Tim Duncan Is A Center


By Rodimus Dunn

Who’s gonna play center tonight?

Is Tim Duncan the best power forward who has ever played in the National Basketball Association?

No.

The end.

But in all reality, he IS one of the greatest NBA and NCAA players in history (he has career averages of 21 points, 12 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, 3 assists, while shooting 50.8%). But, he is NOT is the greatest power forward ever.  I’m not saying this because I think that Karl Malone is better than him (or for that matter Charles Barkley, Kevin Garnett, or Kevin McHale).  I say that because Tim Duncan is NOT really a power forward.  Tim Duncan IS a center.  He is listed at 6’11 and 248 lbs.  What is the height and weight requirement to be listed as a center?  When Duncan was drafted, he had a historically great center in David Robinson to play next to, so he naturally slid into the power forward position.  Robinson by the way was listed at 7’1 and 235 lbs.  So what if Duncan was drafted prior to Robinson and had a hall of fame career as a center up to that point like Robinson had?  Who gets listed as the center then?  I recall Hakeem Olajuwon being drafted #1 when the Rockets already had their center in Ralph Sampson (who was like 7’4 and 228 lbs).  Olajuwon was the PF just like Duncan was initially, but when Sampson eventually left, Dream inherited the center position. Why not Duncan?  I have my theories: like Duncan wanted to ensure he started All-Star games (which would have been more problematic in the Western Conference with Shaquile O’Neal firmly entrenched as the starter); Duncan didn’t want to expend all of his energy on the defensive side of the ball guarding “larger” guys; he didn’t want to be considered a center, because at that time, centers were thought as plodding, behemoths with no skills.  Olajuwon was listed at 7’ even though he was much shorter than that because it looked more intimidating to be listed as a seven footer than a 6’9 or 6’10 guy.  Conversely, was Duncan listed at 6’11 to avoid the stigma of being classified as an unskilled seven footer?  Unfortunately, we’ll never know.  At any rate, David Robinson retired after the 2002-03 season, so I’ll review the Spurs’ roster to investigate who was their true center.

2003-04

Duncan started all 82 games at PF and Rasho Nesterovich started 82 games at C.  Rasho was listed at 7’ and 248 lbs.  Duncan was listed at 6’11 and 248 lbs, so their size was essentially equal.  I think its safe to say that Duncan was the primary post player on offense and on defense, so he was clearly the center on this team.

2004-05

Same as the previous year.  Duncan started 66 games at PF and Rasho started 70 games at C.  Duncan was the obvious center on this team.

2005-06

Duncan started 80 games at PF, Rasho started 51 games at C.  Duncan was the obvious center in this lineup.  Nazr Mohammed started 30 games at C on this team, and he had the size (6’10 and 220 lbs) and skill level to be considered a center.  Nazr played with his back to the basket, he didn’t really venture far from the paint, and he was a decent rebounded and shot blocker.  All that being said, Duncan was taller and bigger than Nazr, plus he was the primary post guy, thus, he was the center on this team also.

2006-07

Duncan started 80 games at PF.  Fabricio Oberto started 33 games at center and Francisco Elson started 41 games at center.  Oberto was 6’10 and 245 lbs, smaller than Duncan.  Elson was 7’ and 235 lbs, in all reality smaller than Duncan.  These two guys were basically there to guard the other teams better big guy and grab the rebounds that Duncan didn’t get.  He was still the primary post guy and biggest guy in the lineup.  He was the starting center on this team.

2007-08

Duncan started 78 games at PF.  Oberto started 64 games at center.  Same story as the previous season.  Just FYI, the bigs on this particular team were Duncan, Elson, Oberto, and Thomas.

2008-09

Duncan started 75 games at PF.  Matt Bonner started 67 games at F-C, Oberto started 11 games at C, and Kurt Thomas started 10 games at C.  We’ll just ignore Bonner being a center, that’s just ludicrous.  The Oberto argument holds true this year just like it did for the previous two years.  Kurt Thomas was listed as 6’9 and 230 lbs.  If anyone remembers Kurt Thomas, his offensive game was limited to wide open 15 foot jumpers and rebound put backs.  He is NOT a center by any means, although he could effectively guard centers.

I think a few larger problems are the death of the true center ( thanks to Kevin Garnett, which will be addressed in a later rant) and what does it actually take to be considered a center by the NBA.  So to answer that quite simply, there are actually no specific criteria to be listed as a center by the NBA, its totally subjective.  It used to be customary that the starting center was the tallest, biggest guy in the lineup, and he would take the opening jump ball.  Of course now that 3′s, 4′s, and 5′s are all big and tall, the size criteria is almost impossible to classify.  Furthermore, now, instead of always the tallest guy taking the opening tip, its often the tall guy with the best vertical leap.  So in terms of style of play, what distinguishes a center from the other players?  How many guys actually play almost exclusively with their backs to the basket in the paint area?  One, two maybe?  How many guys control the paint, rebound, and block shots (not just from the weak side … which will be discussed further in a separate rant)?  Anyway, in terms of style of play, and statistics Duncan and Olajuwon were nearly identical (Olajuwon was listed as 7′ and 255 lbs. {although we all know he wasn’t near that big} and had career averages of 21.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.1 blocks, 2.5 assists, 1.7 steals, while shooting 51.2% from the field).  So in closing, if Olajuwon was a center, Duncan was a center … that’s my final answer.


4 comments for “Tim Duncan Is A Center

  1. jay
    June 18, 2011 at 3:33 PM

    I agree 100% He’s a center and guards the other team’s center 99% of the time when he’s on the floor.

  2. Hoi
    August 29, 2012 at 4:36 PM

    100% agree with you. I never consider Tim Duncan as a PF. He is a center who refuse to named himself to be center which he supposed to. I have nothing against Duncan and I like him as a player with such fundamental that today’s player lack. BUT he is not a PF and I am sick of him proclaim himself as power forward and media labeled him as best power forward of all time.!!

    To me, he is one of the all time great center behind…..
    Kareem Jabbar
    Wilt Chamberlian
    Hakeem Olajuwon
    Shaq O’Neal
    Bill Russell
    Moses Malone

    • March 27, 2014 at 6:16 AM

      Personally I don’t get why they don’t just put Tim Duncan at center, he plays like a C and he’s seven feet tall. He only plays PF bucease way back in the 90′s David Robinson played center so they put Duncan at Power Forward. And you could easily put Horry at the four.

  3. March 12, 2016 at 1:12 PM

    There are multiple reasons to believe that, but that’s not the point today. Pop has now told us that Duncan has never been a forward, which has to be a surprise to Robinson.

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