Found June 11, 2012 on
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When the position of power forward is the topic of conversation, there are two names that are usually brought up as the best to ever play the game. Those two names are Bill Russell and Tim Duncan. Both have had amazing careers and are both have multiple championships. Bill Russell was the second overall pick of the 1956 draft by the Boston Celtics out of San Francisco University. At SFU he averaged 20.7 points per game while pulling down 20.3 rebounds per game in a total of 79 games.
Tim Duncan grew up in the Virgin Islands and was an incredible swimmer. He could have easily been a professional swimmer but because of his height he had to give basketball a shot measuring seven feet tall with an even longer wing span. He fell in love with the game and earned a scholarship to Wake Forest University where he played for four years. In 128 games at Wake Forest he averaged 16.5 points per game and 12.3 rebounds per game. Tim Duncan was the first overall pick in the 1997 draft by the San Antonio Spurs.
In the 1956-57 season which was Russell’s rookie year he played in 48 games. In those games he averaged 35.3 minutes per game. He was averaging 13.5 field goals per game, converting an average of 5.8 of them. Those numbers gave him a 42.7 FG%. He averaged taking 6.4 free throws per game and made an average of 3.2 giving Russell a sub-par 49.2%. Russell averaged a solid 9.6 rebounds per game. As for assists he averaged 1.8 per game. During the playing days of Bill Russell statisticians did not record blocks, steals, or turnovers so that will be a disadvantage in comparing Russell vs. Duncan. Russell averaged 3 fouls per game. As for points he averaged 14.7 per game in his rookie year.
The 1997-98 season was Tim Duncan’s rookie year. Duncan started all 82 games that year. Tim averaged 3.8 more minutes per game than Bill Russell for an average of 39.1. Duncan made 706 out of 1,287 field goal attempts which means he shot 54.9% from the field, which happened to be his regular season career best FG%. Tim shot a 66.2% from the free throw line. This percentage was middle of the pack for the seven footers in the NBA. Tim averaged 11.9 rebounds per game, which indicates that Tim Duncan averaged a double-double his first year of his NBA career. Duncan averaged 2.7 assists per game, 0.7 steals per game, and an impressive 2.5 blocks per game. He averaged a career worst 3.4 turnovers per game along with another career worst 3.1 personal fouls per game. Tim averaged 21.1 points per game in his rookie year campaign. Tim Duncan won the rookie of the year award with these impressive rookie year stats.
To compare the Rookie years of both Tim Duncan and Bill Russell, the edge has to go to Tim Duncan. Duncan led in every stat that was recorded in the 1956-57 NBA season. It is still too early just to say Tim Duncan is a better overall power forward after one season because it takes many great players a few years to get used to the pace of the game. Both players’ rookie years were successful but Duncan performed at a little higher respectfully to Bill Russell.
A popular phrase these days is “numbers never lie”. Now just like anything in life there are exceptions. A better phrase might be something like “numbers are historical data that prove present and future performance”. No it does not roll off the tongue as well as “numbers never lie”, but numbers are what we have to use to compare players accomplishments and impact they had on the game. With that being said we will now evaluate Duncan’s and Russell’s regular season careers.
Bill Russell played thirteen seasons in the NBA and wore the same green and white uniform his entire career. He played in a total of 963 games. That is an average of about 74 games a year. Russell averaged 42.3 minutes per game over those thirteen seasons. He made a total of 5,687 field goals in 12,930 attempts, which gave him a career FG% of 44%. He made 3,148 free throws and attempted 5,614, indicating a FT% of 56.1%. Bill was a part of exactly 4,100 assists in his regular season career, which is an average of 4.25 per game. Bill Russell’s most impressive stat was his rebounding. Over the course of his career he pulled down 21,620 rebounds in his career which gave him 22.5 rebounds per game. He is second all-time on the total rebounds list. Bill did not have a seven foot tall body frame; he was six foot nine inches tall. That’s what made Bill Russell’s rebounding accomplishments so impressive. Russell had 2,592 career personal fouls. This gave him an average of 2.7 fouls per game. This was a nice good low number allowing Bill to be on the court more often especially late in games. Bill scored 14,522 career points giving him an average of 15.1 points per game.
Bill Russell had some very attractive basketball stats, mainly his rebounding ability. To have only played 13 NBA seasons and be second all-time in rebounding is amazing stat. Also his assists per game were very impressive for a big man averaging 4.25 per game. All these stats are very impressive and the 15.1 points per game were a great compliment to his career accomplishments. Overall Bill Russell puts together an incredible resume’ together for best power forward to ever put on an NBA uniform.
Tim Duncan has played in 15 seasons so far in his NBA career. This needs to be remembered when comparing career totals to Bill Russell’s 13 years. Duncan has averaged 35.4 minutes per game each year of the regular season. Russell averaged close to seven minutes more per game than Duncan. Duncan made 8,717 field goals and attempted 17,192. These numbers gave Tim an average FG% of 50.7%. Many players have unbelievable seasons when they have an average FG% of 50% or higher. For Tim Duncan to average over 50% from the field is flat out remarkable. Tim Duncan has a small sample size of three point shots. He has made 26 out of 147 attempts indicating an awful 17.7%. A stat for Tim that has varied over the years has been his FT%. In the regular season Tim made 5,098 free throws out of 7,410. This gives Tim a career FT% of 68.8%. Tim has averaged a career low 59.9% and a career high of 79.9%. Tim Duncan has pulled down a total of 12,533 rebounds that is currently number 20 on the career rebounding list and is still an active player. He averages 11.3 rebounds per game. Tim has a total of 3,428 assists in the regular season. This is an average of 2.2 assists per game. He has a total of 822 steals which is 0.7 steals per game. Tim has accumulated 2,469 blocks averaging and impressive 2.57 blocks per game. These numbers puts Tim Duncan number nine on the all-time blocks list so far. Duncan is averaging 2.57 turnovers per game giving him a total of 2,854. Tim has averaged only 2.49 personal fouls per game giving him a total of 2,763. Tim Duncan is number 25 on the all-time scoring list with a total of 22,558. He averages 20.3 points per game.
Both players have some unbelievable stats throughout their career. Bill Russell was out on the court more averaging close to seven more minutes per game. Tim Duncan shoots a little over 6% points better in FG%. Duncan has a considerable better FT% than Russell. Bill Russell averaged pretty much double the amount of rebounds per game than Tim Duncan. Russell was the better passing big man averaging 1.15 more assists per game than Tim. Personal fouls per game are not much of a factor with a difference of .21 fouls per game in favor of Tim Duncan. Duncan had the clear advantage in points per game scoring 5.2 points per game more than Russell.
As with any sports comparisons there are strengths and weaknesses for both parties of the argument. Bill Russell is in the hall of fame and Tim Duncan will be a first ballot hall of famer when the time comes. The advantage that Bill Russell had on the boards could lead someone in his direction between the two players. Tim Duncan’s scoring is an obvious advantage that could sway people in his direction. I think that the advantages between Tim Duncan’s FG%, FT%, and PPG ultimately but respectfully make him the “greatest power forward to ever play the game”.
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