On his way to four NBA championships, three Finals MVPs and two league MVPs, Tim Duncan has become fairly adept at good timing. He’s the 7-footer who steps out and hits a three-pointer when his team needs a trey. He’s the alleged slowpoke who darts across the lane like a jaguar and blocks a shot when his team needs a stop. He’s the star who plays his best in the biggest games — like posting 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and 8 blocks in a decisive Game Six of the NBA Finals.
So when Duncan was named to his 13th All-Star Game last week amidst cries of “snub” for Western Conference counterparts LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love (later named an injury replacement), Zach Randolph and Lamar Odom, you figured he would use his next timely opportunity — i.e., a game against the Lakers on national TV the same night as the All-Star announcement — to silence any doubts that he should be headed to the midseason showcase.
That didn’t happen. While the Spurs won the game, Duncan had a modest 8 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks. He shot 3-for-12 from the field, including missing a fadeaway jumper on the last possession that Antonio McDyess tipped in at the buzzer to save San Antonio.
It got worse after that, as the other All-Star snubs responded with glittering stat lines. Z-Bo hung 22 points and 17 boards on Houston, while Aldridge scored a career-high 42 points against Chicago. Odom, meanwhile, posted a 20-point, 20-rebound line two days before All-Star reserves were named. By now, the sentiment has become clear from Portland to Memphis: Duncan only got in on reputation and doesn’t deserve to be an All-Star.
But he does. And not on some lifetime-achievement, thanks-for-the-memories, one-more-for-the-road farewell gift. Duncan is still one of the 12 best players in the West, and one of the most valuable players in the League this season.
The Spurs have the best record in the NBA at 42-8, six and a half games ahead of the Mavericks. Duncan is their on-court lynchpin, off-court leader, and still the key that makes the San Antonio engine go. His numbers are down from his norm — 13.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.9 blocks per game — and not as impressive as those posted by Aldridge (21.6 ppg, 9.1 rpg) or Randolph (20.0 ppg, 13.2 rpg) or even Odom (15.3 ppg, 9.5 rpg), L.A.’s sixth man. And Duncan is not leading the Spurs in scoring or in shots during crunch time.
Watch the games, though. When it really comes down to it, Duncan is the Spurs’ first option. At worst, he is the second option behind Manu Ginobili, who also made the 2011 All-Star team. And defensively, TD is the middle linebacker in San Antonio. The two best players on the best team in the League making the All-Star Game is nothing out of the ordinary.
When ranking “Who’s the best?” in office arguments and barbershop debates, stats often take a backseat to team success. Kobe trumps LeBron in the eyes of many because he has more rings. Same goes for D-Wade over LeBron, Bill Russell over Wilt Chamberlain, Magic over Stockton, etc. But funny how, when it comes to All-Star, it’s all about numbers. The immediate reaction to K-Love getting snubbed was loud enough that you’d think the country was full of Minnesota fans, and the arguments for Aldridge are still loud and long.
Where does Duncan fit in? If we are really celebrating the best the NBA has to offer on Feb. 20 in L.A., Duncan is the face of the best team in the League. He is their leader on defense, their identity on offense. That should be enough to justify an All-Star spot.