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Duncan Versus Garnett

Since it's come up in comments, why not weigh in? I don't actually have an opinion on this, except to note that Garnett certainly looks better when you watch him play. I believe, however, in dogmatic adherence to the numbers. And the Duncan/Garnett comparison is an easy one to make, since they're exactly the same age and you can just toss KG's first two seasons out and do an apples to apples comparison.

Garnett's scoring (18.5, 20.8, 22.9, 22.0, 21.2, 23.0, 24.2, 22.2, and 21.8 ppg) has usually been somewhat worse than Duncan's (21.1, 21.7, 23.2, 22.2, 25.5, 23.2, 22.3, 20.3, and 18.6 ppg) though that's changed in the past two seasons. All else being equal, Garnett probably should score more than Duncan, since Duncan has much better teammates and therefore other options. The standard defense of a guy who scores slightly fewer points might be that he scores them more efficiently than the other guy. That's not the case here. Rather, Duncan's true shooting percentages (.577, .541, .555, .536, .576, .564, .534, .540, and .523) as compared to Garnett's (.527, .493, .545, .531, .536, .553, .547, .567, and .589) show essentially the same pattern -- Duncan was the more effective scorer for most of their careers, but Garnett's been better for the past couple of years.

In terms of rebound rate Garnett's numbers (13.9, 15.4, 17.1, 16.4, 17.8, 18.8, 20.1, 20.3, 19.6) started out worse than Duncan's (17.6, 16.4, 18.1, 17.8, 18.0, 19.0, 19.0, 19.4, 18.7) but, once again, have been better recently. Duncan's turnover ratios (13.9, 11.5, 12.0, 11.1, 11.0, 11.1, 10.0, 08.2, 10.6) are almost uniformly worse than Garnett's (9.7, 10.2, 11.3, 10.0, 10.2, 09.4, 08.7, 09.7, 09.5). Or, to just aggregate it all, you can look at PER, where, once again Duncan's numbers (22.8, 23.2, 24.8, 23.8, 27.0, 26.9, 27.1, 27.0, 23.1) were better for a while, but Garnett (20.4, 22.4, 23.6, 23.9, 23.8, 26.4, 29.4, 28.2, 26.8) has been superior in recent years.

In sum, then, most seasons that they've both been in the league, Duncan's been better. In another sense, Garnett's probably had a better career. He was a very good player for several seasons before Duncan turned pro. Then Duncan entered the league, was better, and stayed better as they both improved. But for the past two-three seasons, Garnett's been better. And they're both young enough to keep playing for a while, during which which time it seems reasonable to assume that KG will be superior. I don't really know which way is the right way to look at this, and, of course, it sort of depends on what happens in the future.

April 25, 2006 | Permalink

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Comments

MY, I think what you're missing is that Duncan has performed much better in the NBA Finals than Garnett has. Duncan's obviously the far better player.

Posted by: DJ Ninja | Apr 25, 2006 5:01:24 PM

My main complaint with Garnett is that he should score MUCH more than he does. PER, etc. are nice, but need context to be interpreted. Garnett was esentially in a Kobe-like situation this year, the only really good player on a bad team; the best choice in that situation is to carry as much of the scoring load as possible, since the rest of your teammates are effective only with limited usage rates. Instead, Garnett ranks 36 in usage rate among players with 1000 or more min. Even if his TS% dropped a bit as his FGA increased (quite likely) the team would probably improve: it's simply unbelievable that a player as good on a team as offensively poor as Minnesotta (27 in off. eff.) doesn't shoots more.

Posted by: Carlos | Apr 25, 2006 5:11:33 PM

These numbers, while relevant, are simply not the most persuasive data points in an argument over who is better. The fact is, the past two years where Garnett has emerged as statistically "better" than Duncan, Garnett has failed to even make the playoffs. Can you even conceive of a team with a healthy Duncan that doesn't make the playoffs? No way. You could probably take that even further and ask: can you conceive of a Duncan-led team that doesn't make a serious push for the championship? That question actually sort of answers itself because outside of this year, the Spurs have essentially remade their roster every year since he entered the league. Duncan has in fact won a championship with three drastically different teams and made a push with several other rosters. Garnett's teams have failed to even make a postseason noise outside of 2004. His numbers are great but meaningless. For example, look at Starbury, he has terrific numbers but is a world-class loser. Garnett simply doesn't have the immeasurable quality of a champion. Duncan exemplifies it.

Posted by: MP | Apr 25, 2006 5:27:39 PM

MP, methinks you take your love of Duncan too far. To analogize, I think we can all agree that AI is one of the greatest players of his generation, suggesting that the question "can anyone conceive of a team with a healthy AI that doesn't make the playoffs?" just isn't that instructive.

Petey?

