'No, I'll just stay here with my ball, thanks. Really.' (AP/Eric Gay)
You might not have noticed — because even when they are unwritten rule-breaking, fake-gun-toting, Twitter-threatening bad boys who also win 82 percent of their games, people still don't pay a ton of attention to the San Antonio Spurs — but Tim Duncan is having a monster season.
Through 21 games, No. 21 is on the cusp of averaging a double-double (17.7 points, 9.9 rebounds) for the first time in four seasons, hitting just under 52 percent of his field goals (also his best mark since '09-10) and continuing to dish assists at a well-above-average rate for a big man. He's blocking shots at a higher clip than he has in nearly a decade, turning the ball over less frequently than ever and grabbing a greater share of available defensive rebounds than in any of his 15 previous NBA seasons. His Player Efficiency Rating is his highest in seven years and, according to Basketball-Reference.com, the fourth best in the entire league this season, trailing only LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant. He's been the best player on the team with the best record in the NBA.
Which is to say: He's been an All-Star, as he's been 13 times in his illustrious career and as he was every year from 2000 through 2011 before the ascendance of Durant and Blake Griffin led to his ouster from the starting lineup last year, and the West's coaches elected not to choose him as a reserve. Except, this time around, he might not necessarily want to be. From Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News:
Duncan, Gregg Popovich told media representatives from Boston to Orlando, should not have been excluded last season and is playing even better this season.
Duncan intends to put a halt to any and all future stops on Popovich's Tim-for-All-Star tour.
"I will not be campaigning," he said. "I haven't heard what Pop's been saying, but I guess I've got to talk to him.
"I wouldn't complain if I'm not on the [All-Star] roster. I want to play well and want to feel good about what I'm doing on the court, but I am not going to be unhappy if I don't make it."
On one hand, it's nice to hear that Duncan isn't placing that much importance on getting an All-Star berth. Western Conference All-Star spots will be tough to come by for big dudes, especially with Durant and Griffin likely to retain their 2012 starting spots and the center position now off the ballot. Maybe 13-time honoree Duncan saying, "Nah, I'm good, thanks" will open fans' minds to casting their ballots for an arguably deserving candidate who's never been to an All-Star game and has put in work on a not-super-great/non-marquee team, like New Orleans' Ryan Anderson or Utah's Al Jefferson, or who has only gone once and is playing well for a contender, like the Memphis duo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, or Golden State's David Lee. (Oh, who am I kidding? If anything, it'd probably just lead to more votes for a not-himself Dwight Howard, a working-his-way-back Kevin Love or a hasn't-played-yet Dirk Nowitzki.)
On the other, this is pretty obviously Duncan saying he'd rather relax than go through the rigamarole of, as he told Monroe back in February, having "to do media six times before playing in the game for five minutes." While some players might view the end of an 11-year streak of All-Star appearances as an upsetting indication that they'd lost a step or that their performance wasn't up to par, Duncan "discovered the joy of a long midseason weekend with his family."
"I enjoyed it tremendously," he told Monroe on Monday.
And while Popovich has been campaigning for his big man to return to All-Star Weekend, I'm sure he wouldn't mind Duncan getting a few days of rest in after averaging more than 30 minutes per game this season for the first time in three years. Especially when you consider that San Antonio will enter February's All-Star break coming off a five-game road trip that begins in Minnesota, goes east through Detroit to Brooklyn and heads back to the Midwest for games against Chicago and Cleveland, and begin the second half with a four-game West Coast trip that will feature a Thursday-Friday back-to-back against the top two teams in the Pacific Division, the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors. After all, we know that Pop's all about thinking for the long term, potential discipline be damned.
At this stage of Duncan's career, he's only playing for championships and immortality anyway, and a fifth championship ring looks way more impressive than a 14th All-Star berth; if a few days off would help Duncan keep looking like the fire of old as he gets closer to his 37th birthday and keeps the Spurs producing at a top-of-the-league level headed into the playoffs, I'm sure San Antonio fans would be more than happy to avoid voting for him, love him though they might.
If Duncan does wind up getting selected, though, whether by the fans or the coaches, it'll be interesting to see if Pop and general manager R.C. Buford wind up informing the league in advance of the All-Star game that Timmy's hamstrings have been feeling a bit tight of late. Fool the Spurs once, and all that.
Hat-tip to SLAM.