NBA History: 50 best NBA players of the 21st century

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Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

PF. San Antonio Spurs. Tim Duncan. 2. player. 29.

50 greatest NBA players from 21st century: 2. Tim Duncan

No team has been more consistent in the 21st century than San Antonio. A lot of the credit for that falls to Tim Duncan, who sprinted out of the gates as a rookie in 1998 and quickly emerged as the greatest athlete in San Antonio history. Duncan went on to win five championships (four after the turn of the century) and make 15 All-Star appearances in 19 seasons with the Spurs.

Duncan was fittingly dubbed the “Big Fundamental” for his attention to detail. No big man this century possessed crisper footwork than Duncan. At 6-foot-11, 250 pounds, he could score through the defense, around it, or over the top. He had spin moves and hook shots embedded in his DNA, and the meticulous perfection of his footwork rendered even the best defense ineffective. His innate feel for the game, and more specifically for how to navigate the post, provided the crux around which San Antonio’s offense hummed.

The Spurs were famously unselfish, devoid of ego or a desire for attention. No one embodied that more than Duncan, who was never performative. He was terse around the media, and he was never one to talk trash. He just played basketball and did so at the highest possible level. He won back-to-back MVPs in 2002 and 2003.

A five-time champ and three-time Finals MVP, there’s no hole left unpunched on Duncan’s rèsumè. He was for long stretches the best player in basketball, or at least good enough to make it a debate. He was not only the most proficient post scorer of his generation but also a 15-time All-Defensive team member. He performed on both sides of the ball, and launched the small-market Spurs into NBA lore.