When it comes to the early 2000’s legends, two names often appear when the best big men are talked about. Both Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett are first -ballot HOF players who have left a massive impact on the NBA Universe. Both guys were extremely respected, loved, and renowned for their play on the court.
Both players have tasted glory in the NBA Finals, while also amassing incredible individual accolades. Garnett and Duncan are widely regarded as two of the best power forwards of all time, and many claim that Duncan sits firmly on top as the best ever.
But is this really the case? Or does KG have something to say about it? While Duncan won many more rings, Garnett’s impact on the floor for both the Timberwolves and the Celtics will former go down in history.
It is time to settle the debate between these two all-time great big men.
Inside Scoring – Tim Duncan
While Duncan is popular for his mid-range shots off the backboard, he was very proficient in the paint. He had a strong hook and had enough strength to finish many And-One plays. Duncan was proudly a power forward who loved to play inside, and would never shy away from contact.
Garnett was also a beast inside and was very effective at put-back baskets and layups around the rim. However, he was mostly a finesse offensive player who preferred to play along the perimeter than inside. He was strong, but was leaner than Duncan and was a bit quicker.
Duncan takes this first one.
Outside Scoring – Kevin Garnett
Garnett and Duncan could both do damage on the inside and the outside. But Duncan was simply better than Garnet inside the paint, while Garnett had a further range from the perimeter.
Garnett was automatic from mid-range and had an array of moves including a fadeaway jumper. He would often get double-teamed on the block because his turn-around shot was too deadly.
Duncan developed an incredibly proficient jump shot that would seemingly always bank in off the backboard. He became synonymous with using the board probably better than anyone in NBA history.
But Garnett could extend farther, even showcasing an ability to hit three-pointers every now and then. He was better at shooting from the perimeter where he focused most of his work unlike Duncan, who was mostly a post-up threat.
Garnett evens it up 1-1.
Playmaking – Tim Duncan
Both players were exceptional at playmaking, mainly due to their dominance on the offensive end. KG was a monster, who was capable of 30 points a night in his prime. He had all the tools offensively, both inside and outside, and was constantly forced to pass out of double-teams. He was accurate, averaging at most 6 assists per game as the superstar in Minnesota.
But Duncan was a slightly better playmaker. He was such a perfect offensive player that he was often the cog through which the Spurs ran their plays. He would get the ball and would make the right decision every time. Rarely does Duncan ever force a bad shot, rather he leads to a score.
Duncan takes this one 2-1.
Athleticism – Kevin Garnett
While Duncan was a big body who had the strength of a center, Garnett was more agile and could contort his body better. Garnett would often make athletic plays around the rim, finishing above contact or around it. He was very slim, which allowed him to move easier around the court on both ends.
While Duncan was athletic enough for his position, KG’s quickness and agility put him over Duncan here.
The score is now 2-2.
Defense – Even
While both players were exceptional offensive players, they made their names on the defensive end. Garnett was the defensive leader for both the Timberwolves and the Celtics, making sure everyone was in the right place every time. He was very vocal, demanding, and active on the defensive end and it’s the main reason why he eventually became an NBA Champion. KG was agile enough to stay with guards on the perimeter and was a threat on-ball as well.
Similarly, Duncan led the charge for his team defensively and was the anchor for defending the rim. His basketball I.Q. was off the charts, and it’s the reason why he could play in the league for so long. Even when his athleticism completely went away with age, he was still able to be in the right positions to defend.
KG and Duncan were both excellent defensively, so it’s even here.
Rim Protection – Even
KG and Duncan were excellent defensive players who thrived on stopping plays at the basket. Garnett was tough, passionate, and effective as the defensive leader in the paint. Even when outweighed, KG would fight for possession and prevent buckets. Most famously, he would never let a shot go in after the whistle. He made it known that this is his territory.
Duncan, although just as effective defensively, went about defending with put intangibles. While not as athletic as KG, he knew how to defend the rim and where to place himself in a position to alter the shot, get a block, or snatch the rebound.
Both players were amazing defenders, so it’s even here again.
Rebounds – Tim Duncan
KG was a solid rebounder, especially during his time with the Timberwolves. He averaged nearly 14 rpg in one season with the Wolves and averaged 10 rebounds for his career. KG was very active on the boards and played with pure passion and desire to get both offensive and defensive rebounds.
Duncan was also a beast on the boards, averaging 10.8 rpg for his career. While he never reached the single-season high of KG in rebounds, he was a slightly more consistent rebounder who would average 9 boards a game even much later on in his career. While he wasn’t very athletic, Duncan knew how to be a man on the boards.
Advantage Duncan here.
Clutch – Even
Since both players were the leaders of their teams, they would often be tasked with making game-winning plays and clutch baskets. KG could score from the perimeter very well and would attract double-teams in these moments. Similarly, Duncan was effective from mid-range and often used his post-game to get easy buckets down the stretch.
Both KG and Duncan were not afraid of the moment and accepted responsibility when the game was on the line. For their confidence in their abilities and countless winning plays on both ends, it is once again.
Leadership – Kevin Garnett
Both KG and Duncan were All-NBA talents, champions, and leaders. KG led by his impact and presence on the court, often being very vocal and placing everyone (including himself) accountable. KG would not accept poor effort and demanded a lot from his teammates.
Alternatively, Duncan led by example, especially on the defensive end. He was the anchor, and he was the main man every single year with the Spurs. Even when surrounded by other Hall-of-Famers such as Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, it was Duncan who led that team every year. His defensive dominance and near perfection on the court made him an outstanding leader.
But KG’s presence was too much. He forced players around him to be better, and his ability to lead vocal puts him slightly above Duncan.
Basketball I.Q. – Tim Duncan
KG clearly had a high basketball I.Q. and often dominated the game on both ends of the floor. He knew how to play the game at a high level and simply knew how to win.
Duncan was the epitome of supreme intangibles and was able to play very late on in his career. Even when he played minor minutes, his impact was supreme due to his outstanding basketball I.Q.
Both players are very close to one another, but Duncan might have had the highest basketball I.Q. for a big man in NBA history. He was the man who led his team to multiple championships and deserves the edge over KG here.
Scoring – Kevin Garnett
Both players could score the ball well, from the inside and the outside. While Duncan preferred the post-game, KG preferred to do his damage from the perimeter.
Still, KG takes the edge here. He simply had more moves to offer than Duncan, who only ventured outside to the mid-range. Garnett was very good at long jumpers and was more agile getting to his spots. Garnett’s versatility gives him the edge over Duncan here slightly.
Impact – Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan edges out Garnett here, mainly thanks to his unrivaled basketball I.Q. Duncan could play well into his late 30’s and early 40’s, thanks to his knowledge of the game and how to impact it at the highest level. Even when Duncan could barely run anymore, he would be one of the games best defensive big men under the rim. He was simply too dominant and his impact was unbelievable.
Garnett also impacted the game at a high level, through his defensive dominance and vocal leadership. As one of the most impactful players at the power forward position of all time, Garnett was a winner and a leader of the highest order.
Duncan’s longevity and dedication to excellent put him over KG here.
1 on 1 Game – Even
Duncan was a force on the inside, often able to take his man one-on-one with ease. He was strong, smart, and efficient on the block and could counter an opponent very well. He often would spin around and finish at the rim around a defender when they decided to reach.
KG was also effective one-on-one and could use his agility to get by defenders or set up his jump shot whenever he felt like it. KG had a strong jumper and could drain it with a hand in his face all game long.
Overall, both players have excellent one-on-one games that translated to dominance on the court for a very long time. It is even here.