HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — So which player could be the first to take advantage of the so-called “Tim Duncan Rule,” the tweak to the All-Star ballot that will ask fans to vote for three “frontcourt” players instead of the traditional two forwards and a center?
Um, how about Tim Duncan? The league will debut the new ballots on Tuesday. The 2013 All-Star Game is on Feb. 17 at Houston’s Toyota Center.
For years, the San Antonio Spurs’ mellow superstar has masqueraded as a power forward really by name only. When Yao Ming entered the league in 2002-03, he generated such an enormous number votes from his home country that there was no way Duncan, who broke in with the Spurs alongside 10-time All-Star center David Robinson, would have ever started an All-Star game if classified as a center. As a power forward, Duncan started 12 consecutive All-Star games from 2000 to 2011.
|Highest def. reb. percentage, 2012-13|
Through Saturday, 11/10
(Frankly, with so few true centers being viable All-Star candidates these days, the ballot change was overdue.)
That streak, as well as 12 consecutive All-Star appearances ended last season as youngsters Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin dominated fan voting to earn starting spots, Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge simply couldn’t be left off as reserves, and reigning NBA champ Dirk Nowitzki appropriately got the nod despite a slow start.
Most observers figured Duncan’s All-Star days were behind him with his stats trending down as coach Gregg Popovich continued to reduce his court time while shaping the offense around guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili and the club’s perimeter shooters.
Of course, the move of Dwight Howard to the Western Conference could well make the discussion of Duncan as a starter moot anyway, assuming fan backlash toward the maddening, flip-flopping center doesn’t hurt him on the ballot.
Nevertheless, Duncan is certainly making it interesting.
At 36, he is playing like he’s 26. With the Spurs off to a West-best 6-1 start, Duncan is far and away the team’s scoring leader (18.9 ppg) and he’s dominating the boards, averaging 9.7, more than three more rebounds a game than anyone else on the team.
Consider this nugget shared by NBA.com stat guru John Schuhmann: Duncan’s defensive rebounding percentage of 31.4 is the highest of his career (defensive rebounding percentage is the percent of available defensive rebounds he got when he was on the floor, so with the Spurs on defense there have been 191 available rebounds with Duncan on the floor, and he’s grabbed 60 of them). He ranks second in the league in the category behind Cleveland’s Anderson Varejao.
If Duncan keeps this up, he will be a top candidate to make a 14th All-Star roster. But how realistic is it for a 13th career start? Again, the Howard dynamic is in play, but the new format at least creates the discussion. You have to believe that Durant and Blake will again dominate fan voting and take the top two spots.
But here’s the catch for the third: Other candidates have either started the season slowly or injured. Love and Nowitzki have yet to even suit up and could still be out a few more weeks. LaMarcus Aldridge, an All-Star newbie last season, is off to a poor-shooting start (a career-worst 43.6 percent although he’s averaging 21.8 points and 7.3 rebounds) on a Portland team in transition. Pau Gasol is off to an inauspicious start in the Lakers’ soap opera.
Memphis’ big-man duo of Marc Gasol, an All-Star last season, and Zach Randolph, off to a monster start, will make hard cases.
Bottom line is if Duncan continues at this rate, how does he not make the team? It will be an interesting couple of months.