The San Antonio Spurs (in supreme Spurs fashion) have jumped out to a hot start. As the first team to put up a double-digit win total, it seems like a matter of time before they get back to 50 wins for the 14th straight season.
There's something about this team, whether it's Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan or just the fact that they do everything bigger in Texas, that makes them seem impossible to take down. Collectively, they are the basketball Terminator.
The Spurs are constantly able to take players and squeeze every drop of basketball out of them, and then when there isn't anything left coming out, they'll cut them open like a tube of toothpaste and get anything that might be left.
There's a lot to look at with this Spurs team because they do play so many players, but it's pretty obvious what it is that has made them so good so early.
Manu Ginobili has been injured, Tony Parker has been good, but not quite MVP-candidate good like he was last season, and the rest of the team has battled injury problems here and there. The bulk of the credit has to go to Tim Duncan's resurgence.
Duncan is scoring and rebounding like he did three seasons ago and blocking shots like he did six seasons ago. Whatever he did in the offseason worked, and he's completely revamped himself to the point where he seems to be the team's best player once again.
He's existing in a Western Conference full of effective, tough big men, yet he's leading this Spurs frontcourt without a legitimate running mate to the top of the conference, only behind the Memphis Grizzlies in the West.
It's gotten to the point where there is little chance that Duncan will miss the All-Star Game this season should he continue to play at this level through February.
As of Sunday morning (Nov. 25), Tim Duncan is second behind LaMarcus Aldridge in scoring for power forwards in the Western Conference with 18.5 points per game, third in rebounding with 10.9, fourth in field-goal percentage at 51.7 percent, fifth in assists at 2.4, sixth in steals at just under one and second in blocks at just over two.
Needless to say, there seems to be no part of Duncan's game that isn't vastly improved compared to a season ago.
The difference between Duncan this season and last has been his ability to take shots in his high-percentage areas. He shot a combined 52.5 percent from the restricted area and from mid-range in 2011-12—80.5 percent of his shot attempts came from those two zones.
This season he's bumped that up to 85 percent from those areas while shooting a combined 56.8 percent from those spots.
He's historically very good from both of those spots, so if he's able to continue to get the ball in the restricted zone or just outside the paint with good looks, his offense will continue to stay hot.
It seems that we may have forgotten it after his first season missing the All-Star game in his entire career, but Duncan playing at an All-Star level for the Spurs should more or less make San Antonio title contenders.
A big opinion after their dismissal from the playoffs a season ago at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder was that they were done competing for titles. OK, maybe everybody gave up that opinion when we were so wrong about them after their loss to the Grizzlies in 2011, but most considered a title to be a long shot at best.
The fact is that a humming, well-rested Duncan at 36 years old is as good as any other power forward in the league.
There is a problem moving forward, however. San Antonio has three losses this season, two of which came to the Los Angeles Clippers, the team they easily swept in the playoffs last season.
What is dramatically obvious from those two games is that DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin are much better than they were a season ago. As long as they keep up this improvement, they're going to be a tough team to beat for the Spurs with their questionable frontcourt.
If San Antonio runs into the Clippers, the Memphis Grizzlies or the Los Angeles Lakers in the postseason, there is going to be some trouble. However, they should still have a good shot at winning those series.
With this Spurs team in a slower pace when wisdom is even more valuable, there could be a fifth ring in store for Duncan.