FORGET KOBE. Kevin Garnett, too. Don't even come to us with Allen Iverson. The future of the NBA isn't any of the above. It's Tim Duncan; the rest of you guys sit down and shut up.
Duncan is a rookie, or so it is rumored. Someone better check it out. That wasn't a rookie out there Tuesday night in Game 1 of the Spurs-Jazz playoff game.Rookies aren't supposed to score 33 points in a playoff game, as he did while turning the Delta Center on its ear.
Rookies aren't supposed to be the player the coach goes to when he needs a last-second shot, as the Spurs did against the Jazz.
Rookies aren't supposed to score 17 of his team's 22 points in the fourth quarter and rally their team late in the game. Rookies aren't supposed to score nine straight points down the stretch.
Rookies are not supposed to have a complete repertoire of spin moves, baby hooks and jump shots, as well as a complete game that includes defense, blocking shots, rebounds and actual passes.
The Jazz won the game 83-82, but afterward all anyone wanted to talk about was Duncan, who stole the spotlight and nearly the game. He had 33 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots. Duncan made 13-of-22 shots, and you know what Adam Keefe said afterward? "Our guys did a nice job on him defensively. He was making tough shots."
If the Jazz didn't do a nice job the kid goes off for 60.
Afterward, the Jazz were calling him the Spurs' best player. Excuse us, but isn't that David Robinson over there, one of the Top 50 players of all time? The Dream Team Robinson? The Robinson who is so good that Jerry Sloan once said it was a tossup which player he would choose first if he could have his pick of the league - Jordan or Robinson. Now Robinson is only the second-best player on the Spurs.
When Spurs coach Gregg Popovich found himself trailing by one point with four seconds left, he could have called a play for Robinson, the eight-year veteran. Instead, the out-of-bounds pass went to Duncan, who wheeled and took a 14-foot shot while everyone in the joint held his breath. This time, Duncan's shot missed, but no one second-guessed the play.
"I'll take that shot any day, especially the way he was shooting," said Robinson.
Duncan's performance on Tuesday night wasn't supposed to happen. Rookies - and even veterans - are supposed to need "playoff experience." They're supposed to lose their nerve when the playoffs arrive. They're supposed to crumble. Remember Bryant tossing up airballs for the Lakers in the playoffs against the Jazz? That's what a rookie is supposed to look like in the playoffs.
Duncan needed to get playoff experience, too. He got all he needed in about, oh, one game. In his first playoff game, all he did was score 32 points in the first-round against the Suns. But he did have 10 rebounds. Duncan went on to average 20 points for the four-game series.
Duncan hasn't acted like a rookie since he entered the league. The first time he stepped on the court he scored 15 points. Two games later he had 19. He wound up averaging 21 points, 11.9 rebounds, 2.5 blocks. 2.7 assists and 39 minutes per game. Rookie of the Year? Try Rookie of the Decade. At least.
The only mystery is why everybody is crowning Bryant and Garnett, etc., as Future of the League when Duncan is out there. He's got a complete game. He's a team player (he even knows what a pass is). He works hard. He stayed in school four years. He's humble and quiet. He doesn't trash talk, doesn't glare, doesn't have an attitude, doesn't showboat. All he does is play.
As Adam Keefe noted, "He's not about himself. That's the difference between him and other (young) guys."
Duncan doesn't even sound like a hotshot rookie. Asked about his sensational rookie year after Tuesday's game, he said, "It was just a blessing I got on a quality team with great guys who help me."
And then there was this one after Tuesday's game: "We had a stretch there where we didn't play as a team, and people were pointing fingers at each other."
We're supposed to believe this kid's a 22-year-old rookie?
"He's not impressed with the NBA stuff," Popovich said earlier this season. "He's not even impressed with himself. If you knock his shot into the stands, or if he knocks your shot into the stands, there's no difference in his demeanor. He goes down to the other end of the court and does what's appropriate."
Rave reviews have poured in from around the league. George Karl called him the best rookie he's ever seen. Larry Brown said he might be the best player in the league other than Jordan.
"He's showing the little things that take guys take 10 or 13 years to figure out in this league," said John Stockton.
Exactly. Somebody check it out. No way this guy's a rookie.