Stephen Curry is widely regarded as one of the best point guards of all time and easily the best shooter we have ever seen play the game. The “Babyface Assassin” does not look like much when he steps on the court, but there is no doubt he is a tremendous talent with incredible basketball skills. A 4-time champion with 2 back-to-back MVP awards, Curry changed the NBA by encouraging players to take three-point shots as much as possible because it can kickstart a run that could be insurmountable. Not to mention, Curry is on pace to challenge Magic Johnson as the greatest point guard of all time if he can add a couple more NBA championships to his resume. Before Steph came along, we thought that would never be possible.
After 19 seasons of outstanding play on both ends of the floor, Tim Duncan is considered the best power forward of all time with relative ease. No power forward (even Karl Malone and Giannis Antetokounmpo) has earned as many honors in his Hall of Fame career as Duncan, who also served as the cornerstone of the San Antonio Spurs dynasty that won five NBA titles. In terms of consistency, durability, and all-around supremacy, no power forward has yet to come close to Duncan's accomplishments. But which star player had a more successful career?
Both Curry and Duncan had amazing careers and should be honored as two of the greatest 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 two 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 regard.
Stephen Curry: 4 (2015, 2017, 2018, 2022)
Tim Duncan: 5 (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2014)
Stephen Curry has won 4 championships as a member of the Golden State Warriors. His first in 2015 was impressive, although the point guard did not earn Finals MVP honors despite being the best player on the team. Curry also won the 2017 and 2018 championships alongside Kevin Durant, when the superstar small forward made one of the most surprising free agency decisions in NBA history. Of course, Curry won the 2022 championship which was his most important one yet. Finally, Curry won his first Finals MVP award.
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. No doubt about it, Duncan is directly responsible for all 5 championship victories.
Winning rings is the single most important part of a superstar's career, and Duncan has the edge over Stephen Curry. Steph has played with some all-time great players such as Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green but he was always the franchise 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
Stephen Curry: 1 (2022)
Tim Duncan: 3 (1999, 2003, 2005)
Stephen Curry finally broke through and won his Finals MVP following the 2022 NBA season. Steph had accomplished everything in his career except for the Finals MVP award, but he finally added that to his Hall of Fame resume. Even when he was the best player on the team for the Golden State Warriors in 2015, it was swingman Andre Iguodala who won Finals MVP, averaging 16.3 PPG and 5.8 RPG while playing excellent defense on LeBron James. But Steph did it in 2022, and there was no doubt he deserved it. But again, he does not have as many accolades as Tim Duncan.
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. In the end, Duncan has an edge in the Finals MVP awards. There was never a time in which Duncan was the franchise player where he did not capture the award. Whenever Tim Duncan played well, his team won in the Finals and that was a constant throughout his career. With 3 Finals MVPs to his name versus Curry’s number of 1 Finals MVP, there is a clear winner and it goes to The Big Fundamental.
Advantage: Tim Duncan
Stephen Curry: 2 (2015, 2016)
Tim Duncan: 2 (2002, 2003)
Stephen Curry won the MVP award in 2015 as a member of the Warriors and also the NBA title. He averaged 23.8 PPG and 7.7 APG for the Warriors, cementing himself as the best point guard in the NBA. Stephen Curry was the first-ever unanimous MVP in 2016 by averaging 30.1 PPG and 6.7 APG. Curry led the Warriors to the best record in NBA history with a 73-9 record, and he solidified himself as the best shooter we have ever seen. That means the point guard has two MVP awards to his name, certainly an impressive achievement.
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. Only Giannis Antetokounmpo and Karl Malone have as many MVP awards as Tim Duncan while occupying the power forward position.
Ultimately, there is no separation between the two superstars. Both superstar players are recognized as the franchise players for their teams in their respective periods, and also the best players at their position almost every season of their absolute prime.
Stephen Curry: 8 (4 First Team, 3 Second Team, 1 Third Team)
Tim Duncan: 15 (10 First Team, 3 Second Team, 2 Third Team)
Stephen Curry has made 8 All-NBA Teams, with 4 First Team appearances. Of course, sharing the court with other top guards including Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Damian Lillard cut back on his selections. Not to mention, Curry was a late bloomer because he made his first All-NBA Team at age 25 in his fourth season. The Golden State Warriors star has a few more All-NBA Team selections most likely coming his way, even as he approaches age 35 next season. He will never catch Tim Duncan though and that is important for our comparison. As things stand, Stephen does not have an edge over The Big Fundamental because he does not have anywhere near the number of All-NBA Teams that the big man has.
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 was relegated to a second or third-option role, 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. As things stand, Tim Duncan has an edge over Stephen Curry because The Big Fundamental passed up the big man three years ago in terms of All-NBA selections.
