Thursday, June 6, 2013

Father Time Is Undefeated...Or Is He?

Everyone is marveling at Tim Duncan's play this year especially in the Spurs playoff run to the Finals but it really shouldn't be that big of a surprise. When it comes to big men in the NBA, the first thing to go is usually the joints or feet for obvious reasons. All the pounding the feet & joints take over a prolonged career coupled with a natural erosion of skills can rob big men of their glory days. There's been so many examples over the years on both sides of the issue. While guys like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon & Kevin Willis had long productive careers, guys like Yao Ming, Greg Oden & Bill Walton, to name a few, either had years taken off of their careers, like Walton or flat out had to retire before ever reaching their primes, like Ming. Some might say work ethic plays a part in it but I'm not going to question any of those guys work ethic because for one, I wasn't there to witness it first hand & two, bad feet & joints are more a product of DNA than anything else. If you ask me though, the main reason Duncan has been so productive for so long, is because of his style of play. He's never been the quickest, the strongest or the highest flyer. His success has been built on fundamentals & a high basketball IQ in a 7' frame with long arms. 

Meanwhile if you take a guy like Shaq, he was so much stronger than everyone he faced that he could rely on brute force & never developed a legit low post move. Once he lost his quick foot speed, Shaq's productive dropped off tremendously. You add to that, according to Kobe allegedly, he wasn't the best in terms of staying in shape while Duncan is still close to his original weight. His fundamentals are a thing of beauty. One of his signature moves, which is the most subtle of moves, is when he receives the ball & needs a step or two to get to the rim, he ALWAYS keeps the ball above his head. That simple move prevents smaller players from being able to reach in & swipe the ball,  while also making it difficult for the opponent's big man to react in time because the move is quicker than putting the ball on the floor. It may sound basic & elementary, which it is, but it's so rarely practiced by big men that it makes it difficult to defend. See, when you base your success on fundamentals instead of just physical talent, it prolongs your success because while father time will catch up to those physical skills, fundamentals stay with you forever. Kareem had his sky hook & Hakeem the Dream Shake. 

Those fundamentally sound moves helped extend their careers. The ability to stay dedicated on their weight & fitness played a huge role as well too though. It used to bother me seeing a guy like Patrick Ewing get heavier & heavier as his career progressed. I continually told people he needed to lose weight as he got older to maintain foot speed or it would catch up to him. Eventually it did when he no longer could stay healthy as his body betrayed him. For whatever reason it seems to be harder for big men to stay motivated to maintain their fitness later in their careers. Maybe because there's so much more body to work on than the average person or maybe it's because they spend their whole careers having to be fed the ball that they just grow tired of the constant banging & fighting down low so they primarily spend their off-seasons resting their bodies.  

Kevin Willis was in just as good shape the last 2 years of his career as he was the first 2 years. I remember walking through Midtown Manhattan years ago & standing next to Willis waiting on a street corner for the light to change. I probably walked about 3 or 4 cross town blocks with him, which is probably about a half mile, & I finally had to tell him how I couldn't believe how in shape he was. Mind you, this was the summer after about his 15th year in the league & when he retired he looked like he physically could've played another 3 years easily. So the bottom line is, while it is surprising to see a 37 year old like Duncan play that well this late into a season, when you look closer at the player we shouldn't be too shocked. The Big Fundamental is doing the same things he was doing from day 1.