“Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.”
A giant retired – the last of his kind.
The traditional big man has joined the Amur Leopard, Javan Rhino, and the Mountain Gorilla on the endangered species list: Tim Duncan, the last of the true great post threats has ended his reign on the block. NBA strategy has inched further and further away from offenses run through the post, changing to the point that we are now saying goodbye to more than Tim Duncan. When Duncan announced his retirement, basketball lost the post-game. We are witnessing an extinction level event for the low-post big man.
Over his 19-year career with the San Antonio Spurs, Duncan won 5 NBA Championships, 3 Finals MVPs, 2 regular season MVPs, 15 All-NBA teams, and 15 All-Defensive teams. He mastered the post with drop steps, up-and-unders, hook shots in the lane, and, of course, his patented bank shot. No man remains who can dominate in the post the way Duncan did.
NBA fans knew that the back-to-the-basket game was dwindling when, despite having the greatest power-forward in NBA history, the Spurs began a shift away from the post game that Duncan dominated. When the Spurs won the NBA Championship in the ’06-’07 season, Duncan had 958 post touches that season, including the post-season: Duncan had nearly half that many touches in his final title run in the ’13-’14 season.
The NBA evolved from a post-dominant league to a pick-and-roll/pace-and-space league. According to NBA.com advanced stats, only three teams last season run a post play 1,000 or more times, while all 30 teams ran at least that many pick-and-rolls. Both of the last two NBA champions lacked a true post up big, instead utilizing offenses centered around pick-and-rolls and off-ball screens. Increasingly, teams are being constructed around small-ball lineups without a post presence built into the offense. This off-season, The Golden State Warriors improved their roster by adding Kevin Durant, constructing what should be the most dominant small-ball lineup the league has seen to date. They are likely to close games with a new and terrifying lineup that features zero big men. As they watch Golden State’s success, more and more teams are gearing up to play this brand of basketball.
Duncan’s retirement is the last call for the dominant post players in the NBA. Teams will still post big men up – guys like Al Jefferson and Dwight Howard will get touches in the post – but none will be the focal point of their team’s offense in the way that Duncan once was for the San Antonio Spurs. The low-post big man has given way to the stretch big man, and to the small ball lineups that populate the modern NBA. Duncan retires as the greatest power-forward to have ever played the game, and his low post brand of play will never return to the NBA.
It’s time to say goodbye to Tim Duncan, the last of the NBA’s true big men – it looks like there will not be another like him.