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Twenty-one reasons why Kevin McHale was better than Tim Duncan

Prevailing curent wisdom says differently, but the underrated, creative Big Mac was better than the mechanical Duncan

Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

Lost in all the recent talk about the retirement of future NBA Hall of Famer Tim Duncan and his supposed status as the league's greatest power forward ever is the reality that a notable few of his many predecessors were just as good, or even better.

Certainly Duncan is a first ballot Hall of Famer and deserving of most of the recent accolades he has gotten, but I believe his billing as "best power forward ever" is very questionable.

It has become the conventional wisdom propelled largely by uninformed, ubiquitous multi-media and a mindset that whatever is now or latest is best (I call it the disease of Now-ism).

This affliction states that whatever or whomever is latest is the greatest (Duncan, Kobe, LeBron, Serena, etc.) but is a self-serving notion of "progress" prevailing today that says faster, bigger, stronger and more technologized is better.

Players today might be a little more athletic than those from 25-30 years ago, but the skill levels have dropped far more than the athletic advances. All sports, especially basketball, have become more specialized, like American society.

Duncan was robotic, impassive, languid - almost Zombie-like in his metronmic consistency and minimalist, low-energy style. It worked well for him in an era devoid of many good big men. But it would not have been as effective in previous eras where high-quality big men dotted almost every NBA roster.

With today's over-emphasis on numbers and analytics, it is easy to mis-judge a player by such measurements or titles won without taking into account the differences in eras and quality. Plus, basketball cannot be adequately rendered by statistical analysis, certainly not to the extent baseball and football can. Those are specialization sports with much more dead time and inaction.

Wth its continuous play and lack of specialization, basketball has much more subtlety and non-quantifiable factors in play to consider.

There is no way yet to place a numeric value on key facets of the game like moving without the ball, offensive spacing, or how good perimeter shooters stretch defenses and allow driving lanes for teammates, crispness of passing, stimulation of ball movement, floor balance and getting back in defensive transition, good screens set, help defense, etc.

Thus the numbers can only be an aid in determining who was better. But they also don't take into account the caliber and intensity of play in different eras. Nor the quality of the shotmaking, defense and other less visible facets of the continuous game.

When Karl Malone retired over a decade ago, he was considered by many the best power forward ever. Before him, another 6-9 Louisiana native - Elvin Hayes - was the prototype power forward specimen who defined the position in the 1970s. Both of their career numbers are as good or probably better than Duncan's. And each was more athletic.

Bob Pettit was a truly great big forward who averaged over 26 points and 16 rebounds per game in the 1960s and late 1950s before the term power forward was even coined. He retired in 1965 as the NBA's all-time points and rebounds leader. Think about that for a moment; it is sort of like retiring as the all-time baseball leader in batting average and home runs.

The tenacious Pettit was first team all-league 10 times and second team once in 11 seasons. He was an athletic, skilled and hard-driven 6-9 player comparable to Dave Cowens. In fact, Pettit was Dave's Hall of Fame presenter in 1991.

Muscular hang-time artist Elgin Baylor was an undersized finesse power forward at 6-5, yet he averaged 27 points and 13 rebounds a game over a superb career from 1959-72.

The first time the term power forward came into normal usage, to my knowledge, was in describing Maurice Lucas of the 1977 champion TrailBlazers. The 6-9 Marquette product's menacing, physical style belied a soft, albeit low-arch shooting touch. But his physique, perpetual scowl and tough-guy reputation seemed to embody the new term, and helped labels similar players at the time and in the future.

Now players from before his time, like Dave DeBusschere and Pettit, have retroactively been called power forwards in a misleading bit of revisionist history. Before then, guards were not usually separated into points (ones) and shooting guards (twos), nor were forwards demarcated into power forwards (fours) and small forwards (threes). They were more well-rounded, versatile players simply called guards and forwards.

Sandwiched between the aforementioned big forwards was a uniquely limber, long-armed low-post savant of the Celtics from 1980-93 named Kevin McHale. It seems as though the image of McHale as a great player is fading, unfortunately, but I hope to help revive knowledge of his incomparable post-up game.

Players today would be well-served to study films of McHale's moves as a primer on how to play the post - along with greta footwork and creativity, the hallmark of his game keeping the ball up high and releasing his soft shot quickly.

Instead of bringing it down to gather and leap like so many do today, usually in order to throw down a power dunk, McHale got his shot off so fast he rarely if ever allowed defenders to block or bother his release. Amazingly, almost no players today keep the ball up high when they catch it or grab an offensive rebound.

