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Duncan's Longevity & The Meaninglessness Of Stardom

In a Game 1 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, Tim Duncan had 27 points and 7 rebounds on 12-20 shooting. The San Antonio Spurs won by five points and Duncan was +24 in his 38 minutes on the floor. Even at 37, the Mavericks have no answer for him in their frontcourt. He has long since lost the athleticism of his youth, but his size and skill have allowed him to remain a great player while his peers faded away. He's one of two players left from the 1997 NBA Draft.

There have been a ton of articles marveling about the Spurs longevity atop the NBA, but there's no real mystery to what's going on. San Antonio had Tim Duncan on their roster for the last 16 teams - if they weren't an elite team in that span, something went terribly wrong. Shaquille O'Neal didn't play on a lot of bad teams either and he was in his fair share of dysfunctional situations. When you have one of the 10 greatest players off all-time on your roster, it's pretty easy.

Duncan did things in a more understated fashion, but in his prime, he was every bit as dominant as Shaq. He was a fundamentally sound 7'0 250 big man with elite athleticism - about as good at basketball as any one player could be. He was a Defensive Player of the Year type player who commanded a double team in the low post. Having Tim Duncan meant your team had a great offense and a great defense. There are not many players in the history of basketball you can say that about.

Like Shaq, he wasted little time making his mark in the NBA. In his rookie season, the Spurs went from 20 to 56 wins and made it to the second round. In his second season, he was the NBA Finals MVP. Over the next 14, despite the roster turning over around him several times, San Antonio was always an elite team. Winning 50 games is the mark of a good team and Duncan has never played on a below 50-win team. In 16 seasons, the Spurs have missed the second round three times.

After Michael Jordan's retirement, Shaq and Duncan carved up the league between them. From 1999-2007, the titles went Duncan, Shaq, Shaq, Shaq, Duncan, the Detroit Pistons, Duncan, Shaq, Duncan. Those two would have been successful in any era of basketball. There's not much the other team can do against an elite 7'0 center who can play on both sides of the ball. The team with the biggest, most skilled and most athletic player on the floor usually wins.

When you look at Duncan's career in total, it's remarkable how many more championships he could have won, were it not for a few bounces of the ball. Derek Fisher's 0.4 shot in 2004, Dirk Nowitzki's and-1 in 2006, Ray Allen's three in 2013 - there isn't much separating Duncan from seven rings. That's what happens when you carry your team deep into the playoffs for almost two decades. When it comes to longevity, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is Duncan's only peer.

That's what separates Duncan from Shaq. Shaq never took great care of his body. By the end of his career, he had ballooned well past the 300 pounds he was listed at. Duncan has kept himself in excellent shape, looking like a slightly weathered version of his younger self in his late 30's. Shaq was still an extremely effective player in his last two seasons in Cleveland and Boston. The problem was that he could no longer stay on the floor - injuries are what end great players careers.

Just as important, Duncan never let his ego get in the way of winning. There was never anything like Shaq's feud with Kobe Bryant. Instead of feeling threatened by the emergence of Tony Parker, Duncan welcomed it and gladly gave him the ball. Shaq knew he was a great enough player that the normal rules didn't apply to him - he was never afraid of burning bridges on his way out of town. Duncan could have acted the same way. He just choose not to.

It seems a little weird to praise someone for not being an asshole, but it can be a vanishingly rare quality in the world of NBA superstardom. When a player starts racking up championships, a whole cottage industry of people spring up around them, willing to excuse anything they do. Jordan would berate his teammates and punch them in the face and everyone acted like it was cool because he won a lot of championships and that's what it took to be great.

Tim Duncan treated everyone like a normal person and it seems to have worked out OK for him. There's no great mystery to what he does or some secret aspect of his character that accounts for his success. Duncan is no different than anyone else - he's just a little taller and more athletic. He was blessed with tremendous gifts and he has worked hard not to waste them. He seems to have more perspective on what being a great athlete actually means than most of our society.

If he played in a major media market, we would never hear the end of his selflessness and what a great winner he is. As is, he seems likely to fade from public consciousness once he retires. Duncan will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but he probably won't be on too many player's Mt. Rushmores in 20 years. The secret to his success, though, has come in recognizing how meaningless that stuff is. Hard work is its in own reward - better to play at 38 than have people talk about you at 58.

