Thursday, April 02, 2015

The 5th Best Player in the History of the NBA -- Tim Duncan

Two players in the history of the NBA have 100 Defensive Win Shares -- Bill Russell and Tim Duncan.

Tim Duncan has a career Defensive Rating of 95.6, 3rd best all-time.  Of active players, Kevin Garnett is next best at 19th best all-time and has a defensive rating of over 99 points per 100 possessions.  Tim Duncan has a better career Defensive Rating than the other two greatest defensive centers I ever saw play in person -- David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon.   David's rating is close, Hakeem's is not.

Tim Duncan, with a Spurs run this year, will break Michael Jordan's all-time Win Shares record for the playoffs.  Most ever.  No one has more.  Name any name, they will be behind Duncan for playoff productivity.

In the next game he plays, Duncan will likely become the 6th player in NBA history to register 200 career Win Shares.  He has 5 titles.  He is 2X MVP, 10X first-team all-NBA, 3X Finals MVP.  He has 12 seasons with over 10 Win Shares (5th best all-time).  He holds the NBA record for most Win Shares in a playoff season (5.9 in the 2002-03 playoffs).

Tim Duncan is arguably the greatest player in the history of the game.  His combination of offensive prowess, defensive prowess and team success stands up to virtually anyone.  He is 8X first-team all-defense.  He is 14X first or second team all-defense (the most of all-time by 2 seasons).  He has those stats despite the fact that he was also for several years the #1 offensive option on his team.  He had a year where his defensive rating was 89 (lower is better).

So why does Tim Duncan rank only 5th on my list?  Well, it is kinda hard to explain, but let me tell you and see if you buy my explanation (for you Duncan fans out there - there can be no question that the guy is underrated on the all-time list, but I don't think you will see many guys ranking him top 5, so cut me some slack).

Tim Duncan's career has been marked by tremendous consistency, but not consistency during the regular season at a historically dominant level.  Example - while he ranks very high in the "most 10 Win Share seasons" category - if you move the sort way up to 15 Win Share seasons, you see:

Duncan has as many 15 Win Share seasons (2) as Bob McAdoo and Alex Groza.  Bird has 4; Magic has 4; David Robinson 5; Oscar 6; Karl Malone 9.   A good argument could be made that the Spurs do not need Duncan to play that well or that much in order to win.  But then if you go to WS/48, which takes into account that a guy may not play that much, you get this:
Duncan has 5 really great WS/48 seasons, tied for 10th.  Again, far worse than David Robinson, far worse than Karl Malone.  Shaq, always maligned as a regular season slacker, has 7 such seasons.  Duncan's "per game" career regular season statistics look very pedestrian for someone claiming all-time top 5 great status -- 19.5/11/3 and 2.9 steals plus blocks.

But you cannot deny the fact that he went 2-1-1-2 in MVP balloting over 4 regular seasons, and that he may soon pass Jordan in career Playoff Win Shares and that he has anchored 5 NBA title teams (which would have been 6 but for his coach's inexplicable decision not to have him in during the end of Game 6 against the Heat) or that his Defensive Win Shares are better than anyone but Bill Russell.
or that he seemingly does not age and, in the playoffs, where it counts, he continues to dominate while playing on championship teams.

I rank Tim Duncan the #5 player in the history of the game.


Anonymous said...

Is the difference between offensive rating and defensive rating a stat that provides any value?

I guess what I'm asking is whether a guy with 100 ORtg/90 DRtg has the same impact on a game as a guy with 110/100. But I don't really understand how the ratings are generated.

HM said...

The theory is that if you are on the court for 100 possessions, your team will give up ___ points (defensive rating) and score __ points (offensive rating).

Duncan is a +14 and Magic is a +17, while a 100 possession Duncan game would be 110-96, a 100 possession Magic game would be 121-104.

If you look at the greatest NBA players, they are all somewhere between +10 and +20

There is some problem with using these stats, because when guys change teams, the stats tend to vary with the quality of team. But if you are talking about guys with 30000 minutes played, eventually things normalize.

HM said...

Note -- the Spurs lost early in 2015 playoffs and Duncan never reached Jordan in career playoff WS. They both have been passed by LeBron James, leaving Duncan third.