Kevin teamed with Larry Bird to form the best forward tandem in NBA history. Toegether they won three titles and would have won at least twice that if not for injuries, the death of Len Bias, and the toughness of the Eastern Conference at that time.

In 1987, Bird and McHale became the first and still only forward duo from the same team to be named first team All-NBA in the same season.

The 6-10 McHale was a unique combination of size, quick and high leaping ability, skill, touch, long arms, creativity, soft hands, basketball smarts, superb footwork, competitiveness wrapped in a fun-loving but deceptively tough demeanor.

He was the matchup NBA defenses and opposing never figured out. Teams never conjured up a way to stop Kareem Abdul-Jabbar either, but that was due in large part to his greater height - plus Kareem's game was based primarily on one great move, the sky hook.

McHale had far more moves in his arsenal than Jabbar, Duncan, Malone, Hayes or any other post player. He even liked to nickname his classic moves; the slippery eel and the white salamander among them, but my favorite nickname was the "7-11 defense."

What was that, you might ask?

That was the one where the demoralized defender just raised his arms straight up and gave up like a convenience store worker being held up while Kevin worked his inside magic to score.

In the three NBA Finals from 1985-87, McHale was unstoppable. He totally outplayed 7-4 Ralph Sampson in the 1986 Finals and could easily have shared MVP honors with Larry Bird. In 1985 and 1987, McHale was arguably Boston's best player in losing efforts vs. the Lakers, who never found a way to contain him.

McHale was not highly recruited out of Hibbing, Minnesota. Among Div. I big-name schools, only Indiana and Utah pursued the gangly 6-10 scoring machine. Ultimately Bob Knight decided Kevin was too thin to withstand the rigors of physical Big 10 post play and did not offer him a scholarship.

Utah was also loaded with great, high-leaping frontline recruits in the same class, namely future NBA first round picks Tom Chambers and Danny Vranes. So they too turned down McHale.

Ultimately the Golden Gophers mainly offered Kevin a scholarship because he was an in-state standout. Little did they know that Kevin would evolve into arguably the greatest low-post player in league history.

As the number three pick in the 1980 NBA draft, Kevin first was an award-winning sixth man who developed into a seven-time All-Star and first ballot Hall of Famer. He may well have been the most efficient inside scorer in league history due to his relatively low field goal attempts per game coupled with very high field goal and foul shooting percentages.

The man rarely missed inside.

In fact, Red Auerbach wanted to pick McHale with the number one overall pick in the 1980 draft, but he didn't want Kevin to feel the pressure of being the top pick.

So he traded the pick to Golden State for underachieving Robert Parish and the top Warrior pick (number three), and formed the greatest frontline in NBA history with the original Celtic Big Three.


McHale vs. Duncan statistically speaking, regular season career-wise:
McHale: 17.9 ppg 7.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.7 blocks per game in 31 minutes per game; 7.0 FGM-12.7 FGA per game; 55.8 FG%, 79.8 FT, 3 NBA titles
Duncan: 19 ppg, 10.8 rebs, 3.0 assists, 2.2 blocks per game in 34 minutes per game; 7.4 FGM-14.6 FGA per game; 50.4 FG%, 69.6 FT%, 5 NBA titles

Without further ado, here are my top 20 reasons why Kevin was better than Duncan.

1) First and foremost, McHale simply had far more post moves and a better shooting touch, as well as the game's quickest low-post release and incredible footwork. Duncan's main move was a left side banker or a short jump hook. That is pretty much it, becaus ehe lacked creativity and good footwork, at least compared to McHale. Don't get me wrong, Duncan has been a wonderful player and a good ambassador for the NBA.

For his first 10-12 seasons he was extremely good. But since around 2010 or so he was basically a pretty good player at best, hanging on and playing at a solid level in reduced minutes. Due in large part to injuries, McHale was not able to hang on nearly as long as Tim. At his peak, I feel Kevin was better.

Indeed, McHale had the greatest array of post moves of any big man in NBA history, with Hakeem Olajuwon a distant second. Kevin's lateral footwork was amazing, honed by years of playing ice hockey growing up in Minnesota.

McHale was the superior face-up shooter, plus he possessed a great jump hook, an unstoppable fadeaway, a ridiculous up and under move, over the shoulder flip shots, a finger roll, reverse layups and just about every other post move one can think of.

And of course Kevin was the master at keeping the ball high over his head and not bringing it down once his great hands caressed the ball. Duncan was good at this too, but no one was like Kevin in that respect. He often had the ball already in the hoop with his incredibly quick and soft release when defenders were still not at the peak of their leap trying to block it.