The great lie we tell young players is they need to develop a persona to sell themselves to fans, as if their career wouldn't be complete unless they were constantly on TV trying to sell people stuff they don't need. Tim Duncan has made over $225 million dollars in the NBA. Play the game unselfishly, never put yourself above your teammates and treat everyone around you the right way and you can make more money playing basketball than you could ever possibly need.

Pacers Turn Up Defense, Show Signs Of Life In Game 2 Win

Facing a potentially crippling situation early in the third quarter against the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night, the Indiana Pacers got back to what earned them the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Trailing by as many as 11 in the first half at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Pacers pulled away from the Hawks with a suffocating defensive effort over the final 20 minutes.

It all started when Paul George dove on the floor to chase a loose ball alongside Paul Millsap. Atlanta won the subsequent jump ball, but Jeff Teague missed a jumper and Lance Stephenson took off in search of early offense. Stephenson converted a reverse layup and was fouled, giving Indiana a 62-59 lead. They never turned back.

After playing hesitantly through the first six quarters of the series, the Pacers put the Hawks on their heels during a decisive second-half run that led to a blowout 101-85 victory.

Indiana went small and contained Jeff Teague, who had been burning them on penetration off pick-and-rolls with Pero Antic and Millsap. Teague had 12 points in the first half after a dazzling performance in Game 1 on Saturday night, but was held to just two points on 1-for-5 shooting after the break.

George Hill, the quietest of Indiana's five starters, was huge in the third. He scored 10 points and helped key a 31-13 edge in the period and a 19-0 run that stretched into the fourth quarter. During the run, the Hawks went more than six minutes without scoring.

The Pacers dominated defensively even with Roy Hibbert cheering on the sidelines. After forcing the ball inside to their center on offense, Frank Vogel adjusted to the opponent and gave Ian Mahinmi and Luis Scola heavy minutes in the second half. Mahinmi isn't Hibbert on the defensive end, but the Pacers have molded him into a similar defender in their system. He did a fine job protecting the rim as Atlanta looked flummoxed. Scola was a huge offensive weapon, putting up 20 points on 9-for-14 shooting.

Not surprisingly, great defense led to easy offense.

With the Hawks going 5-for-20, including 1-for-8 from deep, in the third, the Pacers attacked the basket and carried confidence to the other end of the floor. Indiana went 12-for-16 in the quarter, while building a +4 rebounding edge and cashing in on all their trips to the foul line.

This performance alone doesn't mean the "old" Indiana Pacers are back, but it's certainly a step in the right direction.

"King" George

When the Pacers needed their best player to put them on his back, Paul George did just that. He was a game-high +29 with a full stat line -- 27 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists and four steals. More importantly? He committed just one turnover and didn't force his offense as he has so often post-All-Star break.

George took seven threes, making five of them, and attacked the basket rather than settle for mid-range jumpers. He took two such shots, with his remaining seven attempts coming in, or near, the restricted area.

His performance was also noteworthy on the defensive end as he spent some time checking Teague. His length and quickness create problems for any point guard.

Team Defense

Hibbert may be the "face" of Indiana's league-best defense, but on Tuesday night they put together a team performance that bodes well for the remainder of the series. The All-Star center played 24 minutes, six fewer than in the series opener, as Vogel went with a smaller, more athletic front-line to counter Atlanta's unorthodox attack.

There is no question that Hibbert has been vital to Indiana's success, but there is also no rule that says you have to stick with a specialized player when mismatched. The Pacers are looking to get back on track and enter the title conversation again, not to march out Hibbert because of his contract and label as a starter.

Vogel forced offense inside to Hibbert far too much in the first half and when the big man focused more on rebounding and defense than trying to score over the smaller Millsap and Antic, the Pacers looked more like the team that had the best record in the league at the season's midpoint. A combined 14 points and 12 rebounds without a single block in 54 minutes is disappointing, but if Indiana advances Hibbert will have plenty of chances to dominate on both ends.

Teague-Williams

The Hawks couldn't recover when the Pacers imposed their will in the second half, but over a stretch from the end of the first to the beginning of the second quarter Atlanta's offense absolutely handcuffed Indiana.

