Looming Large: Tim Duncan

Critics have said San Antonio center Tim Duncan has slowly deteriorated into an above average player, who no longer dominates opponents. While Duncan, who is now 31, has clearly lost a step, he is still one of the game's best players, averaging 19.7 points, 11.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game; numbers that most centers would consider career years.

Dubbed the "Big Fundamental" by Shaquille O'Neal, Duncan has made a career out of not being flashy, which is rare for an NBA superstar. At 6'11", 260-pounds, Duncan is a big player who relies on thriving at subtle nuances instead of athleticism and has led the Spurs to four NBA championships.

On offense, Duncan excels on playing either facing or with his back to the basket. In the post, he blends phenomenal footwork with a soft touch and because of his big frame, he can rarely be stopped without being double-teamed. Perhaps the trademark of Duncan's game however, is his frustratingly smooth bank shot. Duncan can easily hit an open 15-foot jump shot, but he can also nail shots off the backboard at the same distance. This go-to move has enabled Duncan to draw defenders away from the paint and open up room for quick guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to operate.

Duncan also is considered an excellent passer for his size, which also adds to his versatility on offense. He is averaging 3 assists per game this season and his ability to pass out of a double team also helps bolster his teammate's stats.

Defensively, Duncan again relies on size and fundamentals to make up for a lack of athleticism. He does a good job of staying between his man and the basket, and can shut even the most dominant players out. Duncan also excels at weak side help and he will regularly compensate for blown assignments. On the year, Duncan is averaging nearly two blocks per game, and while that is well below his career average (2.4 bpg.), he is still an active defender that must always be accounted for.

Another impressive attribute that Duncan has is his ability to crash the glass. With a career average of 12 rebounds a game, Duncan has established himself as one of the best rebounders in the game. Again, it comes back to the basics, as Duncan uses his large body and text book technique to block out the opposition and control the boards.

With his ability to create easy shots for his teammates, his gaudy repertoire of offensive moves, and his tough presence on defense and on the glass, it's hard to see why many analysts now discount the Big Fundamental. Maybe it's because he isn't flash and doesn't takeover games like he used to, but Duncan still makes life much easier for his teammates and he consistently leads his squad deep into the playoffs.

On Tuesday night, Orlando will host Duncan and the defending NBA Champion Spurs, which will put old school versus new school. Howard as often said that he would like a game that would resemble Duncan's, but Howard is much more tenacious down low and has the aptitude and desire for dunking, while Duncan does not. However, the young Howard can learn a lot from the grizzled Duncan, who will be considered one of the best team players of all time when all is said and done. The Magic, who lost to the Spurs earlier this season, will have to find a way to keep Duncan in check while also trying to contain Parker and Ginobili. Howard can get drawn away from the basket a little too easily at times and will bite on pump fakes. Although Howard is definitely more athletic than Duncan, he must find a way to neutralize the crafty veteran's well balanced arsenal of attacks if Orlando wants to come away victorious.