When preparing to dissect his opponent inside, McHale just had a great feel for where the defense was, great improvisational ability and the skills to counter whatever the defense did, despite double-teaming.

McHale was also, as Red Auerbach noted in the "Vintage NBA" TV episode on the Minnesota big man, "extremely smart."


2) Kevin was better in the clutch. One of his best playoff games came in game 6 of the 1985 Finals vs. the Lakers. Kevin tossed in 32 points and grabbed 16 rebounds before fouling out on a dubious call in the fourth quarter that halted a Celtic rally.

Overall in the 1985 Finals, McHale led both teams in scoring (26.0), rebounds (10.7) and blocks (1.8) per game while converting 59.8 percent of his field goal tries in the grueling series. He posted the highest offensive rating (120) in the series despite taking the fifth-most shots (third on the Celtics behind Bird and DJ). And this was just his first season as a starter.

In 1987, despite a broken bone in one foot and a sprained ankle on the other, Kevin still managed to average 20.5 points, nine rebounds and one block per game vs. the rested Lakers in a six-game Finals. He shot a series-best 58.5 percent from the field and 81.8 percent at the foul line.

In 1986 when Boston beat Houston 4-2 in the Finals, McHale led Boston in points, rebounds and field goal pct.

So from 1985-87 in the three Finals he played in as a starter (he was a sixth man in 1984 and seventh in 1981), McHale was arguably the best player on either team. This despite being targeted for fights by Lakers Earvin Johnson, Bob McAdoo and the belligerent AC Green. His career Finals field goal percentage is near the top all-time, and much higher than Duncan.

In the rugged 1982 east semifinals vs. the bruising Bullets of Ruland and Mahorn, McHale almost singlehandedly won the clinching contest of the series in the waning moments. He made a huge steal and coast to coast driving layin, then tipped in a Nate Archibald miss just before the first overtime buzzer.

In game 6 of the brutal 1988 eastern finals vs. the bruising Pistons, Kevin tallied 33 points (the same as Bird and DJ combined) on 12-20 shooting while adding 11 rebounds. In that rugged series that ended the Celtic four-year reign as East champs, McHale led both teams with 26.8 ppg and 56.3 percent floor accuracy.

His lone three-point try of the series at the end of game two led to a Celtic overtime win.

In the 1991 eastern semis again vs. the vicious Pistons, a hobbled 33-year old McHale still scored 20.7 ppg. In the series-clinching game six OT loss at the Palace, McHale's would-be game-winning tip-in in the final minute of regulation was erroneously waved off.

In that fierce road contest under extremely hostile circumstances, a battered McHale still netted a game-high 34 points on 11-19 field shooting and 11 of 14 foul line accuracy. Had Boston won game six with an obviously correct non-goaltend call (and with Parish sidelined) they would have been favored to close it out in seven at the Garden with the Chief back in the lineup.

In 169 career playoff games, virtually half (84) as a starter, Kevin averaged 18.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game while shooting an impressive 56.3 percent from the field and 78.8 at the foul line in 33.8 minutes per.

In 251 playoff games, Duncan averaged 20.6 points, 11.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks on 50.5 field goal shooting and 68.9 foul shooting. He took more three more shots per game (15.7 to 12.7) than McHale in foru more minutes per outing.

McHale won an NBA ring in his first season, while Duncan got his first title in his second season, which I contend is somewhat tainted since it came in the lockout-shortened, 50-game 1999 campaign.

Utah actually had the same record as the Spurs (37-13) and was the better team, having narrowly lost in the Finals to the Bulls the previous two Junes. But the Spurs had the tiebreaker and got the top seed while Utah drew a brutal playoff road. The Spurs took advantage of the easier draw and demolished the Cinderella eighth seed Knicks 4-1 in the Finals.

In 2005, Duncan shot under 42 percent from the field vs. Detroit yet somehow was still named series MVP.

I just don't recall Duncan making nearly as many big shots or plays in crunch time. In the closing minute of game six in the 2013 Finals, with the Spurs one rebound or made free throw from clinching the crown at Miami, head coach Gregg Popovich benched Duncan.


3) McHale excelled in an era featuring a plethora of great big men, unlike Duncan. During his career Hall of Fame big men like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bob Lanier, Artis Gilmore, Elvin Hayes, Wes Unseld, Bill Walton, Dan Issel, Patrick Ewing and Moses Malone roamed the hardwood paint.

