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Father Time Hasn’t Come For Tim Duncan Just Yet

Bogar Alonso compares Tim Duncan to other top big men who played 18+ seasons and how much more The Big Fundamental might have left in the tank.

Tim Duncan
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Tim Duncan

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With Tim Duncan ready to add another season to the ole punchcard, the same cloud of doubt hangs over him that has over the past handful of seasons. At 38 years of age, with over 43,000 regular season and 8,900 playoff minutes pulling at his skin and bones, many are wondering if this is the year we see Father Time do to The Big Fundamental what the Spurs did to the Heat.

As with most things, only time will tell. But there’s some number crunching to be done that can double as a type of crystal ball. See, Duncan won’t be the first sure Hall of Famer, let alone perennial All-Star big man, to venture into an 18th season. In the game’s history, 29 players have played 18 seasons or more. Twenty of them being big men playing the power forward or center positions—Timmy’s domain.

That being said, longevity when it comes to the game’s giants hasn’t been a good indicator of prolonged quality. In his 16th season, at 38 years old, James Edwards was averaging 10.4 minutes, 4.7 points, and an 11.2 PER. Kevin Willis, for another instance, was averaging 11.8 minutes, 4.2 points, and a PER of 12.5 in his 18th season. Neither player is much remembered out of basketball geek circles. By comparison, guards who have lasted that long, though perhaps no more effective in later years, are lauded names: Jason Kidd, John Stockton, Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen, Reggie Miller, etc. Big men’s game, in that sense, seems to fare longer stretches but doesn’t indicate, like with guards, the quality of the name.

But Duncan isn’t quite the memory black hole that Willis or Edwards are. He’s a top-10 player by any stretch of the imagination. Pitting his career arc against other great bigs with comparably long careers like Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the better measure.

All three aforementioned centers played 18 seasons or more with Kareem leading the pack with 20. Malone played until he was 39, The Dream the same, and Abdul-Jabbar well into 41.

These are their respective per-36 numbers at the age of 37. (Timmy is also included).

Malone: 17.3 PPG, 15.9 RPG, 2.4 APG, 2.8 BLKPG, 0.3 STLPG, on 31.0 FG and 77.4 FT percentage.

Hakeem: 15.6 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 2.1 APG, 2.4 BLKPG, 1.4 STLPG, on 45.8 FG and 61.6 FT percentage.

Kareem: 23.7 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 3.4 APG, 2.2 BLKPG, 0.9 STLPG, on 59.9 FG and 73.2 FT percentage.

Duncan: 18.7 PPG, 12.0 RPG, 3.7 APG, 2.3 BLKPG, 0.7 STLPG, on 49.0 FG and 73. 1 FT percentage.

Kareem clearly was an Olympian god because those numbers are out of human possibility. Of the four, Duncan is perhaps a not-so-close second. Both also maintained very similar per-36 averages throughout the course of their careers. It also makes the most sense to pair the two because they’ve been able to maintain a PER score in the 20s as they’ve climbed the hill while also posting still-decent Defensive and Offensive Win Shares. Plus, across career Defensive Win Shares, Offensive Win Shares, and Win Shares Per 48 minutes, they’re practically twins.

Therefore, it would make most sense to predict Duncan’s major career dropoff right about when Kareem experienced it, or, between 38 and 39 years of age. Duncan will turn 39 right around playoff time, so it might just be that Duncan can fight off Father Time for one more championship run. The Big Fundamental might just yet have time on his side.

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