The Big Fundamental, Groundhog Day, Death & Taxes. In case you didn’t know, these are all nicknames of the continually great Tim Duncan. Repetitive, constant, ever present and just not very exciting. Those are the characteristics that these nicknames describe Duncan as. But what does Tim Duncan do that gives him this description?
I was watching a San Antonio Spurs game at the beginning of the playoffs and my friend made the comment that Duncan “hits that mid-range shot all the time.” I’m naturally a contrarian and immediately wanted to argue with him, but I just wasn’t sure. Duncan being a mid-range shooter felt right. Is it?
The Big Fundamental was the 77th best mid-range shooter in the NBA in the 2013-14 regular season.1 Duncan was just 130-for-354 (36.7%), the second lowest amount of field goals made from that range in his career2 but only the fifth lowest attempts from that range. His shooting percentage on these shots this season is the second-lowest of his career, with the 2005-06 season coming in last (141/401 – 35.2%).3
As you can see, the 38-year-old big man does have some good zones in the mid-range despite having a bad overall percentage on the season. Have Duncan’s mid-range woes continued in this playoffs? While a small sample, it seems to hold true for both his percentages and shot charts. Duncan is at 37.5% from the mid-range in the postseason4 and his shot chart still shows a few good zones, but an overall lack of consistent success.
Every player is prone to bad shooting stretches, some as long as seasons. Having that in mind, the statement that Duncan is a good mid-range shooter has generally been true throughout his career. His career average from the mid-range of 41.1% would jump him up to 44th this season and this is only the fourth time that Duncan has ever been below the arbitrary 40% threshold.
Duncan made his name in the post, setting screens, playing both ends of the floor and doing it all with extreme consistency. His bread and butter is the restricted area, as shown by the amount of attempts he takes there and he converts on a healthy 64.7% there. Duncan does this through post moves and methodical play, not relying solely on dunks and alley-oops.5
Looking at just the mid-range success and seeing an OK but not revelatory player should tell you one thing when that player is Duncan … you’re looking at the wrong stat. The Big Fundamental has been a capable mid-range shooter his whole career but he’s no Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Bosh or Serge Ibaka. We should probably adjust our expectancies for this part of Duncan’s game for the rest of the postseason, but if Duncan is back in 2014-15, I wouldn’t be shocked to see this percentage jump back above 42%. Death and Taxes after all.