Although Duncan and the men in black were world champions just four years ago, it has become increasingly evident that Duncan is beginning to fade. At age 35, who can blame him? The Big Fundamental’s minutes have been limited the last two years in an effort to save his energy for the playoffs, a strategy that has led to an increased offensive tempo in the River City.
Although his minutes have decreased, the statistics on Duncan show a star fading in efficiency. Duncan’s PER had been in the mid-24 range for the last three years until 2010-11 when it dipped to 21.9 â€“ nothing to sneeze at to be sure, but cause for concern.
For comparison, at similar points in their careers, the efficiency of two other Hall of Famers in Karl Malone and Kevin McHale began to drop as well. When Malone was 35 in 2002-03 his PER was respectable at 21.7. The next year it dropped to 17.8 despite his usage rate tumbling a full 9%. That means that despite having less pressure on him to be the mainstay in an offense, Malone still wasn’t able to produce as a player in the same efficient manner he had in years past. Although McHale’s usage rate only took a 3% drop when he turned 36 in 1992-93 his PER dropped a full 4 points to just 14.4, the lowest of his career.
Both Malone and McHale retired after the next season.
I asked Pounding the Rock‘s Justin Biehle about when he thought Duncan might retire and he wrote me a two-part answer via e-mail interview: “I’d honestly say I think he’ll be around for at least two more years. But if the Spurs are fortunate enough to claim another title in the coming season I wouldn’t be surprised to see him ride into the sunset while on top.”
Whether the Spurs are able to press the issue for a championship next season is a quandary all in itself. The Spurs were ousted last year by the upstart Memphis Grizzlies in just the first round and after Tony Parker‘s alleged lack of confidence in the Spurs’ ability to challenge for a ring next year, the final bell may have tolled on the boys in black. Whether or not Parker is a part of the roster was a sticking point for Biehle.
“If Duncan feels that Parker is integral to championship success but is traded away before or during a season in which the Spurs don’t win it all, I wouldn’t be surprised if Duncan hangs ’em up for good,” wrote Biehle via e-mail interview.