Not to mention other All-Star center-forwards like Jack Sikma, Alvan Adams, Brad Daugherty, Larry Nance, Bill Laimbeer, Jeff Ruland, Tom Chambers, Buck Williams and defensive experts like Rick Mahorn, Dennis Rodman and others who lived to put the hurt on Boston, especially Bird and McHale.

Duncan's main big man foes were Kevin Garnett and Shaq, who was done as a force by 2005. Since David Robinson was a teammate his first five years, Timmy did not have to face the Admiral in games, only in practice, which helped him improve.

Dirk Nowitzki and Duncan guarded each other infrequently despite their many matchups and similar age. Pau Gasol has been a fine player, an All-Star whose game was a lesser version of McHale's. But his languid style and lack of big man opposition also lessen his accomplishments. Dwight Howard? Give me a break.

Once seen as a likely Hall of Famer circa 2010, the brittle Howard has become a bit of a running joke as a selfish cancer bouncing from team to team with little playoff success. He enjoyed his best years in the East with Orlando in the previous decade, never meeting Duncan in the playoffs. That's pretty much it as far as quality big man foes for Timmy.

I would argue that Sikma and Lanier, perennial All-Star big men who were never the best center or big man in the NBA during that big-man dominant era of the 1970s/'80s, would be the best centers in the league now.


4) McHale was a far better foul shooter and shooter in general. McHale shot 89.3 percent in 1989-90 from the foul line, and as high as 40.5 percent from three-point land as he became a good long distance shooter late in his career, adding to his arensal. Kevin had a textbook release, with his elbow tucked in and ball released high over his head at the apex of his leap.

By contrast Duncan shot a very flat, no-jump line drive shot that was quite frankly, kind of ugly.

Duncan made just 50.6 percent from the field and 69.6 from the foul line over his career. He shot as low as 59.9 percent in 2003-04 from the charity stripe. Duncan had nine seasons where he shot under 50 percent from the floor, and four years under 64 percent at the charity stripe.


5) Kevin was overshadowed on his own team by the greatness of Bird, who I feel is clearly the best all-around forward in NBA history. Kevin was never the number one option on the Celtics, while Duncan was for most of his Spurs career.

Whereas Duncan never had a teammate like Larry Legend to detract from his star - Robinson was only a teammate during the late decline phase of his career, while Ginobili and Parker are fine players - Kevin was always overlooked in deference to Bird's greater all-around skills and intriguing persona.

Robinson was never in Bird's class to begin with and didn't sniff a title until Duncan got to the Spurs, which made Duncan's star shine brighter.

Bird was often lauded for playing with injury, while McHale was not. But his gritty play in 1987 and the rest of his career on injured feet speak for Kevin's true grit.


6) The NBA of the 1980s and early 1990s was much better than the expansion-diluted era Duncan dominated. The NBA added seven teams in the late 1980s and 1990s, making the league much weaker in the era following McHale's retirement in 1993. Most of his career was spent in a 23-team league before Charlotte, Minnesota, Miami, Orlando, Memphis (Vancouver), Toronto and New Orleans entered the league.

Five years after McHale retired, the NBA Duncan came into had gained seven teams and lost almost all of its best big men to retirement - as well as a sea change in the game to a more perimeter style.

And some of the teams San Antonio beat in the NBA Finals were among the WORST finalists in NBA history.

Especially the 1999 eighth seed 33-27 Knicks, the 2003 Nets, and the 2007 Cavaliers who SA swept easily. The only really top- notch team the Spurs beat in a Finals was Miami in 2014, when Duncan was way over the hill. Even the 2005 Pistons, whom SA beat in seven, were merely a very good team that would not have gotten out of the second round in the East of the 1980s.

But none of those teams approach the 1980s Lakers or even the 76ers or Pistons of that era, teams McHale and company faced a combined 11 times in the playoffs.

Certainly the excellent Milwaukee teams of the 1980s, who won six straight Central Division titles but never got to the Finals, were better too. They featured Lanier, Marques Johnson, Sidney Moncrief, Brian Winters and later Sikma, Terry Cummings, etc. but could never get past Boston and Philadelphia in the same post-season.

I conservatively estimate that had McHale's 13 seasons run from 2000-12, his same Boston team would have won at least 10 conference titles and eight NBA championships coming out of a very weak East. That trumps the five crowns and six West titles Duncan won with the Spurs over a longer term of 19 seasons.


7) Duncan's biggest statistical advantage over Kevin is in rebounding (+3.5 per game, although he played three more minutes a game). But rebound stats can be misleading. One can box out well not get the rebound yet allow his teammate to get the carom, and thus get no statistical credit.

