We all knew he was one decades ago, but today we can officially call Tim Duncan a hall of famer. He is widely accepted as the greatest power forward to ever lace them up. Earning the name “The Big Fundamental” for his style of play, Duncan did everything right on the court. He was just as easy going off the court. Duncan perfected the low maintenance super star role. Take a look back on the hall of fame career of Tim Duncan in this player spotlight.
1997-2003: Twin Tower Years
You never want to see a player get injured, especially a star player like David Robinson. But that is what happened in the 1996 NBA season. This as it allowed the Spurs to tank and have the number one pick in the 1997 NBA Draft. They selected Tim Duncan out of Wake Forest and the rest is history.
In the 1997–98 season, Duncan and Robinson became known as the “Twin Towers”. The duo earned a reputation for their exceptional defense close to the basket. Rookie Tim Duncan showed from the start that he would be a force to be reckoned with. In just his second NBA game, Duncan graced 22 rebounds against defending champion Bulls and Dennis Rodman, a multiple time rebound champion. With his play in the first half of the season, Duncan was selected by the coaches to play in the All-Star Game.
Later in the season, Duncan matched up with a hall of fame power forward, Charles Barkley. Barkley gave the rookie quite the endorsement after the game.
“I have seen the future and he wears number 21.”- Charles Barkley on Duncan.
Duncan lived up to expectations of being the number one draft pick. He started all 82 regular-season games, averaging 21.1 points, 11.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.5 blocks per game. He earned All-NBA First Team honors and NBA All-Defensive Second Team honors. Dominating as a rookie, Duncan was named Rookie of the Year, having won the NBA Rookie of the Month award every single month.
On the backs of Duncan and Robinson, the Spurs made the playoffs as the 5th seed. Duncan would shine in his first playoff series, averaging a double double against the Suns. The Spurs would get knocked out in round two by the Utah Jazz.
1998-99 NBA Season: Sophomore Year and 1st Championship
The 1998-99 season was shortened do to the lockout, and the Spurs struggled to get things going early on. But the Spurs finished the season strong, going 31-5 down the stretch.
The sophomore averaged 21.7 points, 11.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.5 blocks in the regular season, making both the All-NBA and All-Defense First Teams. He and Robinson had solidified their position as an elite front court in the NBA.
In the 1999 NBA Playoffs, the Spurs were dominant. They defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 3–1, swept the Los Angeles Lakers and the Portland Trail Blazers 4–0. This got them a finals appearance with the New York Knicks. The Spurs proved to be the much better team, winning in just 5 games.
Duncan and Robinson dominated the front court matchup. In games one and two, the twin towers outplayed the Knicks starting front court to the tune of 41 points, 26 rebounds, and nine blocks versus just five points, 12 rebounds, and zero blocks.
The Knicks stole Game 3 where Duncan was far from his usual self, going scoreless in the 3rd quarter. But he would bounce back with 28 points and 18 rebounds in a Game 4 win. In the close out game 5, Duncan had 31-points and 9-rebounds. Duncan was named Finals MVP.
The defining quote of the series was something Coach Popovich told Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy.
“I’ve got Tim Duncan and you don’t. That’s the difference.” – Pop to Van Gundy
1999-2000 NBA Season
The ’99-2000 NBA season was off to a strong start for Duncan. He continued to prove that he was a dominant force here for the long haul. He averaged 23.2 points, 12.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.2 blocks per game, earning another pair of All-NBA and All-Defense First Team selections.
But Duncan injured his meniscus shortly before the end of the regular season and was unable to play in the playoffs. As a result the reigning champions were eliminated in round one.
2000-01 NBA Season
Duncan was back to his usual self post injury, averaging 22.2 points, 12.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.3 blocks per game. Once again Duncan was selected to the All-NBA and All-Defensive First Teams.
The Spurs would eliminate the Timberwolves 3–1, defeated the Dallas Mavericks 4–1, to advance to the conference finals. That is where the Twin Towers would run into an immovable object. The Lakers, led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, destroyed the Spurs, sweeping them in 4 games.
Duncan was criticized by the media after the series. Sports illustrated said Duncan was “silent when the Spurs need him most.” A harsh comment for a proven winner who just happened to run into prime Shaq.
2001-02 NBA Season
Hearing the noise, Duncan responded the next season with career highs in scoring, rebounding, assists and blocks. He averaged 25.5 points per game, 12.7 boards per game, 3.7 assists and 2.5 blocks per game. Coupled with another pair of All-NBA and All-Defensive First Team honors, he was named the league’s Most Valuable Player. He joined teammate David Robinson as only the second Spurs players in history to have earned the honor.
Duncan and the Spurs would get their chance at redemption against the Lakers, but they wouldn’t succeed. This time it wasn’t because Duncan went “silent.” Duncan recored 34 points and a franchise-high 25 rebounds in Game 5, but it wasn’t enough as the Lakers closed them out that night.
