May 21, 2007

Fight the Power

It’s strange to say, but this post-season really feels like Tim Duncan’s coming out party. No matter where you turn, people are trying to assess how Duncan should be rated, which seems pretty bizarre since he’s been in the league for 10 years now. Between Bill Simmons fawning over him in a recent column, or the discussion on Mike and Mike this morning about where Timmy stands on the historical list of power forwards, this is the first time that I can remember that the media has recognized how good Duncan really is. And, seriously, he’s amazing. Like best ever at his position amazing.

When you think about it, the other possible candidates for GPFOAT fall short of TD in one category or another. The main competitors are usually Elgin Baylor, Karl Malone, Kevin McHale, and to a lesser extent, Charles Barkley. Let’s examine each of their cases individually.

First, for comparison’s sake, here are Duncan’s stats:

Regular Season
PPG: 21.8
RPG: 11.9
BPG: 2.4
APG: 3.2

Playoffs
PPG: 24.1
RPG: 12.6
BPG: 2.8
APG: 3.6
Championships: 3

Stellar stats, not to mention that he clearly steps his game up when it really matters. Now on to the competition.

Elgin Baylor:
Regular Season
PPG: 27.4
RPG: 13.5
BPG: --- (not available)
APG: 4.3

Playoffs
PPG: 27.0
RPG: 12.9
BPG: --- (not available)
APG: 4.0
Championships: 0

Obviously, these are out-of-this-world statistics, but I think it’s very obvious the one area that Baylor falls short of Duncan: titles. I don’t think it’s fair to totally disregard a player simply because they are one of the hundreds of players to never win a championship, but when you’re trying to decide who is the best power forward of all time it certainly is an important variable (and one that will continue to come up).

Karl Malone:
Regular Season
PPG: 25.0
RPG: 10.1
BPG: 0.8
APG: 3.6

Playoffs
PPG: 24.7
RPG: 10.7
BPG: 0.7
APG: 3.2
Championships: 0

Once again, wonderful stats but no rings (although it should be noted that Duncan is a significantly better defender). Until recently, the case for Karl Malone for best power forward ever was pretty strong. However, because of Michael Jordan, he couldn’t break through to become a championship player. And while losing out on titles to The GOAT isn’t anything to be ashamed of, he still couldn’t win one while he was chasing a title with the Kobe and Shaq led Lakers. However, Karl Malone’s Rogaine commercials are legendary.

Kevin McHale:
Regular Season
PPG: 17.9
RPG: 7.3
BPG: 1.7
APG: 1.7

Playoffs
PPG: 18.8
RPG: 7.4
BPG: 1.7
APG: 1.6
Championships: 3

Of the 4 top contenders, McHale is the only one with any championships to his name. However, his statistics don’t even come close to touching Duncan’s. Clearly this is a product of playing on the best frontline ever (Bird, McHale, and Parrish), but it’s still a fact. Just as you can’t discount the fact that Malone, Baylor, and Barkley don’t have any rings, it is impossible to ignore that McHale has definitely inferior stats to Tim Duncan. Also, he’s a terrible GM (FREE GARNETT), but that’s another story for another day.

Charles Barkley:
Regular Season
PPG: 22.1
RPG: 11.7
BPG: 0.8
APG: 3.9

Playoffs
PPG: 23.0
RPG: 12.9
BPG: 0.9
APG: 3.9
Championships: 0

Another of the no championships club, Barkley is a once-in-a-lifetime player. Listed at a generous 6’6” (more like 6’4”), Barkley was an absolute terror. Unfortunately for him, Barkley also was continually thwarted by Michael Jordan in his quest for a title (maybe this disproves the theory that basketball is a big man’s game, but we can figure that out later). I don’t really think Barkley is in the upper echelon of power forwards, partly because I’m not sure if you can actually consider him a power forward. Nonetheless, for the purposes of this discussion, he’s still not close to Duncan.

Between his stats and his titles (not to mention the fact that he’s got probably 5 more good years in the league), I think it’s an easy argument for Tim Duncan as the best power forward of all time. And for that matter, I can’t really see anyone displacing him. The “next” big mean, Dwight Howard and Greg Oden, will certainly be considered centers; and most seven-footers these days are more perimeter focused than Duncan. Amare’s talent and athleticism could allow him to challenge Duncan for the throne, but I think it’s almost impossible to truly evaluate him as an individual until Nash’s back finally gives out and Stoudemire is forced to create rather than react to Nash’s playmaking.

It’s nice to see that people are finally taking notice of how fantastic Tim Duncan really is, and it’s unfortunate that some people might see his (possible) fourth title as tainted due to the Stoudemire-Diaw suspensions in round 2. Ultimately, we have the pleasure of watching one of the NBA’s 20 greatest players ever in action all this month. Enjoy it while you can.

14 comments:

c said...

another time, another place and tim duncan would have been forced to play center in the nba, not pf - and then he'd have some reeaal competition :)

Ben Q. Rock said...

Given the choice between Duncan and Malone in their respective primes, I'd still take Malone.