Posted by: DJ Ninja | Apr 25, 2006 5:35:49 PM

Well, I would say that a team that starts Marko Jaric, Wally Szczerbiak, Trenton Hasell and Mark Blount next to Duncan, could very well fail to qualify for the playoffs. Duncan has never had a supporting crew that bad; most of them are almost marginal players. When your best teammate is Wally World, you are in real trouble.

Posted by: Carlos | Apr 25, 2006 5:37:25 PM

"Can you even conceive of a team with a healthy Duncan that doesn't make the playoffs? No way."

I'll let others with better imaginations do the work on this one.

Posted by: DJ Ninja | Apr 25, 2006 5:37:57 PM

Can you even conceive of a team with a healthy Duncan that doesn't make the playoffs? No way.

In Garnett's defense, he was injured quite a bit last year. This year, no real excuse, but I'm not convinced they make the playoffs if you swap Garnett and Duncan.

That said, I think Duncan's results speak for themselves (and he's been injured this year!), so this isn't even that interesting a discussion. I'm pretty sure if you polled 30 NBA GMs, somewhere between 25 and 30 would take Duncan. Probably closer to 30.

Posted by: right | Apr 25, 2006 5:42:15 PM

i feel dutybound to defend timmy's honor/take the bait: i think you put duncan (healthy) on the twolves this year, they make the playoffs. you can offer up any number of folk with marginally better numbers, but until they drag a team through thick and thin to 3 championships in 7 years, one run marred by injury, other by freakish fisher shot, another by injury to whoever that guard was they thought was third option, i'm taking duncan for my team. what i love about this is that this is exactly the debate that's been had most years duncan has been in the league, but the burden is on those who would pick kobe over duncan, wade over duncan, even (these days) shaq over duncan to justify it, not the other way round. who other than MJ in past 30 years (modern NBA) has been more dominant than duncan over same period? magic i think would be the only one. i asked this a few weeks somewhere, but the mystery to me is why a good big man is just way, way more valuable than any guard or whatever. e.g., mcgrady may have looked like the second coming, but that doesn't win championships unless you're jordan plus pippen plus the zen master/tex.

so i think comparing KG to duncan is just silly. KG's done nothing when it counts (kind of like bonds that way), though he's clearly a supremely talented freak of nature who could help out any number of teams. now, comparing duncan to shaq might be interesting (i've never understood where most dominant ever claim comes from where the guy lags jordan by 3 rings). but i ramble.

Posted by: dj superflat | Apr 25, 2006 5:50:33 PM

I agree with superflat: I like his KG-as-Bonds comparison, and am reminded of the old Montana/Marino and more recent Brady/Manning debates in their blinding obviousness once you pulled your head out of the numbers. Or, to bring it back to basketball, like debating Olajuwan vs. Ewing.

Posted by: right | Apr 25, 2006 5:55:27 PM

i asked this a few weeks somewhere, but the mystery to me is why a good big man is just way, way more valuable than any guard or whatever. e.g., mcgrady may have looked like the second coming, but that doesn't win championships unless you're jordan plus pippen plus the zen master/tex.

Guards (who aren't Jordan with Pippin, Jax, Tex) don't win championships? I'm sure Isaiah the player would disagree.

Posted by: Al | Apr 25, 2006 6:11:30 PM

The PER-based analysis misses the following: The Spurs of the last seven years have been one of the great defensive teams in this history of the league. I believe they've been rated 1 or 2 in each of those years although I could be missing one. Anyway, given that:

1. San Antonio has won three titles in seven years,
2. While being a dominant defense, and
3. Duncan is the core of that defense,

It would seem that Duncan is the better player.

Posted by: QuietStorm | Apr 25, 2006 6:14:14 PM

i should have said guards without a serious supporting cast, perhaps? (isiah had laimbeer, dennis, dumars, others, take those away and he's likely franchise or starburry (somewhat kidding to make a point).) it just seems like you can ride a big man much farther than a guard or small forward (i suspect because they also provide blocks, boards, effectively play D against multiple people by clogging lane, etc.).

Posted by: dj superflat | Apr 25, 2006 6:16:43 PM

DJ, I think a quality PG or equivalent ball-handler-by-committee is absolutely vital in the playoffs. 24 Seconds is not that long, and it becomes really tough to score with a post-based offense when you're entering the ball with under 10 seconds with regularity. (repeated sequence of instant double, kick-out, swing and Bruce Bowen trying to break his guy down in 3 seconds or less. Not pretty.)

Posted by: Pooh | Apr 25, 2006 6:30:57 PM

Garnett looks better on the court, I agree. But just sitting at your computer, is Garnett potentially one of the 15-25 best players of all time? I don't think he enters the discussion. Is Duncan? Maybe, maybe not, but I think most people would consider him.

