Room For Improvement: Tim Duncan


TD1Before the NBA lockout, San Antonio Spurs forward/center Tim Duncan opted to stay in the final year of his deal. He’s due 21.2 million dollars for the final year of his contract, the 2011-12’ season. If there is a next season and the Spurs make the playoffs, Duncan would be going into next year’s playoffs at the age of 36.

In order to improve for next season, Duncan must do what he can to delay Father Time from creeping up on him. At the same time the Spurs’ front office must do their part to either get Duncan some help in the front court by a.) signing/trading for an accomplished big man, b.) hoping that Tiago Splitter makes a drastic improvement in year two, c.) if Antonio McDyess doesn’t retire, freezing his body in carbon until the 12’ playoffs, d.) getting some of that ooze from ‘The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II’ for Matt Bonner, or e.) asking Harry Potter if there’s any way he can use a spell to make DeJuan Blair grow five inches taller.

Let’s go into the battle against Father Time first. I took some numbers from Duncan’s last three seasons and broke them down into individual categories.

Regular season minutes

08-09’ Regular season: 33 years old, 75 games, 2,524 minutes, 33.7 mpg

09-10’ Regular season: 34 years old, 78 games, 2,438 minutes, 31.3 mpg

10-11’ Regular season: 35 years old, 76 games, 2,156 minutes, 28.4 mpg

Head coach Gregg Popovich and his staff have been successful over the last three seasons in limiting Duncan’s minutes. The coaching staff was able to scratch 300 minutes off of Duncan’s body this past season. Duncan has also opted to change his offseason training from very strenuous activities to lighter methods of preserving his legs and keeping his weight slimmer. This past season, the team changed its offensive game plan to a run-and-gun style of play that featured the offense running through guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Duncan became the third option. With the explosive scoring attack the team had, they were able to blow out opponents on numerous occasions, which helped Duncan log less minutes. In turn, his body was ready and fresh to log more minutes in the playoffs.

Playoff minutes

08-09’ Playoffs: 5 games, 32.8 mpg

09-10’ Playoffs: 10 games, 37.3 mpg

10-11’ Playoffs: 6 games, 35.3 mpg

When the playoffs approached, Duncan was able to log seven more minutes than his season average. His body was preserved for what was expected to be a long post season run. As it turned out, the Memphis Grizzlies ended that run in the first round.

Regular season offense

09’: 1450 points, 19.3 ppg, 800 rebounds, 10.7 rbd, 28.48 usage, +24.43 PER

10’: 1395 points, 17.9 ppg, 788 rebounds, 10.1 rbd, 26.07 usage, +24.72 PER

11’: 1022 points, 13.4 ppg, 678 rebounds, 8.9 rbd, 22.90 usage, +21.97 PER

Duncan’s usage rating was decreased by four points this past season. As written above, he was now the third option on offense. With less touches, his point production declined though he was still very efficient when on the court. His rebounds dipped by 110 rebounds from the previous season, this is attributed to fewer minutes and the offensive style. The team’s new offensive style had them shoot more perimeter shots than in the past. When you miss long threes, the rebound usually goes out to the wings or guards. He was also handicapped at grabbing rebounds on the defensive end because he was usually the center in a small-ball lineup or had Bonner or Blair by his side.

Playoff offense

09’: 19.8 ppg, 8 rbd, 1.4 TO

10’:  19 ppg, 9.9 rbd, 2.4 TO

11’: 12.7 ppg, 10.5 rbd, 3 TO

Duncan dropped off in the scoring category; I’ll give the reason for this further in the reading. His rebounding numbers did increase however, this is because he was usually the tallest player in the frontcourt for the Spurs or played with a small lineup. The scary stat is that his turnovers are increasing. How many games did you watch in the regular season or playoffs when the Spurs would throw the ball down to Duncan in the post: he’d begin his move then a guard would come by and swipe the ball away. If there was a stat for that, I’m sure it would be very high for this season.

Regular season shooting

09’: 1,107 FGA, 14.76 FGA, 483 FTA, 6.44 FTA, 4.8 FGA at rim, 4.2 FGA at 3-9 feet, 2.3 FGA at 10-15 feet, 3.3 FGA at 16-23 feet.

10’: 1,082 FGA, 13.87 FGA, 374 FTA, 4.79 FTA, 4.5 FGA at rim, 3.7 FGA at 3-9 feet, 2.9 FGA at 10-15 feet, 2.7 at 16-23 feet.

