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LeBron James vs. Tim Duncan Career Comparison: 5 Championships Beats 4, But King James Has The Better Career And More Individual Accolades

LeBron James vs. Tim Duncan Career Comparison: 5 Championships Beats 4, But King James Has The Better Career And More Individual Accolades

LeBron James is widely regarded as the best small forward of all time and possibly a top-two talent that ever played the game. The King is a polarizing figure for the way he plays the game and also for the way he is outspoken, but there is no doubt he is a tremendous talent with incredible basketball skills. A 4-time champion with 4 Finals MVPs and 4 MVP awards, LeBron changed the NBA by encouraging players to take matters into their own hands and control their own destinies. Not to mention, James is on pace to become the greatest scorer of all time in terms of total points scored and is still competing at a superstar level as he approaches his 20th season.

Meanwhile, Tim Duncan is regarded as the greatest power forward of all time after having 19 seasons of elite play on both ends of the floor. No power forward has the number of accolades that Duncan has accumulated over his Hall of Fame career, and he is at the core of a San Antonio Spurs dynasty that won 5 NBA championships. We have yet to see any power forward come close to what Duncan has done in terms of consistency, longevity, and all-around dominance. But which superstar forward had the better career?

Both LeBron and Duncan had amazing careers and should be honored as two of the top-10 players of all time. Their achievements are extraordinary, and their longevity is something that is hard to compare to. To try to distinguish between the 2 legends, it is time to compare the careers of both players by their most important achievements and statistical categories. The end result might be surprising because both stars are held in the highest light.


Championships

LeBron James: 4 (2012, 2013, 2016, 2020)

Tim Duncan: 5 (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2014)

In terms of winning titles at the highest level, LeBron James does not have the edge. James won 4 titles with 3 different teams, with multiple Finals runs with the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers. Of course, he won the title in the 2020 “Bubble” with the Los Angeles Lakers at the expense of the Miami Heat. Out of all the rings that James has won, there is no doubt that the 2016 championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers is the most important one. Down 3-1 against Stephen Curry’s Warriors, James had a sensational Finals run when he averaged 29.7 PPG, 11.3 RPG, and 8.9 APG and completed a historic comeback to win Game 7.

But Tim Duncan has the edge, winning 5 rings, all as a member of the San Antonio Spurs. His first in 1999 was impressive, as the big man took control of the team from Davis Robinson to win the Finals MVP award. Duncan also won the 2003, 2005, and 2007 championships alongside Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, when the superstar power forward led the charge against the opposition. Of course, Duncan was a member of the 2014 championship side that saw the rise of Kawhi Leonard as a star against a showdown against LeBron James and the Miami Heat.

Winning rings is the single most important part of a superstar's career, and Duncan has the edge over The King. LeBron played with some all-time great players, such as Anthony Davis, Dwyane Wade, and Kyrie Irving, but he was always the best player on the court. Similarly, Duncan played with some elite talent, including Tony Parker, David Robinson, and Kawhi Leonard, and he was the best player in arguably 4 out of those 5 series. But overall, in the raw number of championships won, Tim Duncan has the edge.

Advantage: Tim Duncan


Finals MVP Awards

LeBron James: 4 (2012, 2013, 2016, 2020)

Tim Duncan: 3 (1999, 2003, 2005)

Continuing about being the best player on the team, LeBron was the undisputed best player on the court for his 4 championships. Even if Davis led the regular season in scoring in 2020 or Kyrie Irving hit the biggest shot of the 2016 Finals in Game 7, LeBron was the Finals MVP every time he won an NBA championship. It is amazing how James can immediately become the best player for a franchise everywhere he goes because he is one of the most dominant figures in basketball. Looking over his career, there was never a time when James was not the best talent on the floor for his side, especially in any of his NBA Finals appearances.

Tim Duncan, on the other hand, won 3 Finals MVP awards as Tony Parker won the award in 2007 and Kawhi Leonard won it in 2014. No doubt, the Spurs do not win multiple championships if Duncan is not the leader of the team because his elite two-way play was undisputedly great. Earning three Finals MVPs is impressive, and that thrust him into the conversation for being a top-10 player of all time. Of course, Tim is recognized as being the greatest power forward of all time.

But in the end, James has an edge in Finals MVP awards. There was never a time in which James won the title where he was edged in performances. Whenever James played well, his team won in the Finals, and that was a constant throughout his career. With 4 Finals MVPs to his name versus Duncan’s number of 3 Finals MVPs, there is a clear winner, and it goes to The King.