Players in a fast-paced, lower-shooting percentage time like the Wilt/Russell era where 30-rebound games were commonplace, or the Duncan/Shaq era, get more chances for rebounds. McHale's era was the best, most efficient offensive period in NBA history, and thus less rebounds were available.

The gap of Duncan's rebounding edge can also be lessened by noting that McHale played with other great double-digit rebounders (Bird and Parish both averaged 10+ boards per contest), forcing his own numbers down. Kevin was a great offensive rebounder, while Bird dominated the defensive glass.

Meanwhile Duncan, particularly after David Robinson retired 13 years before he did, had no big-time board man to share caroms with on the Spurs.


8) McHale was a much more versatile defender. Because of his far better footwork and lateral movement, (as well as bball smarts) Kevin routinely guarded high-scoring small forwards like Dominique Wilkins, Adrian Dantley and Bernard King. And guarded them well. I cannot imagine the lead-footed Duncan guarding those guys, or any 6-5 to 6-7 quick forwards today.

But Kevin also drew the tough inside big men, power forwards and even centers when Parish subbed out and Boston went with a smaller lineup with Kevin at the five spot, especially against Jabbar. And of course he guarded all the top power forwards and was an All-NBA defender seven times. Plus, being a sixth man his first four seasons kept Kevin's numbers and chances for awards down.


9) At his peak in 1986-87, McHale was better than Duncan ever was. He averaged 26.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.4 blocks per game in that first team all-league campaign and made the all-defense team. He also led the league in field goal percentage at 60.4.

Until he got hurt late that season, McHale was getting MVP buzz. And this was in a time where Bird had won the previous three, Jordan and Johnson were at or near their peaks, and many other ex-MVPS like Moses Malone, Kareem and Erving were still playing.

Duncan's main foes for MVP honors were Kobe Bryant, LeBron, and Steve Nash. John Stockton was a better player than Nash and never won an MVP because he played in a superstar-laden time. Nash, a tremendous player in his own right, won two in a row during a league nadir.


10) Kevin was incredibly efficient, taking less than 13 shots per game in his career. He led the league in field goal percentage twice at 60.4 on just 15.4 shots per game and shot 56 percent for his career, almost six percent higher than Duncan. Kevin also shot 83.6 percent from the foul line in his first team all-league season.

McHale made the all-league defensive second team four times, and three times was first team all-defense. Duncan was voted all-defense more times but by mid-career he had been rubber-stamped into the position, much like Gold Glove winners are often mailed in now on reputation.

The defensive awards just don't mean as much and voters don't pay as close of attention as they used to. When McHale first started out, the all-defense teams were voted on by the NBA coaches, not the media, who today tend to go by reputation rather than performance.

And as mentioned before Duncan could only guard slower, less mobile big men close to the hoop due to his relative lack of lateral movment and speed/quickness. And once more, he faced less good big men than McHale did, and Kevin also guarded small forwards well. Duncan blocked a few more shots yet played against smaller players and less-skilled big men.

Kevin was a great shot-blocker, especially in the clutch. The rookie's block and rebound of an Andrew Toney drive late in game six kept Boston alive in the dramatic 1981 East finals, setting up their dramatic seventh game win over the 76ers and the subsequent championship series victory over Houston.


11) Duncan was the focus of the Spur offense for much of his career, while Kevin was not even as much as a number two option until the mid 1980s. Then when he reached his peak at age 28 he was seriously hurt in 1987. Duncan was fortunate to avoid major injury throughout a long career.

I doubt he had the resolve and game to make up for a significant injury like McHale did, who remained a perennial All-Star his last six years on a compromised foot.

Post-season foot surgery cost him the first 21 games of the 1987-88 season, and number 32 never possessed the same lift, quickness and mobility that helped make him so special and hard to stop.

The only big men I ever saw give Kevin trouble defensively were Ewing and Jabbar, both bigger and long-armed centers who played him very physically - especially Ewing. Bill Walton has often said McHale was the best low-post player he ever guarded, behind only the 7-2 Jabbar.

Ironically, McHale idolized Walton in high school, and tacked his Portland poster on his wall when he played at Minnesota. Kevin wore number 44 in college, but switched to 32 in Boston, which was Walton's number at UCLA and in the pros before he came to the Celtics (Pete Maravich wore Kevin's 44 at the time in 1980). And Walton wore 33 in high school, Bird's number throughout his high college and pro career.

When they practiced against each other in 1985-87, McHale would often burn Walton and tease his former idol. And Big Bill loved every minute of the challenge and camaraderie.


