FanHouse's Tom Ziller argues his ranking of the top 50 players in the NBA
Big Fun(damental) has a crystal defensive record. In the modern era, only Dikembe Mutombo can reasonably be considered a peer as an anchor, shotblocker, defensive quarterback, rebounder and pure stopper. The way Duncan plays defense is the way most kids in the schoolyard see Kobe play offense: simple domination. In eight of his 11 seasons, Duncan has been voted to first team All-Defense; in the other three seasons, he made the second team. He's top 20 all-time in blocks and rebounds per game ... and that's playing on a slow team in any era where offenses are favored (as opposed to the 1970s and 80s, where rules and talent levels left a lot more rebound opportunities).
If that's enough, he's one of the most potent offensive weapons ever. His usage rate is top 15 all-time, meaning less than 15 players in the history of the NBA have been responsible for a larger share of their team's offense. ! So yes, his overall offensive efficiency numbers aren't spectacular -- free throws remain the sometimes fatal flaw -- but he gets the job done at above-average rate for a ton of possessions.
Combine those unbelievable attributes with a consistently solid supporting cast and a great coaching staff, and Duncan has never missed the playoffs. (I don't suspect he'll start now.) And in the playoffs, he is typically amazing. All this overwhelming success has seriously altered draft strategies: facing off with a talent like Kevin Durant, is is not obvious Duncan is the reason Portland picked Greg Oden in '07? Dwight Howard in '04? Going big is nothing new, but putting an emphasis on finding someone who can change the game on the glass and in the defensive paint ... that stems from Duncan's long-lasting success.
Should we expect Duncan to slow down this season? His numbers will look better, I can assure you, with Manu Ginobili out a while. But the uptick on offense might be blurred -- San Antonio had trouble scoring at times last season with a full deck; without Manu, teams will do everything they can to limit Duncan and Tony Parker, and all that attention could wear Big Fun out. Will that affect his defense? Or will Kurt Thomas' presence more than make up the difference? I won't bet against Duncan, that's for sure. Another MVP-type season is as sure as the tide.