Advantage: LeBron James


MVP Awards

LeBron James: 4 (2009, 2010, 2012, 2013)

Tim Duncan: 2 (2002, 2003)

The King managed to win an incredible 4 MVP awards, which ranks 4th all-time behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, and Michael Jordan. LeBron might be the greatest regular-season player ever in terms of his consistency and dominance on the court. His MVP seasons occurred in 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2013. In 2009 with the Cavaliers, he averaged 28.4 PPG and 7.6 RPG, followed by 29.7 PPG and 8.6 APG a year later. With the Heat, his back-to-back MVPs resulted in NBA championships by averaging 27.1 PPG and 7.9 RPG, followed by 26.8 PPG and 8.0 RPG.

Meanwhile, Tim Duncan won 2 MVP awards as a member of the Spurs. The first award came in 2002 when the big man posted a career-high 25.5 PPG, 12.7 RPG, and 2.5 BPG while shooting 50.8% from the field. The following year, The Big Fundamental put up 23.3 PPG, 12.9 RPG, and 2.9 BPG while shooting 51.3% from the field. With back-to-back MVP awards to his name, Duncan was already building a Hall of Fame legacy by the early 2000s. But the power forward has 2 fewer MVP awards than The King.

Ultimately, that gives the edge to LeBron James, and it isn’t close. Again, James has been the best player in the league, at least since the 2012 season when he won his first title, and he already had 2 MVP awards to his name before that season started. Just like with the Finals MVP awards, James has an edge in MVP awards and an edge in the comparison.

Advantage: LeBron James


All-NBA Teams

LeBron James: 18 (13 First Team, 3 Second Team, 2 Third Team)

Tim Duncan: 15 (10 First Team, 3 Second Team, 2 Third Team)

LeBron James has to be honored for his incredible longevity. He has played 19 seasons and made the All-Star Team 18 times, something impressive and even more incredible considering most players have not been superstars at the age of late 30s. LeBron James has been a bonafide superstar throughout his entire career and is the greatest small forward of all time. Because of his reign of dominance for so long, James has made a whopping 18 All-NBA Teams, missing it once in his career. Out of those 18 appearances, 13 of them have come with the First Team, an incredible achievement.

Tim Duncan has made 15 All-NBA Teams, with 10 First Team appearances. Of course, those are incredible achievements, and we might not see a player with this type of consistency as a big man again. Even as Duncan aged and lost some speed, he was capable of impacting the game on the defensive end of the court by defending the rim and leading the offense from the paint. But as things stand, Tim Duncan does not have the edge over LeBron James because The King passed up the big man three years ago in terms of All-NBA selections.

Advantage: LeBron James


All-Star Selections

LeBron James: 18

Tim Duncan: 15

LeBron James is an 18-time All-Star, and he made every All-Star Team following his rookie campaign. In fact, the only time James missed the All-Star Team was when he was a rookie who averaged 20.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 5.9 APG. The superstar small forward has incredible career averages of 27.1 PPG, 7.5 RPG, and 7.4 APG on 50.5% FG, 34.6% 3-PT FG, and 73.4% FT. His numbers have been consistent, and so has his play over his entire career as a player for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, and Los Angeles Lakers. Overall, James has been a consistent All-Star presence because of his elite all-around ability. An explosive athlete who has arguably the highest basketball IQ in NBA history, James has been an All-Star stalwart. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has more All-Star appearances (19), although James has a chance to equal that number in the 2023 season.

Meanwhile, Tim Duncan has a total of 15 All-Star appearances. While that does not equal James’ number of selections, that is an incredible achievement for a big man. Most big men struggle to stay healthy for that long and often break down, as they take a ton of damage when battling in the paint. But Duncan is one of the smartest players ever, and he was able to impact the game for a very long time. In the end, nobody has the longevity of LeBron, and The King gets the edge.

Advantage: LeBron James


All-Defensive NBA Teams

LeBron James: 6 (5 First Team, 1 Second Team)

Tim Duncan: 15 (8 First Team, 7 Second Team)

LeBron James was a great defender in his prime, although he has let up on that end as he has aged. It can be argued that when James was with the Miami Heat, he was the best defender in his position. But James has often focused on the offensive end, which is where his statistics truly shone, but he was also an above-average defender because of his basketball IQ over his career. At 6’9” and over 260 lbs, James is a monster on the court which is why he can be required to defend multiple positions over a game. He can do it and has shown he isn’t a pushover by any means. Six All-Defensive Team selections are impressive, although they completely pale in comparison to Tim Duncan’s number of selections.

