The San Antonio faithful are no doubt rejoicing over the news that Tim Duncan, one of the – if not the – greatest players in the NBA over the last 15 years, will return for an 18th NBA season.
Prior to yesterday’s news, the Spurs organization was in a limbo of sorts. Would Duncan return? If he doesn’t, would Popovich leave with him? The two have long been rumored to one day make an exit together.
But now, with the ink dried on Duncan’s one year, $10.3 million extension, one thing is clear: the Spurs will be back. With Popovich at the helm and Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili all returning, the league can expect to see more of the same from a team that won five titles over the last 15 years. Other key Spurs players under contract for the 2014-2015 season include Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, and Tiago Spitter.
At 38 years old, it’s possible that the only players older than Duncan to play in the league next year will be Ray Allen, Steve Nash, and Andre Miller. But unlike those three players, Duncan’s performance on the court is hardly declining.
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Duncan averaged 15.1 points and 9.7 rebounds per game last year. Those numbers are down slightly from his career averages of 19.9 points and 11.1 rebounds per game, but this dip is primarily due to his decline in minutes played per game, not his effectiveness when he’s on the court. As this chart from ESPN illustrates, Duncan's numbers per 36 minutes last year were on par with his career averages:
The fact that Duncan opted to pick up a one year extension rather than opt out and sign on for, say, two more years is also telling. It all but explicitly says that this upcoming season will be Duncan’s last. With the same veteran trio and young core that led San Antonio to a title last year on hand, the expectation for Duncan’s last year in the league is clear: repeat.