Even when the Pacers are dialed in defensively, it's hard to stop the Hawks when they are hitting on all cylinders. If Teague and Lou Williams are slashing and Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll and Co. are hitting from deep it's difficult for any team to defend them.

Parties Not Heard From

Stephenson ignited the Pacers in the third quarter with his three-point play, but he and David West were largely unheard from in Game 2. West battled foul trouble early and finished with eight points and two rebounds. His passing helped Indiana foster better ball movement -- he had six assists -- but a huge outing is lurking as the series shifts to Atlanta.

Meanwhile, Stephenson found himself on the bench more than he'd like and we've come to expect. He logged just 25 minutes, his lowest total since the Pacers beat the Hawks 89-85 on Feb. 4. He wasn't Bad Lance, but the triple-double machine had just seven points, five assists and three rebounds and was a +3 in a 16-point win. It will be interesting to see how Stephenson comes out on Thursday night.

RealGM's D-League Weekly Wrap-Up (April 14-April 21)

RealGM’s Player of the Week: Isaiah Canaan (Rio Grande Valley Vipers)
 
The Houston Rockets assignee split time between Rio Grande Valley and the big league club this week. In three D-League playoff games, Canaan averaged 34.5 points, 5.5 assists, and 2.8 rebounds per game while shooting 45 percent from the field and 44 percent (24-55) from behind the arc. The 6-foot point guard out of Murray State has the ability to score in bunches, shown in his 43-point outburst on Saturday. Murray was a second round pick in last year’s draft and should be a key piece to keep an eye on this summer. He may even see action in the NBA playoffs if Patrick Beverly is unable to play.
 
Game of the Week: Fort Wayne Mad Ants 113, Sioux Falls Skyforce 111
 
Despite trailing 91-79 entering the fourth quarter, Fort Wayne mounted a comeback to stay undefeated in the playoffs. Tony Mitchell banked in a runner with 4.2 seconds left to give Fort Wayne the road win.
 
Sadiel Rojas led Fort Wayne with 20 points and six rebounds while Mitchell added 19 points, seven assists, and six boards.
 
Sioux Falls received a game-high 24 points from Henry Walker. DeAndre Liggins had a stat-stuffing 19 points, 13 rebounds, and eight assists while Tre Kelley finished with 14 points and 10 assists.
 
Fort Wayne captured game two as well to advance into the 2014 NBA D-League Finals. The Mad Ants will face the Santa Cruz Warriors to crown a champion.
 
Five Stars
 
Lance Goulbourne (Santa Cruz Warriors): Goulbourne averaged 17.3 points and 12.3 rebounds per game while shooting 60 percent from the field. The 6-foot-8 forward has made his biggest contributions in the rebounding department while his minutes have increased.
 
Cameron Jones (Santa Cruz Warriors): The D-League’s Mr. Consistent had a nice trio of performances to propel the Warriors to the finals. Jones averaged 21 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game while shooting 47 percent from the floor and 2-of-5 from three. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard is a great glue guy for Santa Cruz and will need to continue to perform at a high level to win the D-League title.
 
Tre Kelley (Sioux Falls Skyforce): Kelley had an all-around quality week for Sioux Falls. The 6-foot point guard averaged 18.7 points and 8.3 assists per game this week on 50 percent shooting. He’s a good shooter who can draw some Summer League intrigue.
 
Darius Morris (Rio Grande Valley Vipers): The reigning Player of the Week averaged 25 points, eight assists, and 5.5 rebounds per game while shooting 50 percent from the field and 33 percent (8-24) from deep. Morris clearly has the talent to find his way onto an NBA roster once again. The 6-foot-4 point guard can score in a variety of ways and has the quickness and length to defend NBA guards.
 
Sadiel Rojas (Fort Wayne Mad Ants): It took a team-effort for the Mad Ants to reach the D-League finals, but Rojas was one of the many standouts. He averaged 20 points and nine rebounds while shooting 52 percent from the field and 38 percent (5-13) from deep. He’s been a key scorer for the Mad Ants all season.
 
