On Sunday night, Tim Duncan may have proved himself to be the best power forward in NBA history when he helped the San Antonio Spurs defeat the Miami Heat in the 2014 NBA Finals. The victory gave Duncan the fifth title of his career.
The league has seen many great power forwards, since it was formed in 1946. However, none can put their whole body of work up against that of the Spurs’ big man.
By looking strictly at Duncan’s stats, the case can be made for other players at his position. Dirk Nowitzki’s career 22.5 points per game surpass Duncan’s 19.9 average. Elvin Hayes’s 12.5 rebounds per contest top Duncan’s 11.1 boards.
Karl Malone gives Duncan his greatest competition. The man who made his name with the Utah Jazz ranks second all-time on the NBA scoring list. Malone was both a prolific scorer and rebounder throughout his career, averaging 25 points and 10.1 rebounds over 19 seasons. He averaged a double-double in 10 different seasons.
Even when looking at the numbers of his greatest adversaries, though, Duncan still stands alone.
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Duncan’s string of consistent success is unparalleled. Since San Antonio drafted the “Big Fundamental” in 1997, the organization has experienced unmatched success. With the exception of the 1999 locked-shortened season, when the Spurs led the league in victories, the team has consistently won at least 50 games each season. In seven of those seasons, San Antonio has finished with the best record in the conference.
The sustained success Duncan achieved may never be equaled. He won his first ring in 1999, followed by a fifth championship 15 years later. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabaar had more years in between his first and last titles.
In his 17th season, Duncan wasn’t just along for the ride. He was an essential part of the team, averaging 15.4 points and 10 rebounds per game on 56.9 percent field-goal shooting in the Finals. He ranked second on the team in playoff scoring, as well as first in rebounds and blocks.
The greatest power forwards have had years where their teams underachieved. Nowitzki failed to lead the Dallas Mavericks to the playoffs in 2013. Kevin Garnett missed the postseason several times with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Malone and Charles Barkley were in the playoffs consistently, but neither ever won a title.
San Antonio has always been in the hunt to win it all, and Duncan has led them every step of the way. He holds the playoff record for double-doubles and minutes played, with time to add to those totals.
Duncan’s demeanor has often kept him from getting the same kind of press as the likes of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, but his greatness cannot be denied.
"I mean he was already at the top (among all-time big men)," former Spurs center David Robinson told USA TODAY Sports, after the Spurs beat the Heat in Game Five. "You couldn't argue with his credentials before today, and it's going to be even harder now. He's clearly one of the best players to ever play.”