The Dawn of the Duncan Era
*Photo via the Score
We all knew this day would come, but honestly, did we? Since the day Duncan was drafted number 1 overall in the 97’ Draft, Coach Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan have been one of the most successful coach-player duos in NBA history. Our eyes are not accustomed to watching the Spurs with Duncan missing in the middle. No bank shots from every angle imaginable? No hook shots, No pregame stroll in his signature 3XL short sleeved collared shirt and jean shorts?
During nearly two decades of excellence, Tim Duncan and Pop have delivered 5 NBA Championships, 17 consecutive seasons with 50+ wins and 19 playoff appearances. Part of the Spurs formula of excellence starts with being a first class organization from the top down. From the ownership, coaching staff, all the way down to the players having great chemistry. The Spurs have a system in place, and it’s proven to work. Player development is another key factor in the Spurs’ success. Two prime examples are Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Tony Parker, the 29th pick in the 2001 Draft, and Manu, the 57th pick in the 1999 draft, both multiple time all-stars, multiple NBA Champions.
How about Kawhi Leonard, their latest draft stud already notching a Finals MVP award, Defensive Player of the Year recipient, and first time NBA All-Star? What the Spurs find just about better than anyone are role players to fit their system and thrive in it. The draftees that play a major role in their success are players like Tiago Splitter, Cory Joseph, and George Hill. They sign the “Danny Greens”, “Bruce Bowens”, “Robert Horrys”, “Marco Belinellis”, and “Patty Mills” of the world. Let’s not forget the latest big fish they caught- Lamarcus Aldridge, and Pau Gasol. The process works because they find players that fit their system. The question still arises is this coach Poppovich’s biggest challenge to date? We know the system works but we haven’t seen the system run without “The Big Fundamental”. Tim Duncan represents stability for San Antonio. His unselfishness was part of the reason there was no decline in the win total (even if there was a decline in his point and rebounding totals). Tony Parker and Manu both lead the team in scoring on several different occasions since the 2007-08 seasons. They have been able to keep Duncan fresh by taking a little more of the scoring load off those mitts.
*Photo via USA Today
Thinking logically, how can you think a frontcourt built with a former finals MVP, along with a two time NBA Champion and a multiple time All-Star Trio of Kawhi Leonard, Lamarcus Aldridge, and newly added Pau Gasol, isn’t exactly going to have the franchise eligible for ping pong balls in the lottery. There is something to be said for the comfortability factor Duncan has given the franchise.
Statistics aside, a franchise player that knows where to set the screens, knowledge on where his shots are coming from, full comprehension of the playbook, these qualities to any team/coach, are essential to team success. This, coupled with Duncan’s leadership, experience in meaningful games, championship pedigree and being a quality teammate, makes it hard to imagine no effects from that missing presence in that locker room.
In a Western Conference, where the clear favorite just added more ammo to the top shooting duo we have seen past or present, the Spurs will have to rely upon Ginobli and Parker (now sharing that role Duncan provided for so long). In addition, the continued development of Aldridge in the Spurs system and Kawhi taking that next leap to possible top 10 talent will be key for the Spurs possibly getting back to an NBA title.