11’: 838 FGA, 11.03 FGA, 257 FTA, 3.38 FTA, 3.1 FGA at rim, 3.2 FGA at 3-9 feet, 1.8 FGA at 10-15 feet, 2.9 FGA at 16-23 feet.

Here is where you can see Duncan’s scoring has begun to drop. Parker took 13.7 shots per game and Ginobili took 12.7 shots per game. Duncan has lost almost three shots per game in the new system and also because of fewer minutes. If you look at his shot selection, most of them are increasingly coming from beyond six feet. With the heavy dose of pick-and-rolls that the Spurs run, those 15-18 foot jumpers have become Duncan’s go to place for scoring in the offseason. The new offense doesn’t allow him to get down into the post like vintage “Timmy” and go to work. In order to improve, he must hit his outside shots at a higher percentage next season.TD2

Playoff shooting

09’: 15.4 FGA, 5.6 FTA

10’: 15 FGA, 6.9 FTA

11’: 11.5 FGA, 2.7 FTA

Duncan’s shot attempts dramatically decreased in this years playoffs as he lost almost four shots per game. Parker shot 15.5 times in the playoffs and Ginobili shot 14 times per game in the playoffs. Duncan’s free throw numbers tell you that he is no longer doing his work in the post, but he’s more of a spot shooter beyond 10 feet. He didn’t get to the foul line much against Memphis, this allowed Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol to log more minutes on the floor and continue to wreak havoc in the paint.

Regular season defense (Defensive rating per Hoopdata)

09’: 1.7 blk, 2.28 defensive rating

10’: 1.5 blk, 2.15 defensive rating

11’: 1.9 blk, 2.62 defensive rating

On the defensive end, Duncan is still a force as his defensive numbers increased to his best of the three seasons discussed. He’s not as quick in guarding the athletic forwards/centers or penetrating guards, but he still has the presence and know-how to be a good one-on-one defender against back-to-the-basket post players. His help defense in the paint is also effective still.

Playoff defense

09’: 1.2 blk, 2.2 PF

10’: 1.7 blk, 2.7 PF

11’: 2.5 blk, 2.8 PF

Statistically, Duncan had his best playoffs of the last three years. Of course, since he was the most defensive oriented and tallest post player on the team, you can see how his numbers shot up against Memphis.

The next improvement is on the organizations part. The organization MUST find Duncan some frontcourt help. His aging body is screaming for some help! Here’s a look at who he’s had as his frontcourt help over the last three seasons.

08-09’: 6’10 Drew Gooden, 6’10 Matt Bonner, 6’10 Fabricio Oberto

09-10’: 6’9 Antonio McDyess, 6’10 Matt Bonner, 6’7 DeJuan Blair

10-11’: 6’9 Antonio McDyess, 6’10 Matt Bonner, 6’11 Tiago Splitter, 6’7 DeJuan Blair

In the Spurs’ last championship, 2007, Oberto was Duncan’s go to frontcourt teammate. When Duncan has extra height by his side, longer playoff runs are usually the route of the team.

The task to find another big man has to be the organization’s main focus after the lockout ends. My fellow Project Spurs writer Trevor Zickgraf wrote a great piece on this problem. Tiago Splitter is 6’11 and shows promise on the rebounding end, but he has a way to go in becoming a good defender. Does the team TD3bring over the British seven footer, Ryan Richards? What about the Slovenian 6’11 forward Erazem Lorbek? What about trading for a player like Anderson Varejao? Or there are decent centers in the free agent market such as Joel Pryzbilla, Darrel Arthur, etc.

The team needs frontcourt help in guarding the Dirk Nowitzki, Amare Stoudamire, LaMarcus Aldridge types. Duncan can handle the Pau/Marc Gasol types. But who will that be extra defender to complement Duncan? This will be very interesting to see whom the team brings in or gives the role to within the team.

Duncan is 35 years old; he’s still got basketball left in his body. It’s up to the front office to either put the frontcourt load on Duncan and help Father Time get closer game by game; or they can get him some help and put up a fight against Father Time by expressing, “Back off! We’re not letting you have him that easy!”


Check out the Room For Improvement series: DeJuan BlairJames AndersonDa’Sean ButlerDanny GreenGary Neal, and Matt Bonner.

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