Duncan v. Garnett

Title: Duncan v. Garnett
Date: May 8, 2008
Original Source: Hoops Addict
Synopsis: This Hoops Addict article broke down the `Garnett vs Duncan, Best Power Forward Ever`debate in advance of a potential Spurs-Celtics playoff matchup. Like all of my HA articles, the links have been lost due to a server transfer, but the text was backed up.

It is a storyline that, while noticed, has fallen under the radar to some degree. While NBA fans clamor for Lakers-Celtics, LeBron-Kobe, and Spurs-Pistons (??), a potential NBA Finals match-up of San Antonio against Boston doesn’t seem all that appealing.

Except for, you know, the whole Big Three against Big Three thing.

And the “Maybe the Best Power Forward Ever” against “Maybe the Best Power Forward Ever” thing.

Yes, it is conceivable and largely possible that Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan could meet up in the NBA Finals this year. This has never been close to a reality before, and this truth has thrown a wrench in the Duncan-Garnett argument for years. While you can support either without much criticism from the other side, there has never been any sure fire way to tell who the superior power forward is.

You can’t just look at Championships, because the question is then posed: what if Garnett went to a good team, and Duncan to a bad team? You’ll recall that Duncan was gift-wrapped for a Spurs team that had lost David Robinson to injury the year before, making them perform much worse than their actual talent (see: 2008 Miami Heat). Garnett was drafted to a mid-level Wolves team with apparently inept management.

But the debate starts from even earlier than that. Some would posit that the debate can be framed as traditionalist against new age basketball fan. That is, it’s a four-year college player or a high school player, a fundamentals-first player against an intense and unique player, a quiet leader and an intense commander. The players differ so much in terms of career path and personality that it’s astounding that no clear victor emerges, with the hiccup always being ‘what if fortunes were reversed?’ Yes, what if Garnett goes a little earlier to be the new face of Nellieball? What if he had joined the 76ers? What if the Spurs had decided they needed a point guard and took Chauncey Billups first overall? Heck, what if Robinson doesn’t go down in 1996-97? And the big one, what if K-G attends college for a year or two?

There are too many questions to just say “Tim Duncan won four championships and is therefore better than Kevin Garnett.”

And the career numbers don’t help clear things up, either. In 998 career games, Garnett has averaged 20.4-11.2-4.4-1.4-1.6, putting up numbers nearly the same in 55 playoff games. In 824 career games, Duncan has averaged 21.6-11.8-3.1-0.8-2.4, maintaining these numbers over 114 playoff games. Both have had nine 20-and-10 seasons, and the numbers are razor-close if you only count the time both players were in the NBA (a fair move given KG’s early inexperience).

This season’s playoffs could give us a glimpse of what could have been. Garnett is now finally equipped with a good team behind him, one that is actually very comparable to Duncan’s Spurs in terms of star power, depth, and defense. Both are nearing the end of their prime production years, so this is the ultimate season to find out, given as equal circumstances as possible in the NBA, who takes over a one-on-one 7-game showdown?

The one thing that stands out, obviously, is the 114-to-55 margin of career playoff games and the 4-0 in Championship rings, but everyone’s beaten that part of the argument into the ground. A case can be made for both players regardless. For example…

Kevin Garnett is a better leader. His intensity and passion are contagious, and he is one of the hardest workers in the NBA. Duncan is a good-but-not-great player blessed by circumstance, and Garnett would have won four or more rings on San Antonio.  K-G lead several bad teams to the playoffs, after all.

Or…

Tim Duncan has won four championships for a reason. He does everything well and doesn’t take anything off the table, making him easier to build around. Garnett doesn’t want the crunch time shot and his leadership style isn’t suitable for all teams. Duncan is the greatest power forward ever.

You can see where both sides are coming from, for sure. Personally, I think the rings speak loudly, even if they were brought on more by management, coaching, and teammates than an individual player himself.

In a game of basketball with my life riding on the outcome, I’m taking Garnett on my team. But if it’s a whole season I think I’m taking Duncan, and that’s really what makes this debate so difficult and interesting. There is hard evidence that these players are as close to equal as players can be, yet they are polar opposites in terms of career path and personality.

In a few weeks, we may have an answer to this question. While it doesn’t look likely right now, it’s something that we as fans can hold out hope for this year or maybe even next. It would be difficult to find closure when both of these men retire and enter the Hall of Fame as two of the best players at their position ever if we can’t answer the question “all else equal, who is better?”

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