Rejuvenated Tim Duncan Ensures Title Shot for San Antonio Spurs in 2012-13

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistOctober 26, 2012

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - JUNE 02:  Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs looks to shoot over Kendrick Perkins #5 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second half in Game Four of the Western Conference Finals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on June 2, 2012 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Larry W. Smith/Pool/Getty Images)
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TNT analyst Steve Kerr has already piled on to the yearly tradition of leaving the San Antonio Spurs off a shortlist of real contenders.

The thinking behind such an exclusion is predictable enough. Gregg Popovich's roster has neither the superstars that define Miami and Los Angeles, nor the superlative youth headlining the Thunder. Before the franchise claimed four titles, it was too soft.

Now it's just too old—or so the narrative goes, anyway.

As a roster, the Spurs really aren't that old at all, especially when compared to teams like the Lakers or Knicks. But with Tim Duncan already 36 and Manu Ginobili at 35, the rest of the rotation's relative youth really isn't the issue.

A young Danny Green or Kawhi Leonard won't replace the greatest power forward in history.

Fortunately, it's not time to replace Timmy, not just yet. 

The San Antonio Express-News' Mike Monroe reports that Duncan got off to a promising start in the preseason, eliciting some praise from coach Gregg Popovich in the process:

“He doesn’t sit on his fanny too much during the summer,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He keeps working, a lot of flexibility and long muscle-type training. He watches his diet, what he puts in his body. He’s been pretty consistent with that every summer, and he looks great once again.”

In this instance, those looks are anything but deceiving.

Duncan got off to a torrid scoring display in the preseason, making the most of what we all knew would be very limited minutes. If you paid much attention to last season, none of this should come as a surprise.

The Big Fundamental made a big statement in 2012-13, upping his scoring average by two points despite averaging a fraction of a minute less playing time. His per-48 minute scoring markedly outpaced veterans Kevin Garnett and Pau Gasol, just narrowly trailing Blake Griffin.

And though Kevin Love's rebounding average appears to put most to shame, over the course of every 48 minutes, Duncan was second to Love among power forwards with 15.3 boards (to Love's 16.4).

Put simply, Tim Duncan wasn't awarded a trip to the All-Star game simply because he wasn't afforded the playing time needed to render elite per-game production. His per-minute production remained exceptional.

If Tim Duncan has passed any torches, they're regular-season torches to be sure. Kevin Love's team didn't make the playoffs, and Blake Griffin's was vanquished in short order (by Duncan and Co. no less).

Of course, you could make the case that Duncan's value hinges in large part on how much he can actually play. Perhaps legendary skill shouldn't count for so much if it can only stay on the floor 28 minutes a game.

The problem with that argument, of course, is that it's not as if Duncan's asking to be taken out of games. In fact, we saw him play well over 30 minutes on a number of occasions last season, as many as 41 in a February overtime win against the Clippers.

He averaged 34 or more minutes in playoff series against those same Clippers and the Thunder and continued his solid play, excepting a couple of sub-par performances against OKC that had more to do with Kendrick Perkins than fatigue.

We see less of Duncan these days for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with how much he has left in the tank. Part of it is Pop's interest in keeping him fresh for the postseason. Part of it is that San Antonio blows teams out relatively often, creating obvious opportunities for rest.

The two-time MVP has gotten a second wind, and that puts the Spurs in excellent position.

Though the team relies more heavily on Tony Parker and the supporting cast nowadays, Duncan is the anchor on the defensive end, the difference between San Antonio and so many high-scoring teams to go before them (e.g. the D'Antoni-era Suns).

It's rarely fashionable to proclaim the Spurs among the title favorites with the season around the corner, but Spurs' fans would have it no other way. They'll just as soon listen to experts like Kerr eat their words come playoff time.

Tim Duncan has some unfinished business to tend to.