The Undying Technical Brilliance of Tim Duncan

Somehow, some way Tim Duncan is still going strong after all these years. The man is a machine, once again posting per-36 minutes averages right in line with his career numbers, at age 36. There are no frills, no tricks. Duncan is just doing exactly what he’s done his entire career.

In many respects, this year’s version of Duncan is better than that of the last few years. He’s averaging a career-high rebounds per-36 minutes, his most points per-36 since he was 32 years old and his PER is at its highest level since the 2006-07 season. But if you watch him play, everything he does looks almost exactly the same as it always has.

He’s still very much a technical marvel in the post, using a delightful array of drop steps, shimmy shakes and up-and-unders to get buckets, draw fouls and sucker defenders into doubling him so he can find open teammates along the perimeter. He’s produced 0.95 points per play (PPP) on just about five post-up plays per game, placing him 19th in the league so far.

Whether facing up or backing down, whether going straight for the rim or using one of his variety of moves along the way, whether taking a hook shot, jumper, layup or dunk, Duncan is always in control, always knows exactly where he is on the court and exactly how to get where he wants to go. If his path is impeded, he knows exactly which counter move to use. And if the defense is so committed to taking away his scoring opportunities that no opening materializes, he knows exactly who to deliver the ball to, and when.

He’s patient but decisive, methodical but not bumbling, quick but not hurried. He’s fundamentally sound, but can improvise with the best of them.

Duncan is perhaps never better than when he’s making sweet pick-and-roll magic with Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili. Duncan’s pick-and-roll attack, like his post game, is varied but consistent. Of his 36 baskets out of pick-and-rolls this season, eight have been dunks, 12 have been jumpers and 16 have been layups.

He can work the roll and the pop, the hard screen and the slip, the jumper, the layup and the dunk. He can shoot off the catch and he can put the ball on the floor and take it to the rim. If he has to, he can use a fake to free himself from the grasp of the defense. And of course, he’s a master of passing off the catch. He sees all the angles, works all the space. He knows where to be and why.

He’s patient but decisive, methodical but not bumbling, quick but not hurried. He’s fundamentally sound, but can improvise with the best of them.

His footwork remains impeccable, unmatched by nearly anyone in the league. His ability to read the defense and react to the situation presented is second to none. He might have the best court vision of any big man in the NBA. At 36 years old, he shouldn’t be as dominant as he once was, but he is.

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