Look at it another way: what more would you have Duncan do? - what, from a player in his position (franchise big man) could he improve on? I can't think of anything, whereas obviously there's things I and others point out as lacking from Garnett's game. Namely, I don't think he's got the gumption and I think when push comes to shove the limits of his offensive game work against him. It's sad, and I don't think it had to be this way, but I think Simmons may be right - KG is the ultimate second banana. All the talent and all the competitiveness of an all time great, but he's just...missing...something.

Posted by: Quarterican | Apr 25, 2006 6:44:27 PM

I think we can all agree that AI is one of the greatest players of his generation

I wouldn't agree. He's one of the greatest scorers of his generation, but not one of the greatest all-around players, not unless you define "his generation" very narrowly.

Posted by: antid_oto | Apr 25, 2006 7:10:37 PM

what more would you have Duncan do? - what, from a player in his position (franchise big man) could he improve on?

FT shooting and turnovers. But those are pretty minor quibbles.

As for Garnett "just missing something" let me reprint my post from the earlier thread since it seemed to get lost in the new post shuffle

"Garnett also doesn't have the footwork or the balance to be a really great low post scorer, and lacks the last little explosiveness to get to the hoop against a physical defender.

Garnett makes me think of Feinstein's "A Season Inside" where he was recounting speaking with Ed Manning (then a Kansas assistant and a former ABA Reggie Evans-type) talking about his son Danny and describing the way he could just inuitively learn offensive moves, because I think KG lacks that inventiveness to a degree."

Posted by: Pooh | Apr 25, 2006 7:17:24 PM

"A player who makes a team great is much more valuable than a great player" - John Wooden

I think this quote applies to this argument. Garnett may be the better athlete, but Duncan makes everyone around him better and is a champion. I like both players, however I feel that Duncan deserves more credit for winning.

This quote also applies to why Kobe is not the MVP.

Posted by: Just Karl | Apr 25, 2006 7:18:59 PM

There are only two players left on this Maverick team from the 2002-03 tean that took SA to seven games, Nowitzki and Griffin. Avery Johnson is going to get a lot of credit this year, but does it matter if the defense is improved if SA knocks the Mavericks out of the playoffs?

Are these supporting players, though good and deep and athletic, really better than the run-and-gun teams with Finley, Van Exel, Steve Nash? Nowitzki wins games, and playoff games, he just keeps running into Tim Duncan in the playoffs. I would take Nowitzki over Garnett in a heartbeat.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Apr 25, 2006 7:47:37 PM

2 other points:

Except against the very best, down 5 at home with two minutes to go, Nowitzki is going to win the game. Period.

Nowitzki is close in age to Garnett & Duncan, and played 82 games this year, with plenty of minutes.
Injuries may be partly genetic, partly luck, but also partly conditioning and work ethic. Nowitzki has been there.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Apr 25, 2006 8:09:34 PM

So much hating on Garnett. Makes my heart feel a little heavy . . .

Posted by: DJ Ninja | Apr 25, 2006 8:10:22 PM

The more NBA playoffs on TV I watch, the more I find that I really, really want a Fanta.

And while I'll wait until it hits cable to see it, the spot for Scary Movie 4 where it's the Saw parody and Shaquille says, "Kobe?" is very, very funny.

And finally, I'm very happy because I've found a yummy Grenache-Syrah blend at Trader Joe's for $5. Petey has a new house wine.

-----

On the topic at hand, Garnett is about a pick 'em with Duncan. Garnett, as Matthew has ably shown, is noticeably better on the offensive end. Duncan is a notch better on the defensive end. Duncan is more of a post player than Garnett, which increases his value a bit during the playoffs.

Like I said, about even.

The gollums in the crowd will cry, "The riiiiiiiiings, my precious. What about the three riiiiiiiings?" But they're gollums, so unless they happen to actually be Sam Cassell, or unless you happen to live in middle earth, you can safely ignore them.

Posted by: Petey | Apr 25, 2006 8:15:18 PM

Garnett, as Matthew has ably shown, is noticeably better on the offensive end.

Shenanigans! (alternatively, lies, damn lies and statistics...)

Posted by: Pooh | Apr 25, 2006 8:25:37 PM

"There are only two players left on this Maverick team from the 2002-03 tean that took SA to seven games"

He's gotten too old now, but back in both the Mavs days, I enjoyed watching Nick Van Exel as much as anyone else in the association. Stone motherfucking cold assassin.

Posted by: Petey | Apr 25, 2006 8:28:08 PM

Ahh, Nick the Gangster. Has Racine, WI ever produced a more noble figure?

[Answer: No.]

Posted by: DJ Ninja | Apr 25, 2006 8:40:39 PM

Who'll blink first? Drew Gooden or Caron Butler?

Posted by: Petey | Apr 25, 2006 8:49:30 PM

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