Skip to content

Bill Russell ranks Tim Duncan ‘right up there at the top’

Jun 17, 2014, 2:32 PM EDT

Tim Duncan Tim Duncan

Five championships over a 15 year span, with his team never losing more than 50 games (save for lockout shortened seasons) — Tim Duncan has had an amazing run of greatness.

So where does that rank him among the best big man of all time? Sam Amick of the USA Today asked Celtics’ legend Bill Russell that question after the Spurs Game 5 win.

“Right up there at the top,” Russell told USA TODAY Sports.

Hard to argue that.

For me, Duncan goes down as the greatest power forward ever to play the game (even though he spent a chunk of time in his career as a center, his best play has come as a four next to David Robinson, and lately Tiago Splitter). Yes, Karl Malone is in the conversation, but I lean Duncan.

Duncan has career averages of 19.9 points a game on 50.6 percent shooting, plus 11 boards a game. He has a career offensive rating of 110, a defensive rating of 95, and a PER of 24.6. The only big man ever to put up the kind of numbers Duncan did in these playoffs at his age was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. This Finals Duncan passed Kareem for most playoff games played, he passed Magic Johnson for most playoffs double-doubles. This is rarified air.

And I don’t think Duncan is done quite yet.

The Dan Patrick Show: Has Duncan surpassed Jordan as best ever?

  1. savvybynature - Jun 17, 2014 at 3:02 PM

    Talent, humility, competitive fire, work ethic, freakish physical attributes, fundamentals… Duncan has it all.

    • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 3:15 PM

      I don’t know about “all” – he could also use some athleticism, handles, a jump shot, court vision and stretch mark cream. But if he had all of these attributes he would be LeBron James, and there can only be one of those.

      • loubearkane - Jun 17, 2014 at 3:40 PM

        You smell as if you had Lebron in your mouth with you sweatin him that much

      • tuberippin - Jun 17, 2014 at 3:44 PM

        ^LeBron’s Finals record against teams from Texas proves that even Bron Bron doesn’t have it all. 1-3 vs. Texas teams in the Finals.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 3:51 PM

        No, I’m pretty sure Bron Bron still has it all.

      • bucrightoff - Jun 17, 2014 at 3:45 PM

        There can only be one blogger who can slurp both of LeBron’s nuts at the same time and take the load with no issues, and that can only be antistratfordian

      • azarkhan - Jun 17, 2014 at 3:58 PM

        Evidently the dolt doesn’t realize that he is comparing a 38 year old Tim Duncan to a 29 year old LeBron James. Let’s just say that if Duncan was 29, James would have one less ring.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 4:02 PM

        When Duncan was 29 he was busy losing in the 2nd round.

      • asimonetti88 - Jun 17, 2014 at 4:07 PM

        “I don’t know about “all” – he could also use some athleticism, handles, a jump shot, court vision”

        bahahaha… oh yeah, Duncan doesn’t have any of those.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 4:26 PM

        Top level lels. My vertical is higher than Timmy’s. The last time Duncan did a crossover he was drunk in Thailand.

      • asimonetti88 - Jun 17, 2014 at 4:09 PM

        The Spurs won the NBA championship the year Tim Duncan turned 29.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 4:23 PM

        Let me put it another way – when Duncan was at least LeBron’s age he was busy losing in the 2nd round.

      • hickoryhigh - Jun 17, 2014 at 4:19 PM

        Something about 5 rings and a full head of hair that makes you forget about anything he might be missing!

      • mrhonorama - Jun 17, 2014 at 11:54 PM

        Comments like this illustrate such a profound ignorance of basketball. Duncan is a 4/5 who has all the attributes one would want in a big man. His jump shot isn’t what it used to be, but for years, he had a great mid range jumper. And as great as you think Lebron is on defense, Tim Duncan was a better defensive player at his peak and is probably one of the three or four greatest defensive bigs ever. At 38, he now is slow on some rotations, but his positioning and footwork are still terrific. Anyway, to denigrate a big because he doesn’t have skills that are generally not required of big men is asinine.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 18, 2014 at 12:22 AM

        Well he should be more specific because some players do have it all, even skills and abilities that are not required of their position. So perhaps he should’ve went with something like “he has everything a big man would need” etc.

        There’s no way to definitively say who the better defender is. LeBron is certainly more versatile though and he finished 2nd in DPOY voting twice in his career, whereas Duncan has never finished higher than 3rd (once). James probably should’ve won DPOY in 2012 and 2013 over Chandler and Gasol. Both terrific defenders.

