Today is Thanksgiving thus marking the beginning of the holiday season, a time of reflection and appreciation for the things this year has brought. As a San Antonio Spurs fan, I am most thankful for Tim Duncan. The first 11 games of the season has served as a reminder of the brilliance of Duncan. His numbers are up across the board, and he's served as the team's anchor on both ends of the court this season.
Right now, Duncan is averaging 18 points, ten rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game. He's also playing 30.5 minutes a game, up slightly from the last two seasons. His Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is 27.53, which would be the highest of his career if he sustains it through the season. He's scored in double figures every game so far. He's fourth in the league in blocks and overall the Spurs are dreadful on defense when he's off the court. In short, Duncan is playing like a top ten player in the league and should be considered a candidate for Western Conference Player of the Month.
Two weeks ago, the Spurs played the Kings in Sacramento. My girlfriend and I were there to witness a classic Duncan game. Tony Parker was sick from a flu bug that ironically enough originated from Duncan. Manu Ginobili was still working his way back from back spasms and the team was going through normal early season chemistry and rotation hiccups. Considering the Kings had won two straight (a news flash in its own right), this game was set up perfectly for a Spurs early season loss on the road. But there was Duncan, steady as ever. He scored early and often, making the Kings fans groan around us every time he scored. The funny thing was, a lot of fans would groan before Duncan even made his move. They were just expecting him to do something good. He was just as good on defense, where he spent the bulk of the night guarding DeMarcus Cousins. With the exception of a couple minute stretch that eventually led to Cousins getting suspended for confronting Sean Elliott, Duncan shut the Kings' big man down. Duncan's final line: 23 points, 12 rebounds, five blocks, four assists, three steals. Duncan's steadiness and Patty Mills' out of nowhere 18 point performance led the Spurs to victory.
That game was a microcosm of the Spurs' season so far. Despite their 8-3 record, I don't feel like they've had a ton of consistency. As Project Spurs' resident Tony Parker basher, I feel obligated to tell you he's been really bad shooting the ball this season. Parker is currently shooting 41 percent from the field, which is seven percent worse than the clip he was at last year. We mentioned Manu's back problems and the inconsistencies that have resulted because of them. The Spurs are clearly still tinkering with Kawhi Leonard's role on offense. Danny Green's work moving without the ball has been a revelation and you could argue he's been the Spurs second most consistent player this season. But really, this team has the record it does because of Duncan. Whether it's his performance against the Kings, that ridiculous running hook shot over the Lakers' Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, or the clutch shots he hit in the fourth quarter of the season opener against New Orleans, Duncan has been up to whatever task is called upon him.
This next road trip presents a new challenge. Down Leonard and Stephen Jackson, the Spurs perimeter defense is going to struggle. That means Duncan's going to have to control the paint more often, as wings will likely get around the Gary Neal's and Patty Mills of the world.
I'm thankful for Tim Duncan. He's been the rock the Spurs have built their early season success on. He's been the steadiness that's allowed head coach Gregg Popovich to start three different guys, Boris Diaw, DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter, in the front court with him in just 11 games. He's the reason the Spurs have been able to succeed while Tony Parker finds his shot (it's gotta come back soon, right?) and he's what I've enjoyed watching most this young season.
Happy Thanksgiving, Spurs fans. Enjoy the day with your family and other loved ones.