Advantage: Tim Duncan
Stephen Curry: 8
Tim Duncan: 15
As Stephen Curry nears age 35, he has a total of 8 All-Star appearances. Early injuries to Curry affected the number of All-Star Teams he could have made, but the fact remains he has less than half the number of All-Star Teams that Tim Duncan has. Making 8 All-Star Teams is nothing to sniff at, and he has a chance to make a few more before his career is up. But as it stands, Curry has quite a margin to make up if he wishes to equal Tim Duncan’s mark of 15 All-Star Team selections. It is expected that Curry will have at least 10 All-Star selections before he retires.
Meanwhile, Tim Duncan has a total of 15 All-Star appearances. That is an incredible achievement for a big man because the majority of big men struggle to stay healthy and play at a star level 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 most intelligent players ever, and he was able to impact the game for a very long time. In the end, The Big Fundamental has another big advantage over Stephen Curry in the career comparison.
Advantage: Tim Duncan
All-Defensive NBA Teams
Stephen Curry: 0
Tim Duncan: 15 (8 First Team, 7 Second Team)
Stephen Curry is obviously not an elite defender, and it is clear to anybody who has watched him play since he came into the league. The 6’3” point guard lacks the natural ability to be a force on defense, which is why he was normally attacked by the opposing team’s best players. What Curry does on offense far exceeds his defensive deficiencies, but there is no doubt defense has to be factored in during a career comparison. It has been obvious over their careers that Duncan is by far the more consistent defensive player than Steph, and it hasn’t been close.
One of the best defensive stoppers in NBA history, Tim Duncan was named to 15 All-Defensive Teams, including 8 First Team selections. Duncan maintained his ability to defend the rim and block shots as he grew older. He was big enough to be a force even if he was just standing in the paint at 6'11" and 250 pounds. However, Duncan's ability to predict what the opposition team's players would do allowed him to create an enduring legacy. The Big Fundamental has a defensive advantage over 99% of players, including the illustrious three-point shooter.
Advantage: Tim Duncan
Total Win Shares
Stephen Curry: 120.2
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 Tim Duncan has a better win shares rating than Stephen Curry.
Stephen Curry has a win shares rating of 120.2, a solid figure but clearly much less than Tim Duncan’s. The point guard, for some reason, is not as important to his team with regards to win shares when compared to The Big Fundamental. The point guard is obviously a player that impacts winning, but this particular statistic does not reflect that when comparing the Warriors star to other all-time great players.
Tim Duncan’s win share rating ranks 7th all-time behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, LeBron James, Wilt Chamberlain, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan, and John Stockton. The big man influences the game in various 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, and it blows most players out of the water except for the 6 other players listed above. Therefore, Duncan has another major advantage over Curry.
Advantage: Tim Duncan
Career Player Efficiency Rating
Stephen Curry: 23.8
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.
With a PER of 23.8, Stephen Curry is the 20th-best player of all time according to the statistic. Curry has winning potential because of his incredible offensive skill set and managed to have shooting splits of 47.3% FG, 42.8% 3-PT FG, and 90.8% FT while averaging 24.3 PPG over his career. On any level, that is absolutely elite, and Curry is always looking for new ways to enhance his game. Curry's PER is significantly harmed by the fact that he cannot contribute to the game in other areas of the court like Tim Duncan does, such as rebounding, defending the rim, and blocking shots.
Tim Duncan is ranked 17th all-time with a PER of 24.2. Duncan has a positive influence on winning due to his incredible two-way skill set. Duncan managed to have shooting splits of 50.6% FG and 69.6% FT while averaging a career 19.0 PPG, 10.8 RPG, and 2.2 BPG. Given that Duncan played for 19 years and consistently discovered ways to improve his performance in the biggest games, it is simply elite on any level. Not to mention, Duncan has a big advantage over Stephen Curry in yet another statistical category.
Advantage: Tim Duncan
Stephen Curry vs. Tim Duncan 0-7
In the end, Tim Duncan has a significant career advantage over Stephen Curry and that will stay the course unless Curry can add a championship or two while winning two more Finals MVP awards to cut the deficit. Duncan earns the advantages in this career comparison so far because of his incredible dominance during his prime and his gift of being a consistent force in competing at a high level for 20 seasons. That gives The Big Fundamental the advantage of appearing in many more All-NBA Games and also focusing on what he does best. In terms of this career comparison, 5-time NBA champion and 3-time Finals MVP winner Tim Duncan is considered the better player with the better career.
At 7-0, 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. Importantly, the San Antonio Spurs legend is currently sitting 7th all-time among prior and active players in rebounds and 6th in blocks. It is obvious that Curry cannot compare in that regard, either.
Tim Duncan is the greatest power forward ever while Stephen Curry has yet to convince the masses that he is the best point guard ever. The big man managed to stay effective as he approached the age of 40, because he was an elite defensive player who could also use his size to have an impact. That meant Duncan could accumulate more All-Star, All-NBA, and All-Defensive selections compared to a miniature guard who is limited in terms of size and defense. But overall, Duncan has a 7-0 career advantage in major accolade categories.