      • moneyz2 - Jun 18, 2014 at 12:46 AM

        Duncan is only 11 wins 5 losses against Lebron in the finals.. That old man can’t hack it anymore…lol…. fool..

      • antistratfordian - Jun 18, 2014 at 12:56 AM

        Duncan, Parker and Ginobili vs James, Gibson and Pavlovic. No wonder.

        But LeBron does have one thing over Duncan: A Finals Game 7 where Timmy missed the clutch equalizer and James nailed the clutch dagger ftw.

      • rootgamble - Jun 18, 2014 at 6:15 AM

        If Duncan wanted to be more like LeBron all he would need is less rings and a double wide headband to hide a receeding hairline.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 18, 2014 at 4:32 PM

        …and be a better player.

      • anthonyuy5 - Jun 19, 2014 at 1:15 AM

        you have to give it to this guy. at least he’s still trolling away eventhough the heat already got humiliated in the finals, unlike the other miami fans who haven’t turned on their computers since sunday and are crying in their bedrooms

      • antistratfordian - Jun 19, 2014 at 2:05 AM

        The Heat are on an incredible run – still – and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. The prospect of going to 5 straight finals next year is exciting and historic so I’m already looking forward to them trying to do that.

  2. bucrightoff - Jun 17, 2014 at 3:08 PM

    He outplayed Chris Bosh in the Finals. If anyone should be retiring it’s Bosh.

  3. antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 3:09 PM

    I’ve said this before, but it always puzzles me that Pop is often selected as an all-time top 1-2-3 coach, but Duncan has a hard time cracking top 10 lists. Now I know Pop is good, but he’s not so good that he’s winning 5 rings without an all-time top 10 player.

    And that’s an interesting picture. LeBron is as tall as Bill Russell. Crazy, huh?

    • basketballhooper1 - Jun 17, 2014 at 3:20 PM

      Keep in mind this is the internet and its hard to detect sarcasm, but I sure hope you know that that’s David Robinson, not LeBron in the picture…

      • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 3:26 PM

        It’s pretty clear that LeBron is not in the picture.

        The point I’m making though is that James is as tall as Russell, but heavier, and still has the athletic game of a smaller player. As Alonzo Mourning said… James is as big as he is, and guys that big aren’t supposed to be able to move like that.

        That’s all.

      • stoutfiles - Jun 17, 2014 at 4:50 PM

        Russell is 6’9″. LeBron is 6’8″. Nice try. Note that old people get shorter over time.

        Look, we all know LeBron is very good. Why do you derail comment boards talking about how much you love James? When he’s near retirement we’ll talk about where he ranks.

      • zblott - Jun 17, 2014 at 7:59 PM

        Russell was measured at 6-9 and 5/8 without shoes on before he was drafted. That’s taller than Dwight Howard (6-9) and Alonzo Mourning (6-9.5 I believe). Basically Russell would be listed as 6-11 today in shoes. LeBron is 6-8 in shoes. No, they’re not the same height at all.

    • apkyletexas - Jun 17, 2014 at 3:40 PM

      Yup – LeBron is one big dude and one of the best athletes ever – Jessie Owens/Bo Jackson territory. Great picture, I’m glad Robinson and Russell were both there for Duncan’s 5th. You can tell this one is by far the sweetest – the loss last year is a blessing in that it makes this one ten times as sweet as any other. LeBron and Duncan are forever intertwined in the history books now, like Bird and Magic – who would have thought that just 2 years ago?

      • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 3:46 PM

        Not quite like Bird and Magic. Those two went head-to-head when they were both young and battling for MVPs.

        And Bird and Magic had teams that were more evenly matched. In two of James’ meetings with the Spurs it has been a 1 vs 5 affair.

  4. seagram757 - Jun 17, 2014 at 3:55 PM

    What does Lebron have to do with this article…never mind…

  5. fanofthegame79 - Jun 17, 2014 at 4:05 PM

    Question, if Duncan went to a different team (or was drafted by a different team), would he bring them a championship? If not a championship, would he bring them close? I’m not sure he does.

    You take away those 5 rings and his numbers are really good, but not the greatest power forward of all time. Malone averaged 25 points and 10 rebounds over the course of his career, and he wasn’t on a loaded team like Duncan. The credit I do give Duncan is he was the MVP for 3 of those 5 championships.

    I’m not trying to take too much away from Duncan….but is he really the best power forward of all time, or was he on a very good team from the start? Personally, I think it’s the latter.

