Greatest PF to ever to step on the floor! #legend #ThankYouTD
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Tim Duncan announced his retirement on Monday morning in much the same way that he played and carried himself in the NBA: quietly and under-the-radar. According to the Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski, the Spurs released a simple statement: "1,072-438 (.710) record. Five championships. Goodbye No. 21." After 19 seasons, three Finals MVP's, two regular season MVP's, and 15 appearances on both the All-NBA and All-Defensive Teams, the 40-year-old Duncan will transition into retired life with few regrets in a storied career.
Despite Duncan's own quiet persona and frequent shying away from the public eye, few in the NBA world were shy about thanking him for his contributions to the game. Everyone from Blake Griffin (who took to Twitter to say " Congrats to the best power forward to ever play the game. It was truly an honor. Winner above all else. #thankyouTD") to Shaquille O'Neal (who Marc Stein quoted as saying "Greatest power forward ever. Unbreakable power forward.") felt the need to honor Duncan after hearing the news. Former Kings great Kevin Martin was Duncan's teammate for 16 games last season and said that in that brief time alone, he "got to see firsthand why Spurs basketball has been so stable & successful for 20 years."
Tim Duncan played 65 games against the Kings over the course of his career, more than he played against all but five other NBA teams. He averaged 19.9 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game, but even his remarkable stats never quite did justice to his game. Any Kings fan who got to see him play was both frustrated by his dominance and impressed by his grace. Duncan's back-to-the-basket game was nearly flawless; his hook shots, bank shots, and overall touch in the post allowed him to score like few other players in the history of the league.
On the defensive end, Duncan evolved over time without ever losing effectiveness. He was second in the league in ESPN's Defensive Real Plus-Minus last season with a 5.43, barely behind league leader Andrew Bogut's 5.45 and better than his teammate Kawhi Leonard--who won Defensive Player of the Year. Duncan's 106.3 Defensive Win Shares sits behind only the great Bill Russell in NBA history. As his athleticism waned, both due to knee injuries and age, Duncan never lost his great defensive instincts and never wavered in his commitment on that end of the floor. He was the defensive anchor on championship teams in three different decades--1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2014. Even as he competed for MVP's and championships, his commitment to playing team basketball and team defense was never shaken. As Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge began to take the mantle from the Spurs Big 3, Duncan remained a very valuable player on the defensive end.
Despite their deep playoff runs in the early 2000's, the Kings only faced Duncan and the Spurs in the playoffs once, a first-round series in 2006. Duncan averaged 18.3 points and 9.2 rebounds in the series. His most notable game came in Game 3, where he put up 29 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 blocks in a 94-93 Sacramento win. Kevin Martin hit the game-winning layup over Duncan with time running out, but Duncan controlled the game on both ends of the floor. He was composed as always after the game, and said after the game that "we have to keep our composure and understand that they're going to have a lot of emotions [in Game 4]...there are good things to learn from this game." Even after a frustrating loss, Duncan's was still focused on how to get better.
Few players ever dominated the NBA in the way that Tim Duncan did. Even fewer dominated the league without asking for more touches and without ever losing their focus on winning. Above all else, Duncan was loved not only by his teammates but also by his opponents. Kobe Bryant, arguably his greatest rival, respected Duncan as much as anyone in the league, saying to Marc Stein that Duncan was "more cutthroat than people give him credit for...I loved everything about him on the court."
There may never be another NBA star quite like Tim Duncan. The NBA will miss him, almost as much as nearly everyone hopes that he will enjoy his retirement. Just like his countless successes, he's certainly earned it.