Tim Duncan is one of the greatest defensive stoppers in NBA history, making 15 All-Defensive Teams, of which 8 came in the First Team. Even as Duncan aged, he was capable of blocking shots and defending the rim. At 6’11” and 250 lbs, he had the size to be a force even if he just stood in the paint. But Duncan’s ability to read what opposing players were going to do helped him form an all-time great legacy. The Big Fundamental will always have a defensive edge against 99% of players, and he has that edge over LeBron James.

Advantage: Tim Duncan


Total Win Shares

LeBron James: 249.5

Tim Duncan: 206.4

Win Shares is a statistic that tries to allocate a team’s wins for each player on the roster. For example, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar owns the single-season record for Win Shares with 25.4 during 1971-72 on a Milwaukee Bucks team that won 63 games. In terms of contributing to a winning side and helping his side to win games consistently, it is obvious LeBron James has a better win shares rating than Tim Duncan. The Hall of Fame small forward is a statistical darling because he can do everything on the court at such an elite level. His scoring, rebounding, assist numbers are off the charts great, and he is often a direct contributor to his team winning games. LeBron’s win shares rank 2nd all-time behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Meanwhile, Tim Duncan’s win share rating ranks 7th all-time behind Kareem, LeBron, Wilt Chamberlain, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan, and John Stockton. The big man influences the game in a variety of ways, including having a high field goal percentage and defensive stats, while his rebounding was off the charts. Duncan’s win share rating is very impressive, but he has to accept that LeBron has an advantage. If a player isn’t Kareem, LeBron will always have a PER advantage.

Advantage: LeBron James


Career Player Efficiency Rating

LeBron James: 27.3

Tim Duncan: 24.2

Player Efficiency Rating, better known as PER, is a statistic created by John Hollinger that’s goal is to give each NBA player a comprehensive rating. Hollinger’s PER metric is unique because it combines a player’s positive and negative contributions on the court.

LeBron James once again ranks 2nd all-time in PER, with a figure of 27.3. That is an incredible rating considering there have not been many NBA players with at least 25 PER ratings. As expected, Michael Jordan has the highest PER with a figure of 27.9. Michael was able to score 30 PPG at 50% shooting, so it is clear his PER will probably always be the highest ever. But James comes awfully close, and as one of the most impactful and efficient superstars of all time, his PER rating is very impressive. Not to mention, it is also higher than Duncan’s.

Tim Duncan has a PER figure of 24.2, which ranks 17th all-time. Clearly, Duncan impacts winning because his two-way skill set is off the charts great. Averaging a career 19.0 PPG, 10.8 RPG, and 2.2 BPG, Duncan managed to have shooting splits of 50.6% FG and 69.6% FT. That is simply elite on any level, considering he played 19 years, and Duncan constantly found ways to make his game shine even brighter in the biggest games. But once again, James is a statistical darling and ultimately has the edge in PER even against an all-time great player in Tim Duncan.

Advantage: LeBron James


Final Score

LeBron James vs. Tim Duncan 6-2

In the end, LeBron James has a significant career advantage over Tim Duncan, and that will stay the course since The King has a couple more All-Star and All-NBA selections to add to his resume, along with possibly another championship if things go right with the Lakers. James earns the advantages in this career comparison so far because of his incredible dominance during his prime and his gift of being an absolute machine in competing at a superstar level for 20 seasons. That gives LeBron the advantage of appearing in many more All-NBA Games and also padding his stats across the board. However, it must be mentioned that as a dominant player and generational talent, it is obvious that James is a more complete player than Tim Duncan. In terms of this career comparison, 4-time Finals MVP and 4-time MVP LeBron James is considered the better player with the better career.

At 6-2, this does not seem like a very close career comparison, even if both players are exceptional players with impactful playing styles. In terms of defending the rim, Tim Duncan is one of the best of all time. The Big Fundamental was very dominant in the post, mainly because he had one of the greatest basketball IQ’s in the history of the NBA. But Duncan wasn’t just a powerhouse defensive player, as his elite scoring ability saw him average at least 20 PPG for 9 seasons in his career. Even as his athleticism and stamina waned with age, he was able to defend the rim thanks to his intangibles, and that is why he is one of the top bigs in his position. In terms of all-time regular-season rankings, Duncan is currently sitting 7th all-time among prior and active players in rebounds and 6th in blocks.

Tim Duncan has not played at a superstar level for as long as LeBron James has in the NBA, and his accolades pertaining to longevity, including All-Star and All-NBA selections, favor The King. Both superstar players are ranked among the top 10 of all time and deserve their flowers for being incredibly dominant during their eras. Tim Duncan is the greatest power forward ever, and LeBron is the best small forward ever, but The King has the career advantage because stats will always favor The King due to his incredible longevity, tremendous athleticism, and all-around impact on the basketball court.

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