As far as today's "traditional" low-post power forwards, ones who could eventually challenge Duncan and Malone, the only one who immediately comes to mind is Al Jefferson. Good luck with that, Al.

Anonymous said...

It's fallacious to say that Duncan was a "far better defender than Malone".

Malone was not the team defender that Duncan is -- i.e. he couldn't intimidate through shot blocking -- but he was a far superior man to man defender, possibly the best ever at the PF position. Duncan cannot compare in that area, and so I'd argue that defense is a wash.

I saw Malone hold Duncan's HOF running mate Robinson (also a DOP winner) to 11 points multiple times in playoff games while scoring a thirty or so against his vaunted defense, for instance. Malone's D was criminally underrated.

Offensivelly Malone tears Duncan apart, and those stats for Karl are from a far better defensive era than what Duncan is playing against today.

The championship argument doesn't sway me in the least. Malone played against Jordan and the Bulls. Duncan? Teams like the Knicks and Nets don't really compare, nor do the Pistons.

Unless somebody wants to argue that Duncan would have taken down Jordan in the 90s, I don't see an argument for Duncan as the best PF ever.

That title still belongs to Malone, by a heft margin.

Anonymous said...

^^^

Karl Malone doesn't compare to Tim Duncan

I've watched every Spurs playoff game multiple times. Tim Duncan is a much better defender, in every way, than Karl Malone. Malone never guarded David Robinson btw....it was Ostertag and others. Never would Malone guard D-Rob 1 on 1. Duncan is the best combination of help side defender, as well as 1 on 1 defender in the past 15 years or so. He anchors the best defensive team since the Jordan era. Who combines both aspects as well as him? I can't think of any. Malone only made 3 All-NBA 1st team defenses and 1 2nd team all-defense, while TD has made (and counting) 7 1st team all-NBA defense and 3 2nd team all-NBA defensive teams. Those awards speak 4 themselves.

Also, in head to head matchups, Tim Duncan soundly beat Malone during regular season matchups, as well as in the playoffs.

Furthermore, Malone had a creating PG in Stockton which he could play off of. Duncan has never had that (Parker isn't a pass-first PG, like Stockton, Nash, Kidd, etc. that makes offense easier) Since he's come into the league, TD has been that creator for his team.

In my opinion, Malone doesn't compare to Duncan in hardly any aspect. When it's all said and done and TD retires, there will be no doubt that Tim Duncan is the best PF of all-time.

William said...

That you consider Charles Barkley not to be a "true" (true?) power forward because he was short, and your gushing at Baylor's stats when he played in an era of big rebounding numbers shows how little you know of the game, not to mention other inaccuracies I don't care to talk about. I'm only here because Truehoop linked to it but, really, you're a little too confident in your assertions for someone who doesn't know too much.

Anonymous said...

It amazes me that some people think having John Stockton is a bigger advantage than the casts that Duncan has had. Even without a "play-making point guard," Duncan has had one of the top casts in the NBA for every year of his career. To say that Malone is "not-even" close is ridiculous. Even when Stockton went down with injury in 98, Malone's production didn't change at all.

Fan said...

1. Duncan has always had a better cast than the teams he faces in the Finals.

2. Duncan didn't have to face the dominant centers of the previous era in their primes. The greatest big men has faced are Shaq and Yao Ming. The dominant centers of the previous era faced each other AND Shaq!

3. Duncan had Robinson to help with Shaq pretty much until Shaq started getting old. Yao Ming has been plagued with injuries a lot thus far.

4. On top of not having to face the same quality of big men, not having to face them alone until Robinson retired, by the time Dwight Howard, Gred Oden and Andrew Bynum reach their primes, Duncan will be old!

So overall, the primary issue is luck here and not "superiority" by any stretch of the imagination. Malone is easily on his level in terms of overall talent though their stregnths and weaknesses may be different.

Fan said...

To the comment of the Anonymous Poster of 3:26 PM

"Also, in head to head matchups, Tim Duncan soundly beat Malone during regular season matchups, as well as in the playoffs."

How does this prove anything when Karl Malone was 34 years old in their first meeting?

Despite that, Karl Malone still went toe to toe with him even up to the age of 40!

Anonymous said...

"Tim Duncan is a much better defender, in every way, than Karl Malone. Malone never guarded David Robinson btw....it was Ostertag and others. Never would Malone guard D-Rob 1 on 1."

Total ignorance. Malone guarded Robinson in every playoff series the Jazz played against SA (result: Utah 3, Spurs 0) and demolished him on both ends.

You clearly never watched the Jazz play the Spurs in the 90s, and likely never even watched a prime Malone play.

Whatever the specific, you're a liar.

A prime Karl Malone consistently not only scored 27+ per night but defended the other team's best post player, often holding that player far beneath his average.

As it was with Robinson, who often had stat lines of 11 per night against Malone in the playoffs -- while Malone was putting up his usual 25-30.

Malone destroyed Robinson and the Spurs in the same manner that Hakeem did in 95 -- only he did it in multiple post-seasons.

Duncan is the better help defender, but you clearly have little knowledge of Malone's game, and likely the game selfsame, macro and period.