This time around the media praised Duncan’s performance. NBA.com descried Duncan’s performance as “phenomenal” and heavily criticized the supporting cast.
2002-03 NBA Season: Duncan and Robinson win their 2nd Ring
For the second consecutive season, Duncan won league MVP. He averaged 23.3 points, a career-high 12.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.9 blocks per game, and earned All-NBA and All-Defensive First Team once again.
At age 37, Robinson had announced that the season would be his last. This was the final run for the Twin Towers, and they did it right.
In the Western Conference Semifinals against the Lakers, Duncan dominated. Duncan finished Game 6 with 37 points and 16 rebounds, closing out the series and getting revenge for the previous two postseasons.
The Spurs made it to the finals, and defeated the New Jersey Nets rather easily. Duncan almost recorded a quadruple double in the final game, and was named the NBA Finals MVP.
David Robinson rode off into the sunset as an NBA champion.
2003-07: Sole Leader of the Spurs
With Robinson enjoying retirement, Duncan had to step up and be the sole leader. The Spurs and some new faces and a new dynamic. A French point guard, a Slovenian Center and Argentinian Shooting Guard, the Spurs were a unique bunch. Though Parker and Ginobili had been there for a little while, it wasn’t all new, but their roles certainly increased.
Aside from the leadership thing, Duncan was his old self with averages of 22.3 points, 12.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.7 blocks.
The Spurs and Lakers would once again link up in the Semifinals. In Game 5 with the series tied 2-2, Duncan hit a toughly defended jump shot which put the Spurs ahead by one point with 0.4 seconds left to play. It stunned Shaq and the Lakers but it didn’t kill them. With 0.4 left on the clock Lakers point guard Derek Fisher hit a buzzer beater for the win. Los Angeles would go on to win the series in Game 6.
2004-05 NBA Season: Duncan’s 3rd Ring
Duncan’s production in the regular season was down from previous season. He averaged 20.3 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.6 blocks per game. Crazy to think that is a down year. But the Spurs would be just fine, winning 59 games and ending up back in the NBA finals.
The NBA Finals was a grind against the defending champion Detroit Pistons. It would go down to Game 7 and that is where Duncan would shine. He recorded 25 points and 11 rebounds as the Spurs won the title.
Popovich complimented Duncan and destroying the critics at the same time.
“Duncan’s complete game is so sound, so fundamental, so unnoticed at times, because if he didn’t score, people think, ‘Well, he didn’t do anything’. But he was incredible and he was the force that got it done for us.” Popovich on Duncan.
Duncan won his third NBA Finals MVP Award, joining Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, and Magic Johnson as the only players in NBA history to win it three times.
2005-06 NBA Season
The ’05-’06 season would be a tough one for the Sours and Duncan. Duncan suffered from plantar fasciitis for most of the season, which was partly responsible for his declined production. He averaged 18.6 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.0 blocks per game. Still great numbers but for the first time in 8 years, Duncan did not receive All-NBA First Team honors.
Duncan returned to form in the playoffs series against Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks. He outscored Dirk 32 points to 27 points per game in the series. The series would go 7 games, but Duncan would not close it out for Spurs. After scoring 39 in regulation, Duncan only made one of seven field goal attempts in overtime against Mavericks reserve center DeSagana Diop, and the Spurs lost Game 7.
2006-07 NBA Season: Duncan’s 4th Ring
The ’06-07 season was a bounce back season for Duncan. He averaged 20.0 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.4 blocks per game in the regular season, but had bigger aspirations.
In the playoffs the Spurs would lose a total of 4 games, only once having a series go beyond 5 games. The Spurs swept a weak Cleveland Cavaliers team in the Finals
Duncan only received one out of 10 votes for Finals MVP, but it didn’t matter. Despite his sub-par play, Duncan called this his best title.
Popovich once again praised his best player.
“Tim is the common denominator. He’s [had] a different cast around him [in] ’99, ’03 and ’05. He’s welcomed them all. […] But he is that easy to play with, and his skills are so fundamentally sound that other people can fit in.”- Popovich on Duncan.
The late great NBA commissioner David Stern added Duncan is “one of the greatest players of all time.”
San Antonio concluded the 2007–08 regular season with a 56–26 record, finishing behind the Lakers and New Orleans Hornets in the Western Conference. Duncan averaged his usual 20 point double double and the Spurs were set for a first-round contest against the Suns.
The Spurs had eliminated the Suns in three of the past four seasons of playoffs, and the Suns were tired of it. But they still couldn’t overcome the Spurs obstacle.
In round two the Spurs faced off against the Hornets. In game 1 Duncan had his worst performance ever, with just 5 points and 3 rebounds in the blow out loss. But after going drown 0-2, Duncan bounced back putting up a team-high 22 points, 15 rebound and 4 block performance in Game 4 to tie the series. Duncan then recorded 20 points and 15 rebounds in Game 6, with the Spurs eventually winning the series in 7 games.
