Tim Duncan is 36, and will be 37 in less than a month. In general human years: not very old. In basketball player years: pretty damn old. So when he plays a game like he did last night against the Clippers (34 points, 11 rebounds in a 104-102 win) and does this at the end:
…it’s tempting to say he “turned back the clock” or some other turn of phrase. So tempting that people – us included – do it all the time. But Duncan’s latest brilliant outing got us thinking: does it even make sense to use that phrase to describe anything he does anymore? Look at some of his recent outings: 23 points/14 rebounds/5 blocks against the Nuggets on Wednesday. A three-game mid-March stretch when he averaged 27.7 points and 14.7 rebounds. All told, he’s averaging 21.2 points and 11.6 rebounds in just 32.1 minutes per game in March. It’s not the last gasp of an aging legend when Duncan has a great game – it’s the norm.
True, one could argue his numbers from the current month – he’s scoring, for example, at easily the highest level he has all year – constitute a throwback-type performance. Even his overall numbers of 17.6 points and 10 rebounds per game are (marginally) higher than they’ve been the last two years, and his 2.7 blocks per game represents one of the highest numbers of a career filled with elite defense. And yeah, even his PER, as listed by basketball-reference.com, is a bit higher than it’s been in a couple years.
But something else you’ll notice about his PER is that it’s never dipped below 21.9. Duncan has never not played at an extremely high level. And his mark of 24.6 so far this season? Check out his career number: 24.7. While Duncan appears to have stepped up his level of play somewhat at 36 going on 37 – which, yeah, is sort of remarkable – what’s more remarkable is that, as well as he’s playing, he’s just playing like Tim Duncan. He’s playing, more or less, the same flawless basketball he’s played for 15 years. That, even more than an especially high-scoring night, is worth celebrating.