    • azarkhan - Jun 17, 2014 at 4:13 PM

      I would take Duncan over Malone because of his defense. When Duncan was younger he was a beast on the defensive end, and was voted 14x to the NBA All-Defensive team.

      • fanofthegame79 - Jun 17, 2014 at 7:31 PM

        Good point.

      • kavika6 - Jun 18, 2014 at 3:55 AM

        Duncan also has a better attitude and is a better leader than Malone. How many times have you seen Duncan snarl and yell obscenities at his teammates?

    • loubearkane - Jun 17, 2014 at 4:25 PM

      Yes the best Power Forward of All Time.

    • savvybynature - Jun 17, 2014 at 10:49 PM

      Duncan was a really solid offensive player, but I’ve heard it said he is one of the top 5 or 6 defensive players of all time.
      People tend to forget half the game is played on that end of the court because it doesn’t show up in box scores.

      • fanofthegame79 - Jun 17, 2014 at 11:02 PM

        Good point. But I would argue that all of the players in the “top 10″ are defensive stoppers and arguably the best of their positions and/or eras.

      • savvybynature - Jun 17, 2014 at 11:12 PM

        I don’t think Magic was any kind of defensive stopper, especially the second half of his career.
        Bird was a smart and clutch defender, but he was kind of slow and suffered from back problems that hurt his defense.
        Other than that though, I agree those guys were all great defenders in their time.

  6. cantonbound13 - Jun 17, 2014 at 4:31 PM

    Duncan is worthy of Mt Rushmore talk.

    • money2long - Jun 17, 2014 at 7:42 PM

      It needs a big man
      And Duncan is a fine nominee.

  7. sportsfan18 - Jun 17, 2014 at 4:55 PM

    Duncan was ALREADY a top ten player before this championship.

    EVERYONE of us on here would make a different list so NONE of us will agree.

    To me, MJ is the GOAT and #1

    After that, it’s already difficult. Wilt, Russell, Kareem and Magic immediately come to mind. Very
    DIFFICULT to say who should be 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc…

    Around #7 comes my personal favorite, Larry Bird.

    Others in the #6 to #10 category are Shaq, Duncan, Hakeem,

    I’ve seen one list via a sports website that had LBJ as #6 (not on my list mind you).

    Kobe, ah yes, where is Kobe? Somewhere in the log jam of players in the #11 to #15 range.

    There are ONLY 4 places on Mt. Rushmore and I really like Duncan and consider him top ten BEFORE this season, but he is not top 4.

    Here is my top ten greatest all time…

    1) MJ
    2) Russell
    3) Magic
    4) Wilt
    5) Kareem
    6) Shaq
    7) Bird
    8) Duncan
    9) Hakeem
    10) Oscar – The Big O
    11) LBJ
    12) Kobe

    Oh, don’t be lazy and just thumb down, reply with YOUR own top ten… so go ahead and hate on me, but man up and state YOUR top ten while you’re hatin’…

    • iritian - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:37 PM

      1.Kareem
      2.MJ
      3.Russell
      4.Wilt
      5.Magic
      6.Duncan
      7.Shaq
      8.Kobe
      9.Bird
      10.Hakeem
      11.Ish Smith

      • jollyjoker2 - Jun 17, 2014 at 6:41 PM

        1. Shaq
        2. MJ
        3. don’t know Russell as never seen him play.

        After that, its arguing.
        I only like Shaq because back in the day he could put the shoulder into the guy in front of you and not get called a offensive foul – ever…… Throw it into him, and your guaranteed to be moved out of the way. Talent wise, he doesn’t make the list.

    • raiderdan69 - Jun 17, 2014 at 6:36 PM

      1-MJ
      2-kareem
      3 – Russel
      4 – wilt
      5 – magic
      6 – hakeem
      7 – kobe
      8 – duncan
      9 – shaq
      10 – bird
      Then after that its take your pick between ewing, barkley robertson west malone isaiah dr j the glove lebron etc etc
      Yes I know ill get thumbs down for kobe but 5 rings mvp finals mvp multiple scoring titles 81 the list goes on and on people just get turned off because of his personality which is understandable.

    • sdlakerfan - Jun 17, 2014 at 6:56 PM

      1) MJ
      2) Russell
      3) Magic
      4) Kareem
      5) Shaq
      6) Bird
      7) LBJ
      8) Wilt
      9) Duncan
      10) Kobe
      11) Jerry West
      12) Oscar – The Big O

      • fanofthegame79 - Jun 17, 2014 at 7:35 PM

        This list seems close to what I agree with.