Duncan wouldn't even guard a peak KG years ago, who was nowhere near the offensive threat or aggressor that D-Rob in his prime was.

As it stands, Karl Malone is criminally underrated just because he had the misfortune of playing his best ball when Michael Jordan ruled.

With rings, Duncan V. Malone would be a landslide in Mail's favor.

And there's no way I believe that today's (or yesterday's, or last week's) Spurs would beat the Bulls.

Anonymous said...

"Also, in head to head matchups, Tim Duncan soundly beat Malone during regular season matchups, as well as in the playoffs."

Again, what? Malone was 2-0 in the playoffs against Duncan, and again dominated the Spurs' frontline even with BOTH The Admiral and Fundamental in the paint.

As this recap demonstrates:


[b]All of San Antonio marvels over turnabout of Malone, Jazz[/b]
By Dirk Facer, Sports Writer
Published: Monday, May 11, 1998 12:00 a.m. MDT

very Johnson used two words to describe the San Antonio Spurs' 82-73 loss to the Utah Jazz in Game 4 of their Western Conference semifinal playoff series Sunday: Karl Malone.

"He stepped up. He had something on his mind tonight," Johnson said. "He really wanted to try to win this game for his ball club. And we didn't do a good job as a team to keep him under control."The Mailman delivered 34 points on 17 of 28 shooting from the field as Utah took a commanding 3-1 advantage in the best-of-seven series.

"We had a chance to really do something special by going back (to Utah) 2-2," Johnson added. "Now we've dug ourselves a big hole and we must rebound."

San Antonio's problems in Game 4 began early. Johnson thought the turning point came as soon as the Spurs took the floor.

"For some reason, we didn't come ready to play. They got up early on us and we didn't contest many shots," Johnson said. "There was just so much more urgency to their game than ours. And that's why they pretty much kept us on our heels the whole game."

Utah never trailed in the contest after turning the tables on San Antonio from Game 3. The Jazz, who shot a miserable 28.6 percent Saturday, opened Game 4 by making six of their first seven attempts. The Spurs, meanwhile, missed their first seven shots as Utah opened the game with a 12-2 run.

[...]

KARL Malone made 17 field goals and almost singlehandedly beat the Spurs Sunday night in San Antonio, but after the game he announced that he still hasn't hit his stride.

"I haven't gotten in a rhythm or a good flow yet," he said.We didn't want to say anything, but Malone did seem out of sync. He had only 34 points in an 82-73 victory, giving the Jazz a 3-1 lead in their best-of-seven series.

If only he had gotten in the flow.

Malone made only 17 of 28 field goal attempts, most of them over 7-foot-1 David Robinson, his comrade in elbows. Poor guy. He just couldn't find his rhythm. Malone was outscored by Robinson, Tim Duncan and Will Perdue, who had 37 points - combined.

But when will Malone get on a roll?

"I haven't hit my stride yet," Malone said.

Rumor has it, the Jazz will let him play in Game 5 anyway.

Malone also had just 12 rebounds and four assists and defended Robinson, who made only five of 13 shots. But other than that, he just couldn't get anything going.

"It would qualify as a good game," Malone said, finally, "but it's just not the great game I'm looking for."

Next stop: perfection.

Sunday's performance will do in a pinch. To everyone but Malone, he was magnificent on Sunday. Asked what the difference between Saturday's Game 3 - when the Jazz were annihilated - and Sunday's Game 4, players on both sides had the same two-word answer: Karl Malone.

----

Just a typical Utah/SA playoff matchup from the 90s.

Anonymous said...

AND this is Malone at 40:

Duncan Is Thinking of Malone

By Mike Bresnahan
May 11, 2004 in print edition D-4

As the San Antonio Spurs gathered for Monday morning practice in Santa Monica, there was talk of Shaquille O’Neal’s resurgence, Karl Malone’s tricks, and things that happen when four future Hall of Famers get motivated.

There was also talk of Tim Duncan, a two-time league most valuable player who has averaged two points a quarter over the last five for the Spurs.

After going scoreless in the fourth quarter of Game 2, Duncan had 10 points in Game 3 on four-for-14 shooting. His shots were flat and awkward, rushed and hurried as Malone, O’Neal and others invaded his comfort zone, Malone in particular.

Malone successfully stripped Duncan with a hard slap of the ball in the second quarter and also forced a turnover, abruptly stepping back from contact as Duncan backed him down in the post. Duncan fell clumsily to the floor.

Normally stoic, Duncan then threw a towel over an ABC camera that got too close to the Spurs’ huddle.

In a mellower mood Monday, Duncan referred to Malone twice in a five-minute interview with reporters.

“He used all his tricks and all his tricks worked,” Duncan said. “I need to get to my spots and stay away from everything that Karl wants to do. He wants to slap at the ball, he wants to be very physical in the post. I try to counter that by being very aggressive and attacking and trying to go by him.

“I’m not one who likes to lose. When I play a game like I did [Sunday], I’m a big part of losing the game. It’s very disappointing.”

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