12) When Duncan faced the few good big men of his time like Kevin Garnett or Shaq, he usually was stymied or outplayed. Duncan simply lacked the creativity and athletic ability to outplay quality big men his size or bigger - unlike McHale. Tim had little offensive imagination compared to Kevin, who constantly had to outmaneuver bigger and better opponents than Duncan faced, throughout his career.

In the rare times Duncan went up against quality bigs, he often came up short. Coming to basketball late helped Duncan avoid many of the bad playground habits many American players pick up, but it also robbed him of the fluidity, creativity and feel for the game that those who play from a young age develop.

By contrast, Kevin had that feel and improvisational ability in the post more than any big man ever. And unlike Tim he could put it on the floor and drive too, especially pre-1988.


13) People also tend to overrate Duncan slightly because he came across as a nice, quiet guy in a league too often filled with look at me, prima donna superstars.

The casual fan with no reason to dislike the Spurs liked the low-key Spur standout, and give him an extra advantage from that whne ranking him - although referee Joey Crawford contended that Duncan's uber-humble, nice guy facade was fake after he became a big star.

Kevin was always the genuine article, talking and joking with teamates and foes alike, even befriending the notably surly Moses Malone. He could get along with anyone, and was a natural comedic ham, even enjoying a guest star role on the 1980s Boston-based hit sitcom "Cheers."

Duncan's low-key retirement, as opposed to the self-congratulating Kobe Bryant season-long send-off, was reminiscent of Bird's dignified, quiet retirement in 1992. McHale also retired quietly in 1993, amid little or no national fanfare.

Plus McHale played for an established traditional power that some fans simply disliked because (like the 'Damn Yankees) they won too much. Thus a lot of folks just would not root for Kevin. Duncan played for a small market team that had never been to an NBA Finals before he joined them in 1998, and was easy to root for.

Kevin, mostly a finesse player, also has been associated far too much for his hard takedown foul of Kurt Rambis in the 1984 Finals. It was probably the only really hard foul McHale perpetrated in 13 years, and has been blown out of proportion by Celtic-haters and revisionist historians.

They forget, or don't know, that the less-talented Knicks set the no-layup tone for the 1984 playoffs with several hard fouls and takedowns of McHale and Bird in their seven-game eastern semifinal series.


14) Duncan also hung around for several seasons well past his peak or even All-Star form, adding to his stats and trying to win more rings, of which he got one in 2014. But over his last nine seasons (2008-16), that was the only championship he and the Spurs won, and by then he was no longer even one of the top two players on his own club.

Coach Popovich helped extend Tim's career by drastically cutting his minutes over the last several seasons of his career. Due to a tougher league and shortened bench, McHale was forced to play heavier minutes in his prime and his career was six years shorter.


15) In 1987, McHale played the entire playoffs on a broken foot and a sprained ankle despite doctor's advice not to play at all. Even Bird said McHale should sit out lest he ruin his career. Because of that gutty decision to play while hurt in search of a repeat title, McHale still limps to this day.

McHale was tougher than Duncan. He also had more passion for the game. At times, it seemed like the impassive Duncan played only because he was tall. Indeed, Tim was a promising swimmer growing up before a hurricane wrecked their pool in the Virgin Islands, and so he turned to hoops later than most future pros.

Despite his reputation as a jokester, once he crossed between the lines Kevin was a tough, hard-nosed competitor who hated to lsoe and fought for position heartily. McHale was amaster at rooting out low-post position, a lost and overlooked art. In over 20 years since he retired, he served well as an NBA GM and head coach.

He guided his home-state Minnesota club to its only Western Conference final in 2004, and the franchise has struggled mightily since he left, having missed the post-season each of the last 12 seasons.

From 1997-2004 under his leadership as GM, the expansion Timberwolves made the playoffs eight straight years. He also coached Houston to the 2015 Western Conference finals and posted a 232-185 coaching record in seven years.

It is hard to see Duncan doing either role, as he lacks the passion, drive and personality to be a head coach or GM.


16) McHale was more athletic than the robotic Duncan. Tim was taller by a couple inches, but very mechanical and relatively slow, as well as a lesser leaper. Before the foot injuries hit in 1987 McHale ran the floor better, was an outstanding and quick leaper, and had far superior lateral movement.

Both had very long arms, but if you watch any films of Kevin up through 1987, he was an excellent leaper who excelled at jumping quickly several times in a row too, especially on the offensive glass. Duncan was more languid and relied on his height and reach far more than effort and leaping ability.