The Spurs’ arch-rivals Los Angeles Lakers defeated them in five games in the Conference Finals. The Spurs once again failed to capture back-to-back NBA championships.
2008-09 NBA Season
Duncan started the season off strong but his numbers steadily declined over the course of the season. He was diagnosed with chronic knee tendinitis. Manu Ginobili was also injured most of the season but the Spurs still made the playoffs.
Duncan and Parker were not enough to overcome the Spurs age and injuries as they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2000.
2009-10 NBA Season
At the age of 34, Duncan was still putting up 20 point double double averages. He once again led the Spurs to the playoffs, and this time advancing out of round 1.
In round two they were matched up with the Suns, a team they had beat down on in the playoffs for years now. But the Suns would get their revenge, sweeping the Spurs.
2010-11 NBA Season
This season was one for the record books for Duncan. Duncan became the Spurs’ all-time leader in points scored and games played. Through his 1,000th game, the Spurs have been 707–293; only Scottie Pippen (715–285) had a better record with his team through his first 1,000 games.
Despite Duncan produced career-lows in points and rebounds per game, the Spurs ended the regular season as the first seed in the West. This however just set up the Spurs for one of the most embarrassing round one exits in history.
The 8th seed Memphis Grizzles upset the 61 win Spurs in 6 games.
2011-12 NBA Season: Popovich Begins to Rest Duncan
The Spurs again finished the 2011–12 lockout shortened season as the number one seed in the West with a 50-16 record. On March 24, 2012, head coach Gregg Popovich decided to give Duncan a night off by listing him on the official scorecard as “DNP-OLD.” This was a joking way to give the 36 year old Duncan a rest as the playoffs were right around the corner.
Duncan-Parker-Ginóbili entered the 2012 NBA Playoffs well-rested and healthy. Popovich’s rest tactics worked as the Spurs swept the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers 4–0 in the first two rounds.
The Spurs’ playoff run came to an end when the Thunder defeated them 4–2. However in that series, Duncan surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most blocks in playoff history.
2012-13 NBA Season: Duncan Not on the Floor in Game 6
Duncan and the Spurs would again make the playoffs with a 58–24 regular season record. Duncan also returned to the All-Star line-up and was named to the All-NBA First Team.
In the playoffs, the Spurs swept the Los Angeles Lakers, beat Golden State in six games and defeated the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference Finals in a 4–0 sweep to reach the NBA Finals.
The Spurs met defending NBA champions Miami Heat in the NBA Finals in a tightly contested series. Miami had home court advantage, but San Antonio took the first game and headed into game 6 with a 3–2 lead. In that game, Duncan scored 25 points in the first half, his biggest haul in a half of an NBA Finals game. However it wouldn’t be enough, although it should have been.
I to this day believe if Duncan was on the floor for that final Heat possession, he would have secured the rebound. Instead Popvich had Duncan off the court and Bosh grabbed the rebound, that ultimately resulted in one of the most clutch finals shots of all time by Ray Allen.
The Heat would win it 7 games, resulting in Duncan’s first finals loss.
2013-14 NBA Season: Duncan’s Back on Top
On December 2, 2013, Duncan became the oldest player to record a 20–20 game in NBA history, finishing with 23 points, 21 rebounds and the game-winning jump shot against the Atlanta Hawks. The Spurs for the season were just as dominant as Duncan was that night, with a league best 62-20 record.
The Spurs defeated Dallas in seven games in the first round of the playoffs, Portland in five games in the conference semifinals, and Oklahoma City in six games. This set up a rematch of the previous finals, and the Spurs were on a mission.
The Spurs defeated the Heat in 5 games, setting a finals record for a record margin for a win in the NBA Finals. Duncan-Ginóbili-Parker trio broke the record for most wins in NBA Playoffs history. After winning the Finals in five games, Duncan joined John Salley as the only players to win a championship in three different decades.
2014-16: The Final Years
The Spurs would continue to make the playoffs during Duncan’s final seasons but they never reached the championship level again. He would pass many names in the record books across the final 3 years of his career including one very elite group.
He joined the short list of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Robert Parish as the only players to win 1,000 in the regular season.
The last time we would see Duncan on the floor, we didn’t know it would be the last time. He never made a public announcement, never wanting to draw attention away from the team and to himself. There was no farewell tour like Kobe and Dirk got, because that isn’t who Duncan is. In the most Tim Duncan fashion, he announce his retirement on a random July 11th when there was nothing going on.
On December 18, 2016, the Spurs retired Duncan’s No. 21 jersey in a postgame ceremony, making him the eighth Spur in franchise history to have his jersey retired. Popovich always said Duncan had a spot as a coach waiting for him and well he took it, currently serving as an assistant to Coach Popovich.