      • fanofthegame79 - Jun 17, 2014 at 7:41 PM

        After I think of it, I’m not sure I’d put Russell as high. Him and Duncan are benefactors of being on amazing teams.
        1) MJ
        2) Magic
        3) KAJ
        4) Shaq
        5) LeBron
        6) Bird
        7) Wilt
        8) Russell
        9) Ducan
        10) Kobe

        There are so many people being left off this list: Big O. Pistol Pete. Hakeem. Malone. Barkley……..more.

      • sportsfan18 - Jun 17, 2014 at 9:58 PM

        fanofthegame

        yes, so many are left off.

        that’s why I said when I started this up top that I know all of us will have our own list and it’s difficult.

        it’s why I asked and am pleasantly surprised that many of you did list your own top tens…

        A Mt. Rushmore only has 4 spots and as good as Timmy is, I don’t see Timmy listed in any top 4’s above…

        that was my point, he IS top ten all time but not top 4 or on Mt. Rushmore.

        Most folks lists are at least defensible, folks surprised me…

      • sdlakerfan - Jun 18, 2014 at 2:07 PM

        Been an avid NBA fan since the late 60’s. Saw all of these guys play quite a bit. Didn’t see Wilt’s best yrs with Philly. When he came to the Lakers, Jerry West (my childhood hero) was the heart and soul of the Lakers. The logo was only guy to win the finals MVP while on the losing team. Wilt was great playing against smaller guys – I think Shaq would have had the upper hand. Wilt was the last guy down the court, made Shaq look like a free throw expert, and no jump shot – either dunk, finger roll, or fall away bank. He only won chips when he had completely stacked teams. Russell’s a brilliant man in addition to a great athlete. Saw film of him actually jumping over a guy a la Vince Carter. The hated Celtics were an awesome “team” and remind me of this year’s Spurs. Russell lead his team to two NCAA chips and 11 NBA chips and was a player / coach. No way Duncan would have destroyed Russell. Russell always found a way. Havlicek was extremely underrated – he would take over games with his hustle. There were some amazing Knicks (Walt Frazier anyone?) in the early 70’s that deserve to be mentioned.

        Fun topic – thx @Sportsfan18 getting this started.

  8. jammer73 - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:07 PM

    Duncan listed as 6-11 and Robinson was listed as 7-1. No way. Duncan is just as tall as Robinson. Shoes might be a bit of factor but still, Duncan is at least 7-0.

  9. tomtravis76 - Jun 17, 2014 at 6:01 PM

    Not cool Admiral pulling out the Asian face stereotype.

  10. andreboy1 - Jun 17, 2014 at 6:39 PM

    Duncan would have destroyed Bill Russell

    • antaresrex - Jun 17, 2014 at 7:44 PM

      Maybe not destroyed, but one on one Duncan would probably win. Duncan’s advantage on offense I think outweighs Russell’s defensive superiority.

  11. fordmandalay - Jun 17, 2014 at 7:44 PM

    How do people keep forgetting Dr. J on all these lists?

    • sportsfan18 - Jun 17, 2014 at 9:59 PM

      The Doctor was a great player, but he isn’t top ten.

  12. kylecleric - Jun 17, 2014 at 9:41 PM

    Bob Pettit and Tim Duncan are very close as greatest power forwards in NBA history. In terms of playing the pure position, I’d give the edge to Pettit. Duncan is more of a center.

  13. dyn0myte - Jun 17, 2014 at 10:31 PM

    Come on man…

    the guy can’t even match his socks…

    • kavika6 - Jun 18, 2014 at 4:02 AM

      Looks like some sort of knee brace or compression.

  14. naterich21 - Jun 17, 2014 at 10:37 PM

    My top 10 retired players:

    1) MJ
    2) Kareem
    3) Magic
    4) Russell
    5) Bird
    6) Wilt
    7) Hakeem
    8) Shaq
    9) Oscar
    10) Moses

    • naterich21 - Jun 17, 2014 at 10:38 PM

      8 – Shaq

      The parentheses makes a smiley…

Leave Comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

Featured video

Why can't Lakers have a player-coach?
Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. T. Warren (4853)
  2. L. James (4229)
  3. K. Love (3638)
  4. D. Rose (3219)
  5. R. Allen (3070)
  1. J. Nelson (3016)
  2. C. Anthony (2948)
  3. K. Bryant (2698)
  4. A. Aminu (2089)
  5. C. Boozer (2019)