17) Duncan did not deserve the 2005 NBA Finals award - teammate Manu Ginobili did - and Kevin deserved part of the 1986 Finals MVP with Bird. Manu scored 23 points on 13 shots, and made several key plays down the stretch to help win a low-scoring defensive battle in game seven over Detroit, 81-74. Duncan shot just 10 for 27 in the finale, but had 25 points and 11 boards.

Still, in game five missed Duncan seven free throws in a row at one point in a crucial overtime 96-95 win at Detroit, then missed a two-inch gimme in front of the rim at the buzzer that would have won it in regulation.

Despite taking most of his shots from close range, Duncan connected on just 41.9 percent from the field in the 2005 Finals while taking 33 more shots than any other Spur. He also made just two-thirds of his foul shots and had more turnovers than blocks.

He averaged 20.6 points and 14.1 rebounds in the Finals, while Ginobili tallied 18.6 ppg, led the team in assists, grabbed 5.9 rebounds a game and played strong defense (he helped harass Rip Hamilton into just 38.6 shooting in the series) and was the best player in game seven by far. Yet Duncan received the MVP.

Tim just wasn't nearly as clutch as McHale. The biggest series Kevin excelled in, especially the three Lakers Finals and the 1986 Finals vs. Houston, as well as several tough series vs. Detroit Philly and the Bucks, were packed with far more pressure than any Duncan starred in. Every team brought their A+ game against Boston, especially with the title on the line.

The Celtics were the clear frame of reference for excellence for every other team, including the Lakers. As such, they never got a night off. Duncan took lots of nights off later in his career for rest as Popovich came up with new ways to maximize his aging standout.


18) Kevin's excellent stats were lessened even more by spending half of his career as a sixth man (the first four and last two seasons) on a roster full of stars who could all have scored much more on a less-balanced team.

Duncan was the number one option most of his career and played with more complementary players than great ones whose first goal was to set him up.


19) Yes, Duncan did win consecutive season MVPS in 2002 and 2003. But if one accepts my argument that the NBA of the 1980s was far, far tougher than the expansion-diluted version of the kate 1990s and early 2000s, then these MVPs aren't as meaningful.

McHale battled against top tier Hall of Famers and MVPs regularly throughout his career. Duncan rarely did, especially when it comes to big men.

I doubt Duncan would have won any MVPs in the 1980s. Bird (three), Johnson (two), Jordan, Jabbar, Erving and Moses Malone (two) won those 10 MVPs. McHale could have won some in the 2000s and deserved a co-MVP in the 1986 Finals. He could have won the 1987 season MVP had he not gotten hurt and shared top billing on his own team wih three-time defending MVP Bird.

Duncan's two Finals MVPS he deserved were won against really weak finalists in 1999 (Knicks) and the Nets (2003).


20) McHale was a superstar on arguably the greatest team in NBA history, the 1985-86 Celtics, who went 67-15 in a 23-team league and rolled through the playoffs to banner number 16 with a 15-3 mark.

In that season, Kevin averaged 21.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.2 blocks per game in just 35 minutes a night. He took only 14.4 shots per game, an incredibly efficient rate, and shot 57.4 percent from the field and 77.6 from the line.

In the Finals, despite giving up six inches in height to Sampson, McHale destroyed Ralph. Kevin scored a series-best 25.8 points a game on 57.3 percent accuracy, pulled down 8.5 rebounds, blocked 15 shots and hit on 80 percent at the charity stripe.

The 7-4 Sampson averaged 14.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 0.8 blocks in that six-game Finals, shooting just 44 percent from the floor and 73 percent at the line.

In the title-clinching sixth game blowout loss at Boston, Sampson did not make a field goal until the second half when the game was a 28-point rout at one time, and ended up with a meager eight points in 38 minutes. McHale rammed home 29 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks in 39 high-intensity minutes.

I highly doubt Duncan, with his relative lack of creativity, touch and athleticism, could have whipped the 7-4 Sampson as soundly.

In the victorious locker room afterward, McHale jabbed at big Ralph (who snubbed Auerbach in 1980 when Red tried to entice him to enter the draft in which he procured McHale and Parish instead) by telling teammate Rick Carlisle that now he understood why he never won an NCAA title with the 7-4 wannabe guard while playing at Virginia.

And also needled frequent foil Danny Ainge by wondering how his BYU team could lose to Ralph and UVa in the 1981 NCAA tournament elite eight.


21) Injuries and age forced Kevin to retire in 1993, but he still showed how great he could be in his last playoffs far more than Duncan did. Tim went out with a whimper in 2016 as a total non-factor in the 4-2 Spur loss to the Thunder in the western semifinals.

