blake Griffin combined with Chris Webber, so yeah, I've got an overactive imagination.
Detail That May Interest .08% of You: The guy arrested at the Bobcats game on suspicion of murdering someone in New York was captured "in one of the VIP areas".