Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs made the 2013 NBA Finals on Monday night with their 93-86 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. The win gave the Spurs a sweep of the Western Conference Finals.
It’s the fifth trip to the Finals for Duncan, who’s in 16th career season. Since he was drafted in 1997, the big man has been one of the best players in the league. He is often overlooked, but the success he’s having even this late in his career is causing many to put his career into perspective.
When Michael Jordan retired from the Chicago Bulls for the second time in 1998, the NBA lost its biggest star. While LeBron James has been heralded as the best player of his generation, there has been some debate about who is at the top of the list in the era between his and Jordan’s.
For many, Kobe Bryant has had the best career since the late 1990’s. Duncan, though, can also argue that that he’s been the best player of the past two decades.
Who took over for Jordan as the best player in the NBA? An in-depth look at the careers of Duncan and Bryant might help answer that question.
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The most impressive thing about Duncan and Bryant may be their longevity. The two have played close to 1,500 games each in their careers, and still performed like superstars in 2012-2013.
Bryant has always been a more dominant scorer. He won the scoring title twice and is averaging 25.5 points per game for his career. Duncan has put up 20.2 for his career, including 17.8 this season.
Duncan, however, has proven to be one of the most complete players in the game. Seven times he’s averaged a double-double, something Bryant has never accomplished. Duncan has also put up 3.1 assists and 2.2 blocks per game since entering the league. Bryant has been criticized for taking too many shots, but he has managed to average at least five assists per games nine times.
Only a handful of professional basketball players can match Duncan and Bryant with the number of awards they’ve received throughout their career. With Duncan at power forward and Bryant at shooting guard, the two have clearly separated themselves as the best performers at their respective positions since they came into the league.
Each player has missed the All-Star Game just two times in their career. Bryant has been named the game’s MVP four times, while Duncan has taken the award home once. The Spurs star won the regular season MVP twice, compared to Bryant’s one victory in 2008. In Bryant’s 17 seasons, he’s made the All-NBA First Team 11 times. Duncan has done so 10 times.
No NBA player has been a more consistent winner in the past 20 years than Duncan. The Spurs have reached the playoffs in all of his 16 seasons, and they have never had a regular season winning percentage less than .610. Gregg Popovich has been with San Antonio for just as long as Duncan has, and players like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have won several titles with the club, but Duncan has been the centerpiece of the team throughout that time.
Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers haven’t had quite the same consistent success as the Spurs. They missed the postseason in 2005 and three other times had a winning percentage of less than .600. However, L.A. has had fewer disappointments in the playoffs, winning five titles to the San Antonio’s four. This trip to the Finals is Duncan’s fifth, while Bryant has made it to the last round seven times.