Kevin Garnett (right) and Tim Duncan (left). (AP Photo)
They were opposite but comparable. They both wore the same number, played the same position and even retired in the same offseason. Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan are locks for the Hall of Fame, but the debate over who was the better power forward is something fans and critics have been juggling with for close to 20 years. After Garnett announced his retirement from the NBA late last week, it was only natural to lump him in the same category with Duncan, who announced his retirement a few months prior after the Finals ended. Duncan can rest easy as he walks away from the Association with five championships compared to Garnett’s one. But, similar to Allen Iverson, Garnett’s true impact to basketball can’t be measured in championship jewelry. They were both MVPs, both perennial all-stars and both Olympians. Similar careers all the way around, but Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley, of the AFRO Sports Desk, debate who was better.
Riley: I’m not going to be the one to penalize Garnett because he played the bulk of his career for the lowly Timberwolves. There was nothing K.G. couldn’t do. He could handle it, shoot it, pass it, score in the low post, rebound and block shots. He started his career off as a lanky small forward in his rookie year fresh out of high school and grew into a dominant big man despite his lack of girth and a slender frame. From a marketing standpoint, Garnett was ideal. A Chicago high-schooler who graduated right into the NBA, Garnett already had the urban market backing him and his ties to the rap industry made him a household name. Duncan was fundamental, maybe even boring to some, but Garnett’s flashy, trash-talking game made him the player to follow. This isn’t a shot at Duncan, but K.G. was simply a beast. And the very first year he finally got some help, he won the championship. I’ll take Garnett each and every time over Duncan.
Green: You can’t hide the fact that Duncan was a true dominant force on perhaps one of the most boring teams to ever watch in NBA history. The San Antonio Spurs’ black-and-white color scheme pretty much summed up their simple and plain approach to the game. Duncan wasn’t the thrilling must-see show that some of his peers were and he gets knocked for that a lot to the point that we forget how great he was. He controlled the paint on both ends of the court and was so sound fundamentally that critics bashed him for it. No matter how many times Garnett provoked him or yelled in his face, Duncan never broke character. He was the epitome of a basketball professional and his advanced maturity resulted in a number of impressive accolades. Garnett was a beast, but Duncan will go down as the best power forward to ever play the game.
Riley: Just like Duncan gets dinged for his fundamentals and boring game, Garnett was criticized as well for brashness and his overt passion for the game. But we’re not talking about whose game was more exciting or who had the most rings; we’re simply talking about who was better. Could Duncan do all the things that Garnett could do? No. Could Garnett do all the things that Duncan could do? Yes. Garnett could’ve stepped into Duncan’s role on the Spurs and those teams wouldn’t have missed a beat. Duncan was a plodder while Garnett was an athletic marvel who ran the floor like a gazelle. From a skill and athleticism standpoint, if a general manager was drafting a team starting today and he had to pick between Garnett and Duncan, I truly believe Garnett would be the top choice.
Green: Yes, Garnett was faster and more athletic but that doesn’t mean he would be a better first choice for a start-up franchise. Give me the guy who was the better shot blocker that deterred opponents from entering the paint and the guy who had a mismatch in his favor every night. The only big man to dominate both ends of the court like Duncan was Shaquille O’Neal and, just like Shaq, Duncan reeled off multiple titles as a dominant big man. It’s hard to not bring up titles when talking about Duncan but the fact remains he’s a five-time NBA champion who was the centerpiece of a Spurs team that contended for several titles. He was a true dominator inside and not just some too-tall athlete masquerading as a big man.