Tim Duncan slumping because his midrange game has deserted him

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Tim Duncan has not scored in double digits for three straight games.

For Duncan, that is career first. It’s shocking. The guy is an automatic double-double machine, one of the best basketball players walking the face of the earth — even if people don’t know his name.

But this season he has been off, and the last three games in particular it has been bad (in part due to recovery from the flu). He admitted as much to the Express-News.

“I wish I was playing well and could say I was happy about not playing a lot of minutes,” said Duncan, his scoring average currently at 13.4 points per game — 7.7 points under a glittery career average and 4.5 points under last season’s production. “But it will come. As long as we can all stay healthy and keep the wear and tear off each other, it’s best for the team.”

It is more than just scoring, he is grabbing one less rebound, getting fewer minutes and shots (which is the main reason rebounding and scoring are down) and has not looked comfortable as he has worked to adjust to a Spurs team that is running more and needing him less.

Duncan just hasn’t looked himself. Why? Maybe because once rock solid midrange game has left him.

According to Hoopdata, last season Duncan took 2.9 shots per game from 10-15 feet out and hit 42.2 percent of them. He has basically done those same numbers for years and years — this is his deadly 12-foot bank from the wing, his sweet shot from the high post.

This season, he is taking 1.3 per game from there, making just 25 percent. His numbers everywhere else are pretty comparable to previous seasons (he is getting one less shot a game at the rim).

In the last three games, he is 2-for-11 from the rim out to 10 feet, 0-2 on shots from 10-15. In those three games his is 4-18 overall when he steps away from the rim.

This is not likely to last — it’s hard to imagine Tim Duncan’s shooting touch just going away. He’ll find it, and in the interim the Spurs are loaded with big men who can play the four and contribute — DeJuan Blair, Matt Bonner, Tiago Splitter. They can afford to wait on Duncan.

But still, it’s hard not to see a 34-year-old Duncan with a lot of miles on him and wonder if this is him starting to really slip. I wouldn’t bet on it come playoff time, but maybe.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
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Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.

Celtics draft pick Marcus Thornton gets beer dumped on head during Australian game (video)

Marcus Thornton, Will Cherry

The Celtics drafted Marcus Thornton with No. 45 pick in the 2015 NBA draft. That essentially entitled him to the required tender – a one-year contract offer, surely unguaranteed at the minimum.

Thornton rejected that, which is almost always a mistake.

Rejecting the tender is a favor to the drafting team, which gets to keep the player’s exclusive rights for a year. If Thornton tries to join the NBA now, he’s stuck negotiating with only the Celtics.

By accepting the tender, the player typically gets one of two outcomes. He either plays on that contract and draws an NBA salary or he gets waived. But even getting waived is better than rejecting the tender, because at least the player becomes a free agent and can negotiate with any team.

Players who reject the tender go to another league and play for less money. In Thornton’s case, that mean Australia.

How’s that going?

(Almost) never reject the required tender as a second-round pick.