SAN ANTONIO –– So after all the flap, the fine and the folderol, Gregg Popovich was asked if he would consider a simultaneous resting of the Hall of Fame wing of his roster again.
“I don’t have a crystal ball,” he replied.
Too bad, because then he might be able to gaze into the future and give us a peek at Tim Duncan still tearing it up in the 2022-23 season against LeBron James Jr. or Michael Jordan III.
Is there a reason to think that The Big Fundamental at 46 won’t still be teaching the ABCs of the front court game he’s drilling into the heads of NBA’s current class at 36?
Ask Marc Gasol.
“He’s a handful,” said the Grizzlies center after getting posterized by Duncan in the first quarter Saturday night. “He knows how to adjust his game to himself and his team knows how to bring it to him in the right spots.”
When Duncan got the ball on the left block, wheeled and threw down a monster one-handed slam midway through the first quarter, that spot was smack in the middle of Gasol’s forehead. It was a stunning display of quickness and power that brought an uncharacteristic yelp from Duncan and transported most of those inside the AT&T back nearly a decade.
“That was MVP Timmy,” said point guard Tony Parker. “Every single time we threw it to him, and every single time he scored.”
Parker was talking about the 21-point first half by Duncan on Saturday night, but could have been referring to any time in the first month of the season.
Just 18 months after he looked like a tired old man shouting at the kids to keep off the grass in a playoff loss to Memphis, Duncan has become healed, hearty and turned into the basketball version of Methuselah.
Here’s how his start stacks up to the seasons of former NBA greats at the same age:
Duncan, 2012-13 — 18.9 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 53.7 FG%.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 1983-84 — 21.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg., 57.8 FG%.
Karl Malone, 1999-2000 — 25.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 50.9 FG%.
Robert Parish, 1989-90 — 15.7 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 58 FG%.
Wilt Chamberlain, 1972-73 — 13.2 ppg., 18.6 rpg.,72.7 FG%.
Larry Bird, 1992-93 — first year retired.
Bill Russell, 1970-71 — retired two years.
It is stunning to compare edition of Duncan that looked like the faded yellow pages of an old newspaper in that playoff wipeout in Memphis two seasons ago to the slick, online e-zine Timmy who is the wireless hotspot in the middle of the Spurs lineup today.
Pop always says its just about the way Duncan takes care of himself, carefully watches everything he puts into his body.
Duncan lost weight two summers ago, worked on his flexibility and has come back now with a vengeance. When his string of 13 consecutive All-Star Games appearances ended last season, Duncan didn’t get mad. He just got rejuvenated and got better.
Is there any other single reason to explain the league changing the All-Star ballot this season from selecting forwards, centers and guards to just frontcourt and backcourt than finding a way to accommodate him? If the fans don’t vote him in this season, will the coaches of the Western Conference be foolish enough to leave him off the roster again?
Of course, the only thing that really matters to Duncan is getting the Spurs back to their usual 50-plus wins and another crack at the playoffs and that fifth championship.
Two years ago, Duncan and the Spurs were supposedly on the downward path and the Grizzlies a young team on the rise. A season ago, Duncan and the Spurs held a 2-0 lead on Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals and lost the series to the other ascendant power.
Now the Thunder are learning about life without James Harden and the Grizzlies are learning that you still can’t walk into San Antonio and expect to see anything but an ageless Duncan.
The Spurs are a factor in the West because he is. We don’t need a crystal ball to see that.