With Tim Duncan and the Spurs rolling through the playoffs, perhaps on track for their fifth title of the Duncan/Popovich era, ESPN’s “Mike & Mike in the Morning” posed the following question to their listeners: If Duncan matches Kobe’s five championship rings (making them the only active players with that many), does Duncan pass Kobe as the best player of their generation?
To be honest, I was a little shocked by the question. But probably not for the reason some might think. I wasn’t shocked, as many were, that ESPN had the gall to suggest that anyone other than Kobe was the best player of that generation. Rather, I was shocked at the suggestion that Duncan had to do more than he has already done to lay that claim. To me, regardless of whether he ever matches Kobe’s championship total, Duncan will go down as the greatest player of the last 15 years, one of the greatest players ever, and arguably the best power forward to ever play the game.
While Kobe (currently) has the edge in rings, Duncan trumps him in MVPs (2 to 1) and Finals MVPs (3 to 2). Duncan was the best player on all four Spurs championship teams; Kobe was only the best on two (MAYBE 3 if we’re feeling very charitably) of the Lakers championship teams. Kobe has never won a ring without an elite big man behind him; during the years he lacked one, the Lakers were 121-125. Duncan was the elite big man on his team for the entirety of his career; his team has never had a winning percentage below .610 and routinely won upwards of 70% of their regular season games.
Duncan was the consummate leader of a team defined by their professional, methodical approach to sustained success. Under his watch, players like Stephen Jackson (he of the Malice at the Palace) were model citizens. He’s made no bones about transitioning to a more supportive role as Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have taken the reigns of the team.
Kobe sparred with coaches and players, throwing folks under the bus left and right if they had the gall to interfere with his pursuits. He’s made it clear that he puts himself above the team, shooting more despite diminished skills and emerging young teammates like Andrew Bynum.
And, ohbytheway, there is the fact that Duncan leads Kobe in just about every statistic, both traditional and advanced, besides scoring.
Kobe is a transcendent scorer with a vicious killer instinct and competitive drive that sometime got the best of him.
Duncan is an elite offensive player who anchored dominant defenses and rarely acted in a way that was anything but beneficial to his team’s chances at success.
To me, the answer as to who is the best player of the generation spanning from the late 90’s to the early 2010’s is Tim Duncan and there really isn’t much discussion.
Of course, that won’t stop us from having one in the comments section, now will it?