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OKLAHOMA CITY —
At the end of last season, San Antonio Spurs post Tim Duncan had been all but counted out as a serious competitor. At the age of 36 with an expiring contract, many wondered if the 16-year NBA veteran’s stay in San Antonio would be up, especially after the dream of a title was dealt a crushing blow by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals.
On July 11, Spurs fans rejoiced as Duncan signed a three-year contract with the Spurs for about $30 million, all but guaranteeing that he would retire with the franchise. When the 2012-13 season began, Spurs fans had another reason to rejoice. The show that Duncan led on the court was with the passion, energy and skill that fans remembered from younger days. Statistically, the majority of Duncan’s averages have risen.
He averages 30.2 minutes per game, the most since his 2009-2010 season and is scoring 17.1 points per game, also the most since his 2009-2010 season. His current field goal percentage of 49.9 is an improvement over last year’s stats and his free throw percentage of 79.1 is almost the best of his career, comparable only with the 79.9 he shot from the line in 2001-02. The rebounds, assists, blocks and steals all tell the same story: Each stat line is an improvement from the year or years before.
Although his stats are better, Duncan said he is playing the same game he always has.
“Nothing has changed,” he said. “I am playing it as it comes. I feel good. I feel healthy. I have started pretty well.”
Thanks to Duncan, the Spurs are off to a pretty good start as well. Coming into Monday’s game at Oklahoma City, San Antonio was tied with the Thunder for the most wins in the NBA: 19. Despite a 107-93 loss, the Spurs are still top the Southwest division with a record of 19-8.
While much hasn’t changed for Duncan, one thing he and the rest of the Spurs are getting used to is the constantly shifting starting lineup that is a result of Coach Gregg Popovich’s tinkering and the continued injury of Kawhi Leonard. During both Saturday’s game against the Boston Celtics and Monday’s game against the Thunder, Tiago Splitter was a surprising choice for starter and due to his success, it is not unlikely that he could hold that role in games throughout the season.
“It gives us a different look,” Duncan said. “We are still learning to play with each other little more. He is more of a role guy and more of a post guy. I have kind of evolved into more of a mid-range and pot guy. Obviously, the size is good for us on the boards. Defensively, he has been solid. He is confident. He is playing real confident right now. We will see what happens with what Pop sticks with and what he decided to go with. I think he is just experimenting at this point and seeing what happens.ss
During the Spurs battle against the Thunder Monday, Duncan played 23 minutes, scoring 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting. He was 2-for-2 from the free throw line and had five rebounds, one assist, one block and one steal.