Head2Head
Tim Duncan vs. Kevin Garnett

Jul 14 2008 2:51PM

scoring Duncan’s nickname, The Big Fundamental, tells you all you need to know about his metronomic approach to scoring. His plodding appearance belies the fluidity of his post moves, whether it be an effortless pivot into the paint for a baby hook, an impeccable 10- to 15-foot face-up J off the glass, or a quick slide into the paint for a lob and easy finish. The key: unbelievably deft footwork for a man standing nearly seven feet tall. His frightening consistency—only once in 11 seasons has he strayed below 11 rpg, twice below 20 ppg—and his effect on the Spurs’ offensive efficiency (110.8 points per 100 possessions when on the court, 102.0 off it) put to bed any doubts about his impact. It’s really a testament to Garnett’s game that scoring—a facet typically second nature for an elite player—is not the strongest part of his game. It’s not so much that he can’t score (20.4 ppg on 49 percent shooting for his career), it’s that his shine in the other areas of the game is just that bright. The man certainly can fill it up: his turnaround baseline J is one of the best in the biz, his time under Kevin McHale’s tutelage has resulted in effective footwork to set up his expert jump hook and his face-up jumper extends out to 20 feet. KG might lack the bulk of a Shaq or TD, but his wiry, strong frame makes him a beastly interior finisher. Advantage:
Duncan
floor game Duncan’s sound box-out technique and nose for caroms have served him well during his 11 years of NBA service; most people probably don’t realize Duncan is first among active players in career rebounding average at 11.8 rpg. As is typical of big men who spend a good amount of time double-teamed in the post, Duncan commits his fair share of turnovers. But he also possesses sharp decision-making skills, allowing him to find cutters and open jumpshooters (career 3.1 apg). He’s also been known to start the occasional break down the court, though his handle often will betray him in the post. With the exception of Lamar Odom, there’s no player 6-10 or taller who possesses as many guard skills as Garnett. He can handle the ball ably and won’t make his coach cringe when he puts the rock on the floor. While you won’t see him leading the break too often (he does fill the lane on the break like nobody’s business), KG is one of the game’s best passers. And we’re not talking kick-outs to perimeter shooters, either. Garnett’s helpers come from on the block—finding cutters with precision passes or luring a double team and finding the open frontcourt mate. KG’s textbook positioning and strong desire gives him a tremendous edge on the boards (11.2 rpg for his career). Advantage:
Garnett
defense If you saw our Greatest Hits issue last year, you probably noticed Duncan was on the receiving end of quite a few nasty dunks. This, naturally, may have led you to believe he’s a pretty average defender—a blatant untruth. An All-D selection every season of his career, Duncan winds up in those highlights by consistently challenging opponents’ attacks on the rim. His 2.4 bpg is the 15th-highest all-time average, and his presence and propensity for defensive boards (8.2 per game, fourth-highest in the League) self-correct any flaws in the Spurs’ perimeter defense. His primary weakness: He isn’t quick enough to stay with smaller, more explosive forwards outside the paint. For all his gifts, defense might be the strongest part of Garnett’s game. The Big Ticket is an absolute shutdown defender—at multiple positions. That’s not to say he can stay in front of a Chris Paul or Tony Parker or hold back a Yao or Shaq, but KG can lock down the majority of NBA players. The multiple All-D First Teamer is a scorer’s worst nightmare—long, athletic, strong, quick and unyielding. And his defensive fervor is contagious: Boston went from allowing opponents to shoot 47 percent and 99.2 points per game to 42 percent and 90.2 ppg after his arrival. Advantage:
Garnett
clutch play There is probably no current résumé with which NBA fans are more familiar than that of Duncan. So while we don’t need to rattle it off, for the sake of making a complete argument, we will. Back-to-back regular-season MVP awards. Career playoffs averages of 23.8 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 3.5 apg and 2.8 bpg. Three NBA Finals MVP awards—one in only his second season. And, of course, those four Larry O’Brien trophies. Quite simply, there is no active player who can match Duncan’s ability to deliver his team to the promised land. Admittedly, dropping big shots in bigger moments is not an area where Garnett has made his mark. Early in his career, his teams weren’t in the playoff spotlight and when his Timberwolves were contenders, the ball was more often than not in the hands of Sam Cassell. Part of the reason can be traced back to Garnett’s unwavering selflessness for his teammates. Is it a weakness? For someone whose championship visions likely peaked this season, the answer arguably is yes. KG did step up in a few defining moments (33 points in a must-win Game 5 against Detroit), but with James Posey and Rajon Rondo also taking key shots, Garnett’s deferential nature is still a hindrance in this category. Advantage:
Duncan
leadership As those awards attest, Duncan is arguably the most invaluable player to his team in the League today. He may no longer be the team’s point man on O, and their D has always thrived on the idea of a team-wide commitment. But remove Duncan from the equation and suddenly, Manu and Tony have neither the open lanes to penetrate nor the mechanically reliable 10-foot jumpshooter to dish to. And perimeter defenders no longer have a fallback option protecting the paint with vigor. He may be stoic, he may be boringly efficient, but make no mistake: Tim Duncan is the quintessential leader. KG is the definition of a leader. His infectious enthusiasm reinvigorated lifetime Celtic Paul Pierce and 12-year vet Ray Allen. His staid professionalism serves as a blueprint for the impressionable rookies and young players. His unrelenting will demands the maximum effort from every teammate. Add that to KG’s unwavering loyalty and it makes him one of the best NBA players ever bestowed the leader tag. Forget KG or Big Ticket; just call him Patton. Advantage:
Duncan


The Verdict:
Tim Duncan

No doubt KG has a claim to a win here. He is, after all, the heart and soul of the revamped Celtics, a team that won 66 games this season and won the chip. But hoisting the LOB Trophy is old hat for Tim Duncan and the Spurs; they’ve won it four times. And so it is that on the back of his titles and unquestioned leadership ability, Duncan wins this battle, 3-2.