All apologies: KG vs. Duncan

“I wish I was like you… easily amused.”

Kurt Cobain


A recent post on The NBA Dribbled Out and some goading by my fellow staffers at No Coast Bias has lead me to write to you, gentle readers, on this crisp, Fall morning when football is on the mind of most red-blooded Americans.  Read:

It is a worthy debate, as both these hall of fame talents wind down their careers.  I am thankful that my counterpart on Dribbled Out starts out right away by saying Duncan has had the better career.  He’s 100% right – KG was not able to duplicate the team success that Duncan enjoyed over the course of his career.  That does not mean KG’s career should be denigrated; in many ways his success came in spite of his organization’s structure and leadership, not because of it.  Where it’s easy to see where Duncan benefitted from the presence and continuity of Greg Popovich, Avery Johnson and David Robinson, KG had a different path.  After an initial wave of solid, winning veterans early in his career (such as Terry Porter and Sam Mitchell, both future NBA coaches), KG was asked to cover for mediocre, one-way talents like Wally Szczerbiak, Troy Hudson and Trenton Hassell.  Magic Johnson’s versatility was a strength the Lakers used to make a good team great.  Garnett’s versatility was squandered making average teams good, a point best driven home by the Wolves’ 7 consecutive first round exits in the late 90s and early 00s.

Until his last two years in MN, KG never played with another guy who was selected for an all-NBA team (Latrell Sprewell, who was selected in 1994 and was nowhere near the same player in Minnesota, and Sam Cassell).  Until he went to Boston, he never played with a guy who had a chance to go to the hall of fame (Ray Allen and Paul Pierce).  Interesting to note now in 2012 that “The Decision” that made LeBron a pariah (for a while, anyway) was actually the same move made by KG two years earlier – Garnett initially resisted a trade to Boston until Danny Ainge brought Ray Allen in, creating the East’s first modern Big 3.

Anyway, Dribbled Out is right – Duncan has had the better career.  I would like to redirect (my comments in bold below) on some of his amusing “Silly Debate: Garnett vs. Duncan” points toward the end his post, though.  And if you’d rather read about the NFL this morning, all apologies:

The Silly Debate

Trying to get to the bar through a packed concert crowd: Duncan.

Garnett is too restless to just stand by while things are happening on the way to the bar. There’s a solid chance he’ll start a fight with someone if they step on his kicks, and you can be sure he’ll be pissed if he can’t hear the music. Duncan is mellow, and he’ll want to get to the bar, get his drink, then get the fuck back to whatever chill corner he’s picked out to get his drink on and listen to the band. This is probably null and void since Duncan only goes to Nascar events.

Dude… NO NBA player goes to NASCAR events.  Garnett is the clear choice here.

Instigating a fight: Garnett

See the above reasons, but Garnett’s always getting into stuff on the court. People outside Boston loathe him these days after a series of ridiculous scenarios with opponents, and his DMX Rough Riders routine is tiresome even for his fans. He’s probably chill off the court, but if you really want to get into some shit, Garnett would be a good choice. I’m almost 100% positive Duncan has never been in a fight in his entire life, and if he was faced with the prospect of a possible physical altercation, he’d probably just laugh.

Garnett has become an instigator in the back half of his career – don’t forget he came into the league out of High School and spent several of his early years taking his licks from the likes of Brian Grant and Cliff Robinson.   But Garnett has always been completely business off the court.  Neither of these guys have to start any mess in real life – that’s what guys like Brian Scalabrine are on the roster for.  Neither Duncan nor Garnett would instigate a real fight.

Inspirational speech before OT or during a 4th quarter timeout in a close game: Garnett

Garnett’s the emotional equivalent of every climactic sports scene in film history when it’s do or die. He’s so amped up during regular season games, when it’s time to decide the winner of a closely fought game, he’s the guy that will do anything, say anything, to get you ready to go out and kick butt just a little while longer. Even though Duncan has won a lot more, he’s never been a fiery speaker, and while he might have some great, yet subtle, advice about the best way to position yourself when the ball goes down low, he’s not gonna make you feel like you will do anything to win; at least, not with his words on the sidelines.

Interesting note here – KG was roundly criticized early in his career for being too uninvolved from a leadership standpoint.  He had to learn to be a leader.  So yes, NOW he’s the emotional equivalent of every climactic sport scene in film history.  But it was a long road here.

For the bulk of his career, he directed a lot of his emotion inward – which you can still see when Garnett does his pregame “crazy muttering, basket-support headbutting” routine.  I think this is why his yapping comes off as somewhat hollow – as his athletic gifts have become more limited, he’s gotten louder and more outwardly emotional on the court.  In his prime, the vast majority of that emotion was directed at himself.  In short, a lot of Garnett’s current theatrics are because he can’t jump like he used to.  I’ll take Garnett as the inspiring guy now, but I’d rather have 2004 Garnett who didn’t need to act crazy to win games.

Game-winning shot: Garnett

Garnett has better range, and he could get off a jumper against anyone when he was in his prime. Duncan has hit a bunch of game-winners over this career, but he’s not as accurate from 17+ feet  as Garnett and he’s not as comfortable outside the paint. If it’s a game-winner, the defense will double Duncan on the block, and he won’t get a look without some sneaky Popovich screen, so Garnett’s dexterity with the ball at the top of the key and shooting ability is his primary advantage.

I’ve probably seen 750 Garnett games over the last 16 years, and I can remember him hitting one game winning shot.  He should be a better crunch time guy because of his physical gifts, but in practice he probably goes too fast.  It’s not an accident that his best teams have had Sam Cassell and Paul Pierce taking the last shots.  Garnett is like Shaq was in this way – he can carry you 95% of the way there, but you don’t want him taking the last shot.  I’d take Duncan here.

Game-winning defensive stand: Duncan

Duncan has always been the defensive back-bone of the Spurs. Before the Spurs’ 2012 run and gun team that led the league in scoring, they’d been one of the top defensive teams in the league for the better part of a decade. Sure, KG has that DPOY award, but that was primarily the way he played defense: all-out, constantly talking to his teammates, calling out screens and defending the rim as much as his svelte body could handle (he was never one to pound with the big boys down low—although he certainly acted like he did). I’d prefer my defenders talented, smart and tough, and Duncan’s career and thinking man’s psychology back him up in that regard.

Again, my experience in watching KG is that I’d much rather he be playing for a defensive stop at the end of a game than hitting a game winning shot.  A lot of KG’s antics now (again, more pronounced here at the end of his career) are more effective on defense than offense anyway, predicated on distraction rather than execution.  But both these guys are all-world defenders – call it a push.



Mike Lipetzky has been a Timberwolves fan since the franchise’s inception in 1989.  That means he once saw an NBA game in the Metrodome, which is an even worse basketball venue than it is for baseball.  He’s a regular contributor at NoCoastBias.  Find him on Facebook and Twitter.






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