When Kevin Garnett reached the 25,000 point milestone after the Boston Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers last Thursday, it resurrected the often heated question between NBA fans on who's the better player: San Antonio Spurs' Tim Duncan or Boston Celtics' Kevin Garnett?
ESPN's Scott Van Pelt and Ryen Russillo tackled this question and brought up solid points for their choices.
Both men are different in personality and in their game. They polar opposites, with Duncan being the quiet leader and Garnett being extremely outspoken (to put it mildly). Russillo mentions how he's come to appreciate Garnett since covering the Celtics.
"But seeing Garnett up close covering the Celtics when I did, especially the year they won the title, and seeing his leadership, his ferocity, and it's more demonstrative than Duncan's ever been and I started to appreciate Garnett a lot more" (Ryen Russillo)
There's no questioning the great leadership they both command with their teams and that's a huge quality with both players, it doesn't necessarily translate on the court with their individual games. While KG is more of a "middle linebacker" on defense during this stretch of his career with the Celtics, he was a versatile player who was described as being able to play and guard every position on the court while Duncan was always seen strictly as a big man on the defensive end. Their offensive games have always been different too, something that statistics can't tell and is described Russillo.
"The other argument that I've had before is that Duncan, I believe, has been more of a center throughout his career than a power forward….I believe Garnett is the more talented player, he's more well rounded, he's able to do things"
Scott Van Pelt made an interesting statement toward the end of the discussion that might add fuel to the discussion.
"I also would say this: if Duncan was as demonstrative as Garnett, would the discussion be easier to come up with an answer? I think it would be, it's just not who he is"
"The one separation that I have between the two is that, for all of the great things Garnet can do on offense, he's still has to this day been a reluctant offense player" (Russillo)
This statement is really the biggest difference between the two and for a Spurs fan rings as the best argument for picking Duncan over Garnett. While Garnett has been a player who's garnered attention and demanded accountability from his teammates like Duncan, it's been the "Big Fundamental" in Tim Duncan who hasn't been afraid to demand the ball in the post to fight for the win. Garnett has never been that kind of player who'd want to take over a game in the paint, although he has always been more than capable to do it. He's been more of a jump shooter his whole career and, as the ESPN personalities point out, a reluctant one at that. When Garnett finally made it to the big stage of the NBA Finals, he showed was impressive in the box score but nothing stood out from the games as far as dominant and played off his teammates. Before that, KG had trouble getting out of the first round while Duncan led his teams out of the first round during his prime.
Duncan's intangibles and leadership was especially apparent during the 2003 season. Garnett had trouble sizing up against the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers while Duncan took the whole season and postseason on his shoulders in what was David Robinson's last year. Like Garnett, Duncan was the main focus of the team on both ends but their games were what separated them. Garnett's reluctance to play in the post consistently forced him and the team to rely on jump shots which didn't help their cause of getting out the first round. Duncan, on the other hand, was the Spurs' best post player and controlled both the offense and defense throughout the season and into the playoffs. The same Los Angeles Lakers that gave Garnett's Minnesota Timberwolves were eliminated by Tim Duncan's dominating performance against the most dominating center at that time, Shaquille O'Neal. Also keep in mind that Duncan's dominance didn't come easy. With David Robinson's knees bothering him throughout the season, Malik Rose and Kevin Willis shared the center position and those two players didn't open up the paint for Duncan to create.
Although there's many heated discussions during the 2005 playoffs on who should've been the MVP of the NBA Finals between Manu Ginobili and Duncan, Duncan controlled the deciding Game 7 without hesitation. He dominated the paint against the defending NBA champion Detroit Pistons and commanded double teams from Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace along with Antonio McDyess. Duncan also dominated that series with two ailing ankles he injured before the series. While he didn't shout or bump his chest, the Spurs followed his quiet intensity to these two titles along with successful regular seasons.
The stats clearly favor Garnett, but they can't tell the whole story on this matter. Garnett is a good jump shooter who got open shots, but Duncan commanded double teams in the paint and gave his teammates open shots. His assists may not be up there with Garnett's, but the Spurs have always relied on ball movement from the team and not a one pass with a shot after. Garnett may have had the athleticism factor in his court which is a reasonable argument, but that's something that we can confidently say Duncan never wanted to rely on. As we've seen this year, Duncan is probably showing more athleticism than he has in the past 10 years at 36 years of age. The Spurs are one of the top defensive teams this season with a running offensive scheme that demands more possessions and points, something that's unheard of. You won't hear about it because Duncan still hasn't changed his character.
Like Scott Van Pelt and Ryen Rossillo mentioned, it's Duncan who's willing to put the team on his back for a win while Garnett is hesitant to for reasons we don't know. The better way for fans to discuss and solve this discussion is with a simple question, "With your team down by one and having the last possession of the game, who would you give the ball to for a high percentage shot: Tim Duncan or Kevin Garnett?". The answer is simple with Tim Duncan because we've seen that from him.
When you take the emotion out of Kevin Garnett and compare the two, it's not even close with Duncan rolling past Garnett.
Where do you stand on this debate? Is it KG or TD?