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The Longevity of Tim Duncan

How unusual is the year Tim Duncan is having at age 36 ?
A lot of attention is being given to Tim Duncan having a surprising year at 36 years of age.  The general consensus is that it is extremely unusual if not an original year.


Let’s take a look at how his current year compares to the all-time best big men in NBA history.


Here is what Mr. Duncan has done this year:

G     MPG     RPG     APG     SPG     BPG     TO     PF     PPG

32   30.2       9.7       2.5        .8        2.5       1.7    1.7    17.7


This is how his performance looks per 36 minutes:

Reb     Ast     Stls     Blks     TO     PF     Pts

11.6     3.0     .95       3.0      2.0     2.0    21.1


Of the top 25 big men in NBA history there were twelve of them that were retired by the time their 36th birthday came around.


Even though this research extended into the 1950’s the first NBA big man that was still playing when he was 36 years old was Wilt Chamberlain.  It was the 1972-73 season but it was Chamberlain’s final season.

Considered by some the greatest big man to ever play the game the Big Dipper played 82 games that year and here are his totals.  Keep in mind the league did not keep records of steals, blocks, or turnovers.

G     MPG     RPG     APG     SPG     BPG     TOPG     PFPG     PPG

82   43.2      18.6      4.5                                        2.3      13.2

It is unheard of these days for any player to average 43 minutes played per game.  It seems Wilt the Stilt just never left the game that season.  In fact, he played a very subdued roll by simply anchoring the defense and collecting rebounds while his offense was mostly from rebounds, dunks, or hooks very close to the basket.

When Chamberlain’s stats are shown per 36 minutes the value is seen.

Reb     Ast     Stls     Blks     TO     PF     Pts

Chamberlain                     15.5     3.8                                 1.9    11.0

Duncan                           11.6     3.0     .95       3.0      2.0   2.0    21.1

Though the Big Dipper had a substantial rebound advantage his difference on the offensive end is dramatic.  His offensive shortcomings could be attributed to his teams other offensive options making his unnecessary.  This also had a role to play in his concentration on the boards. 


Advantage Duncan

Elvin Hayes’ season when he was 36 was in 1981-82. He did play two more years with dramatic decreases in every category of his play.


82     37       9.1      1.8       .8       1.3       2.54       3.5      16.1


The Big E’s averages per 36 minutes are only slightly less than per game because of his 37 minutes played per game.

Reb     Ast     Stls     Blks     TO     PF     Pts

Hayes                               8.8     1.8      .77     1.3      2.5    3.4    15.7

Duncan                            11.6     3.0      .95     3.0      2.0    2.0    21.1

The season Duncan is having illustrates his superiority in virtually every category.


Advantage Duncan.


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had what many consider to be the most dominant career in the modern era. The year he was 36 years of age was 1983-84. He had one more year after that with similar dominance. The years after showed considerable decline.


80     33       7.3      2.6       .7       1.3        1.8        2.6      22.0

The Big Fella has an advantage in points per 36 minutes played but comes up shy in every other category especially the all-important rebounds and blocks. It is yet to be seen if Duncan can match what Jabbar did the next year though.

Reb     Ast     Stls     Blks     TO     PF     Pts

Abdul-Jabbar                      8.0      2.8     .76      1.4     2.0    2.8    24.0

Duncan 11.6 3.0 .95 3.0 2.0 2.0 21.1


Advantage Duncan.


Artis Gilmore Also played four additional years past his 36th birthday. That year was 1985-86.


71     34       8.5      1.4        .6      1.5        2.6       3.4       17.0


The A Train’s comparison of 36 minutes per game averages shows he did not have as an effective game as Duncan.

Reb     Ast     Stls     Blks     TO     PF     Pts

Gilmore                             9.0     1.5      .64     1.6      2.8    3.6    18.0

Duncan                            11.6     3.0     .95      3.0      2.0    2.0    21.1


Advantage Duncan.


Robert Parish was well known for his extended career. His year when he was 36 years of age was 1989-90. He played seven more seasons.


79    30.3     10.1     1.3      .48      .87       2.14       2.4      15.7

The Chief had a very respectable season in rebounds and points per 36 minutes.  However, he was not as adept with assists or blocks.

Reb     Ast     Stls     Blks     TO     PF     Pts

Parish                              12.0     1.5     .57     1.0      2.5     2.9    18.7

Duncan                            11.6     3.0     .95     3.0      2.0     2.0    21.1


Advantage Duncan.


In the 1990-91 season Moses Malone was 36 years old. He was already declining in production even though he played four more years.


82    23.3      8.1      .8       .37       .9        1.67       1.6      10.6

However, the Chairman of the Boards was still affective in the time he did play. This is shown with his averages per 36 minutes played.

Reb     Ast     Stls     Blks     TO     PF     Pts

Malone                             12.5     1.2     .57     1.4      2.6     2.5    16.4

Duncan                             11.6     3.0     .95     3.0      2.0     2.0    21.1

Big Mo certainly showed a slight dominance on the boards compared to Duncan but not anywhere else.


Advantage Duncan.


Patrick Ewing was celebrated in the Big Apple for bringing basketball back to the forefront there. He was 36 during the 1998-99 season. He played three additional years.

G     MPG     RPG     APG     SPG     BPG     TOPG     PFPG     PPG

38     34        9.9      1.1      .8       2.6        2.6       2.8       17.0

The Beast of the East had respectable rebound, blocks, and points averages that year.  However, they were all slightly less than Duncan while the Hoya Destroya was no where near as affective in distributing the ball.

Reb     Ast     Stls     Blks     TO     PF     Pts

Ewing                               10.5     1.2     .84     2.8      2.8    3.0    18.0

Duncan                             11.6     3.0     .95     3.0      2.0    2.0    21.1


Advantage Duncan.

In the 1999-2000 season Hakeem Olajuwon was 36 years old. His production was dramatically decreased by then. His following year he actually improved slightly across the board but only played one more year after that.


44     24       6.2       1.4      .9       1.6        1.7       2.0      10.0

The Dream had averages per 36 minutes played that bested Duncan in steals but fell shy everywhere else.

Reb     Ast     Stls     Blks     TO     PF     Pts

Olajuwon                           9.3     2.1     1.4      2.4      2.6     3.0    15.0

Duncan                            11.6     3.0     .95      3.0      2.0     2.0    21.1


Advantage Duncan.


Karl Malone is often hailed as the greatest power forward of all time. He was 36 during the 1999-2000 NBA season. He played four more years but did not show great declines in production until his final campaign.


82     36       9.5       3.7      1.0      .9         2.8       2.8       26.0

Malone played 36 minutes per game so those averages are identical. The Mailman was still highly productive with a scoring average that was dramatically greater than Duncan. He was also a slightly better passer. Duncan is a more proficient rebounder than Malone was. The biggest difference is found on the defensive end with blocks per 36 minutes.

Reb     Ast     Stls     Blks     TO     PF     Pts

Malone                             9.5     3.7      1.0      .9       2.8     2.8    26.0

Duncan                           11.6     3.0      .95      3.0     2.0     2.0    21.1


Slight advantage Duncan


David Robinson was 36 during the 2001-02 season. His production was already in decline. He played only one more year.


78     30       8.3       1.2     1.1      1.8        1.3        2.5      12.0

The Admiral shows averages per 36 minutes that were comparable in rebounds but that was it.

Reb     Ast     Stls     Blks     TO     PF     Pts

Robinson                          10.0     1.4      1.3     2.2      1.6    3.0    14.4

Duncan                            11.6     3.0      .95     3.0      2.0    2.0    21.1


Advantage Duncan.


The 2002-03 season had Dikembe Mutombo playing in his 36th year.  He only played in 26 games though.  Even though his production had declined he played six more seasons with more games played in each except his final year.


24     21        6.4      .8        .2       1.5       1.4        2.3       5.8

Mt. Mutombo basically matched Duncan in rebounds and blocks per 36 minutes but fell short in every other category.

Reb     Ast     Stls     Blks     TO     PF     Pts

Mutombo                          11.0     1.4     .34      2.6      2.4    3.9     9.9

Duncan                             11.6     3.0     .95     3.0       2.0    2.0    21.1


Advantage Duncan.


Shaquille O’Neal is often referred to as the most physically imposing big man in the modern era with his shear force. He was playing less minutes when he was 36 like Duncan but the 2008-09 season showed him still productive. He played two more seasons.


75     30       8.4      1.7       .6       1.4       2.2        3.4       18.0

The Diesel was still an excellent rebounder as is illustrated by his average per 36 minutes. The Big Aristotle also scored the ball as well as Duncan per 36 minutes. Shaq Daddy falls short in the other stats especially blocks.

Reb     Ast     Stls     Blks     TO     PF     Pts

O’Neal                             10.0     2.0     .72      1.7      2.6     4.1    21.6

Duncan                            11.6     3.0     .95      3.0      2.0     2.0    21.1

Advantage Duncan.


When we consider each of the other great big men that were playing when they were 36 years of age it becomes clear that Tim Duncan is giving us an unusual performance this year.

Though The Big Fundamental is excelling well beyond most of the big men in NBA history there are those that also had productive years. Wilt Chamberlain, Robert Parish, and Moses Malone were better rebounders. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone were superior in scoring at the same age.

The true answer to Duncan being the most productive big man well into his 30’s will have to wait a few more years. Jabbar’s season of his 37th birthday was as productive as the year before. More impressive were Karl Malone’s next three years where his averages per 36 minutes were around 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists.

For Tim Duncan to be considered the greatest big man in longevity he needs to continue as he has this year for three more years. Is that possible? His determination, commitment, and professionalism certainly make even the most unexpected possible.

Here is to his continued health and enjoyment of the game. It is a pleasure to witness what Tim Duncan has done, is doing, and will do in the annals of basketball history.

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