Call Ups
 
Melvin Ely (Texas Legends): The New Orleans Pelicans signed Ely to play the final two games of the season. Ely played a total of 27 minutes where he had six points, a rebound, and a block.
 
And One: The D-League announced that the Springield Armor will move to Grand Rapids next season to become a one-to-one affiliate with the Detroit Pistons. Like the incoming team in White Plains, New York, the fans will vote on the future name.

Portsmouth Invitational - '62 Years Running - The Best of the PIT'

Five players in particular really impressed from an NBA prospect perspective: Markel Starks, Travis Bader, Akil Mitchell, Javon McCrea, and Andre Dawkins all really helped themselves.

MCW & Giannis: Why The Eye Test Still Matters

When you are evaluating young players, the statistics can only tell you so much. That's why there are still ways to find steals in the draft - look for the tallest, longest and most athletic guys at each position. Itís really that simple.

Notes On The 2014 Jordan Brand Classic

On Justin Blackmon, the budding chemistry between Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones, the potential of Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre at Kansas, and why Myles Turner is making the most informed decision of any high-level recruit.

Pacers Can't Flip Switch Against Hawks In Game 1

Instead of wiping away concerns about their poor finish to the season, the Pacers created more uncertainty with a disappointing loss to the Hawks on Saturday night.

RealGM's Playoff Predictions

All eight RealGM writers predict the Heat along with either the Thunder or Spurs to reach The Finals.

D-12 & LMA: Previewing Rockets Vs. Blazers

The difference between the way in which Dwight Howard and LaMarcus Aldridge were successful in taking advantage of single coverage was the reason for the Rockets dominance over the Blazers in the regular season. If that trend continues and the defenses donít make the necessary adjustments in the playoffs, the Rockets should move on to the second round.

Two Reinventions: Previewing Raptors Vs. Nets

Both of these teams reinvented themselves for different reasons during the regular season. For the Raptors, it came after the Rudy Gay trade in freeing up Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The Nets fixed their season by embracing small ball.

Spurs Remain The Surest Playoff Bet

Like Bill Belichick with the Patriots, Gregg Popovich conducts a strict system style of team ball consequently demanding respect and discipline from every player, no matter how valuable or invaluable they are to the franchise.

Euroleague's Best U-21 Players of 13-14

With less than a month remaining until the Euroleague Final Four in Milan, RealGM presents a list of ten young (21-year-old or younger) Euroleague players that had the most success in 13-14 season.

NBA Playoff Fantasy: Play For $100,000 In Prizes

The NBA Playoffs begin on Saturday and DraftStreet is having a 2-Day first round Fantasy Contest with $100,000 in guaranteed prizes to celebrate.

As Long Season Ends, Danny Ainge Provides Insight Into Celtics' Offseason

After trading Pierce, Garnett and Jason Terry to the Nets, Ainge was left with a disorganized roster and future flexibility.

Draft Report: Dante Exum Of Australian Institute Of Sport

While Dante Exum isnít quite as long and athletic as Andrew Wiggins, heís far more skilled. Heís an elite athlete in his own right and plays with more poise. You have to play Trading Places with these guys - what would have happened if Exum was on the AAU circuit every summer and Wiggins was in the AIS?

Final Non-National NBA Games Of The Week & NNGW Season Awards

The final jockeying for playoff seeds and the NNGW awards are handed out.

Why I Love The Nike Hoop Summit

The Nike Hoop Summit is the best of the high school All-Star games. Something happens when players put on the Team USA uniform. This isnít just an all-star dunk contest. You get to see a little bit more of the playerís character.

RealGM's D-League Weekly Wrap-Up (April 7-April 13)

On the strong weeks by Seth Curry, Darius Morris, Patrick Christopher, Troy Daniels, Cameron Jones, Ognjen Kuzmic and more.

NBA Players Who Could Still Be In College

Itís easy to forget how young some of the players in the league are - freshmen drafted in 2011 would have been college seniors this season. You have to judge young players against guys their age not against the guys in their draft class.

One And Done Model Works For Everyone

John Calipari is 18-3 in the NCAA Tournament at Kentucky. Even more remarkable, he compiled that number with four completely different teams, sending upwards of 15 players to the NBA. Itís a vindication not only of how he built his program, but of the entire ďone and doneĒ model.

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