But even in Kevin's last playoff series at 35 and with bad feet, he led Boston in scoring at 19 ppg on 58 percent shooting in a 3-1 loss to Charlotte. Highlighting that series was his 30-point turn-back-the-clock masterpiece in game two. Kevin's fadeaway jumper off double-leap offensive rebound tied the contest just before the buzzer, forcing an OT that Boston ultimately lost 99-98.

In that last epic performance, McHale sank 13 of 18 from the floor, converted four of five free throws and grabbed 10 rebounds in 36 minutes off the bench. It turned out to be his final game at the Boston Garden.

On the final play of his career in game four the 1993 playoffs, Boston trailed by a point with a second left. Kevin launched a perfect alley-oop in-bounds pass from halfcourt to skywalking Dee Brown at Charlotte for the winner.

Brown was clearly fouled on the play and missed from close range, denying a great Celtic comeback that would have tied the series 2-2 in an an eerily similar repeat of 1991 at Detroit. But the refs swallowed their whistles in Charlotte - and Kevin walked off into the sunset.


Some more fun McHale tidbits....
In Kevin's rookie season, the care-free Minnesotan was occasionally in hard-driving coach Bill Fitch's doghouse. "Why can't you be more like Larry?" he asked McHale, wishing Kevin would be as basketball-obsessed as Bird.

"Heck no, I have a life," quipped Kevin in return.

"Rook, you're a great player, he (Fitch) just doesn't know it yet," assistant K.C. Jones told McHale, building his confidence in the down times of his rookie season when Fitch did not play him enough.

Through his first seven seasons McHale kept getting better and more productive, as his points per game average increased every season. He went from 10 ppg in 1981 to 13.6, then 14.1, 18.4 and 19.8 when he finally became a starter in season five due to a knee injury to Cedric Maxwell.

Kevin upped that to 21.3 and then a career-best 26.3 in season seven. His ascent finally culminated in that first team All-NBA season in 1986-87, when he was in the running for the MVP award until a broken bone in his foot late in the campaign derailed him, finishing fourth just behind Bird.

Interestingly, his averages then went down every year after the injury, to 22.6 in season eight, 22.5, 20.9, 18.4, 13.9 and then 10.7 in his final season. A wonderful symmetry for 13 campaigns peaking in the middle seventh season, then gracefully going downward.

Yet he was able to continue making the All-Star team in the first four seasons (1988-91) after his debilitating foot injury.

Charles Barkley has often said McHale was the most unstoppable player he ever faced, and is one of the top five players he competed against.

Even former Big 10 and hated Piston foe Isiah Thomas, interviewed several years ago, said he would "take McHale over Duncan." It was a testament to how respected and feared McHale was by the opposition.

He repeatedly torched the Pistons - and everyone else - including his 56-point game vs. Detroit that briefly stood as the club record in March of 1985 before Bird broke it nine days later with 60 vs. Atlanta.

In that contest, Kevin sank a staggering 22 of 28 field goal attempts and canned all 12 of his foul shot tries. Talk about accurate, and efficient. He was nicknamed the "black hole" for not passing much by Bird, but early in his career Kevin was an underused sixth or seventh man who had to make an immediate impact once he entered the fray.

Kevin was simply the most unstoppable low-post big forward scorer ever, and was a better, more versatile defender than Duncan. The QUALITY of his moves and baskets was so much higher than the perfunctory, easy field goals Duncan tossed in over smaller, much inferior opposition for most of his 19 years.

He was better in the clutch and played in a much tougher, less expansion-diluted NBA replete with great big men - unlike Duncan's era, which signaled the dea(r)th of the big man, the rise of major use of the three-pointer and the face-up perimeter-shooting big man, a style ushered in by Dirk and to a lesser extent, the Admiral.

Would a team of five McHale clones beat a team of five Duncan clones in a fullcourt, 48-minute game? I think so, due to more multi-faceted offensive skills, better lateral movement, hoops IQ/imagination and touch.

But a decade or less from now when fans begin to forget the silent Spur, someone new will be anointed as successor to Timmy D as the supposed best power forward ever. Especially in this era of hype where flash often trumps substance and superstar labels are bestowed well before they are even remotely achieved.

If you don't believe me, google McHale's best moves on Youtube or find old games on NBA TV, then sit back and enjoy the basketball symphony of post moves unfold. As good as Duncan was, his moves were never close to being in the same class as Kevin's.

McHale's post moves were truly basketball poetry in motion. Even though Duncan was a wonderful player, like Isiah, I would take Kevin over Timmy.


If you want to contact the author directly, you can email Cort Reynolds at cdrada2433@yahoo.com.