Tim Duncan Not an All-Star This Year? Don't Count Him Out
For the past 12 NBA All-Star Weekends, Duncan has been booked in mid-February. The San Antonio star big man has played in every All-Star Game since he entered the league in 1997-98 (there was no game in 1999 due to the lockout). He's started 11 consecutive games, which became the NBA's longest current streak when Lakers guard Kobe Bryant sat out last February with a sprained ankle.
Duncan, though, is sure his streak of All-Star appearances and starts soon will be broken.
"It's got to come to an end at some point,'' Duncan said in an interview with FanHouse. "For the last couple of years, I thought it was going to come to an end, and it looks like this year will be it. So I feel absolutely no way about it. I'm excited to spend a couple of days during the break with my family in trying to do something different. It will be fun.''
Unfortunately, Tim, you might be off base here. You just might be spending yet another winter weekend with other NBA stars at the Feb. 20 game in Los Angeles.
Duncan, 34, is averaging career lows of 14.0 points and 9.5 rebounds. Those initially don't look like All-Star numbers until one considers other circumstances.
While the 6-foot-11 Duncan starts at power forward, many consider him really a center (after all, 6-7 DeJuan Blair is listed as San Antonio's starting center). There is a dearth of All-Star candidates at center in the West this season, which figures to pave the way for Duncan to make a 13th consecutive All-Star appearance and perhaps even a 12th straight start.
True, Duncan is listed as a forward on the ballot, and isn't going to start there. He's just fifth so far in the fan voting, with the top two players getting the nod.
But Houston's Yao Ming looks certain to be named the starting center, and he's out for the season due to a stress fracture in his left ankle. So somebody will be named as an injury replacement by commissioner David Stern. And then somebody would have to replace Yao in the starting lineup.
Why not Duncan being a starter, which could be helped since his very own boss, Gregg Popovich, is the leading candidate to be West All-Star coach due to the Spurs having an NBA-best 22-3 mark?
It would be a fitting tribute to Duncan's great career if he were to be selected for one more All-Star Game and perhaps gets one more start. But the selection at least wouldn't be a token one.
Yes, Duncan's numbers aren't great. But who's a better center candidate in the West, excluding Pau Gasol, who has been starting in the pivot this season as Andrew Bynum works his way back from injury? Gasol is second in voting at forward so he's already in line to start.
In addition to Bynum, another Los Angeles center, the Clippers' Chris Kaman, has had injuries this season. Yes, Utah's Al Jefferson, averaging 16.5 points and 8.8 boards, Denver's Nene, averaging 15.4 and 7.0, and Dallas' Tyson Chandler, averaging 8.6 and 9.0, are center candidates. But Duncan is doing better in the rebounding category than any of them and you can't argue with San Antonio's record.
Duncan was told he could be named an All-Star by coaches, who choose reserves by voting for a center, two forwards, two guards and two players at any position. Coaches easily could slide Duncan over for their center vote, although they also could do that with power forwards Dirk Nowitzki of Dallas, Kevin Love of Minnesota, Blake Griffin of the Clippers, LaMarcus Aldridge of Portland or Zach Randolph of Memphis.
And Duncan was told there seems no way Stern, who has spent the past dozen-plus years singing the praises of Duncan, would bypass him and deny Duncan a final All-Star bow. Duncan still wasn't buying it.
"I don't think so,'' Duncan said. "I think there's a lot of guys playing well that deserve to be (All-Stars) a lot better than I am. ... I'm definitely not counting (on an All-Star selection). I'm listed as a forward anyway. So Yao being out doesn't matter.''
Not so, Duncan was told. Stern can pick a player at any position to replace Yao.
It was then Duncan perhaps realized another All-Star appearance is not out of the question. He wouldn't dare turn down the commissioner, would he?
"That would probably be a bad career move,'' Duncan said. "But I think there are a lot more deserving guys out there.''
One figures Duncan would be modest until the end. He's won four title rings and two MVPs while being one of the classiest guys in the game.
And if there's anybody who thinks Duncan still can't play, check out what he did in Thursday's 113-112 win over Denver. He scored a season-high 28 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in 33 minutes while playing at high altitude on the second night of a back-to-back situation.
"It feels good to make a shot every once in a while,'' Duncan quipped. "So, as long as I'm contributing and we're winning games and I'm not holding anybody back, I'm happy to play. I love to play.''
Duncan hasn't played nearly as much this season due to the Spurs turning more of the offense over to guards Manu Ginobili, averaging 20.0 points, and Tony Parker, averaging 17.2, in a more up-tempo style. Duncan, who averaged as much as 40.6 minutes in 2001-02, is logging a career-low 29.0.
"The ball is in Tony and Manu's hands probably a little more than it has been in the past,'' Popovich said. "The ball might not go through Timmy as much as (it) used to, but he's not on the court as much as he used to (be). We've sort of developed a (better) bench. ... The point is for him to be healthy (for the postseason). If he's healthy, then we have an opportunity to be in the mix (for yet another title).''
Nuggets coach George Karl calls Duncan offensively San Antonio's "third fiddle until the fourth quarter.'' But Karl said he's still the Spurs' most dominant defender.
Less playing time has been fine with Duncan. Of course, has he ever complained about anything in his 14 San Antonio seasons?
"It is what it is,'' he said. "Our team has changed a little bit. Obviously, we're off to a great start and we're happy about that. ... I'm not getting the same touches and same shots that I usually do, but our offense is scoring at a great clip. ... If that's the case and we win games, I'm all for whatever is going on.''
Duncan's reduced load has made many wonder how many more years he plans to play. Duncan was asked if it's a correct assumption he's not the type of guy who would hang on much past his prime.
"I'm not the kind of guy that will bounce around,'' said Duncan, who plans to finish his career in San Antonio. "I'll decide when I'm done. My body will tell me when I'm done, and I'll be done.''
So when might that be?
"I feel all right,'' said Duncan, who actually is averaging more assists per minute (his seasonal average is 3.2) than he ever has in his career and has a rebounding-per-minute rate higher than his career average. "It's been a healthy season for me so far and I'm excited about that. ... I hope I can play another couple (of seasons).''
As for another couple of All-Star appearances, or even one, Duncan isn't counting on that. But, from the looks of things, he might not want to put down any nonrefundable deposits for travel arrangements during the All-Star break anywhere other than in Los Angeles.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson