Monday, May 08, 2006

Is Tim Duncan a forward, or a center?

Tim Duncan is listed as a power forward (Basketball-reference lists him as a F-C, but most people talk about him as a forward). He is, by any standard, one of the best basketball players of all-time, but his position often gives him the status of greatest ever at his position.

But I don't think Duncan is a forward. I think he's a center.

When Duncan came into the league, there were about 5 teams on which he would have been assigned to play forward; on any other, he'd be a center. Well, he got drafted by one of those 5 teams, so he "became" a forward.

But on Sunday against the Mavs, Duncan was often on the court with four other guards or swingmen. Some of the time the second tallest player on the floor was Michael Finley. He was the only player posting up. He was the only player with his back to the basket. He was the only Spur getting any production near the basket, with rebounds and with strong to-the-basket postup moves.

Much of the time, there is no way to call any other Spur on the court a center.

It could be that in the current evolutionary state of basketball, there is no real "center." That's fine--then call Duncan a forward. But when comparing him to all-time forwards, keep that in mind. If we called Duncan a center, we would consider him a top-10 player at his position. At the highest, I'd rank him 6th (behind Kareem, Wilt, Russell, Shaq, and Hakeem). There's also Mikan, Reed, and Cowens to consider. Moses Malone, too, though I've always thought of him as a forward, not a center (I'm probably completely wrong on that. Basketball-reference lists him as C-F).

Duncan's game, though, is a center's game.


  1. Watched the game last night, and Duncan was always the tallest player on the court, and he played exclusively on the blocks. He has no perimeter game and he is the biggest guy on the team. How is he not a center?

  2. Duncan plays facing the basket rather than with his back to the basket, drives to the rim rather than posts up, and shoots 15 footers. He is an oversized power forward.

  3. Clark1:45 PM

    He is a center and as such is not a top ten all time center.

  4. Anonymous10:11 PM

    I totally agree. I'm sick of Charles Barkley saying Duncan was the best power forward of all time. at 7-feet, he had an unfair advantage. True, Dirk Nowitzki is 7 feet but he plays a lot outside. Garnett is also a hybrid. But Duncan was just as much if not more of a center than a power forward. Both Garnett and Duncan got away with avoiding some of the dirty work because they played with Rasho Nesterovic. By the way, I hate the way Barkley always ignores anyone who played before him. He never even mentions Elvin Hayes on his all-time list.

  5. Anonymous10:22 PM

    I want to add to my comment above - In addition to forgetting Hayes, Barkley never mentions guys like Maurice Lucas or Jerry Lucas.

    Mike Frandsen