Comparing him to the other candidates at power forward ...
Karl Malone Fifty years from now, people will examine his stats and say, "Wait a second, this guy was one of the five best basketball players ever!" And that's why you shouldn't totally trust statistics. There was no stat that could fully capture the Karl Malone "Uh-oh, I'm taking another dump in a big playoff game" Face.
Charles Barkley His ceiling may have been higher than anyone else's, but Barkley's career actually makes me a little angry. You watch those old Suns games from the '93 season and it's like, "Why the heck did it take him nine years to get in phenomenal shape?" And unlike Malone, his playoff stats were always better than his regular season stats for instance, in the '86 playoffs (his second season), he averaged a 26-15 in 12 games. Remarkable. I think we will see 20 more Karl Malones before we see another 6-foot-4 power forward who could dominate games like that. Still, he just wasn't as consistent as Duncan, although he is infinitely more fun to hang out with.
Kevin McHale We'll never know how good he could have been because he broke his foot during the '87 season (when he made first-team All-NBA and shot 60 percent from the field), then aggravated the injury beyond repair during the playoffs. He was never the same after that. But he was the best low-post player in the history of the position, as well as the best defender (everyone forgets this now, but he has to be the only guy who ever guarded Kareem and Andrew Toney within a two-month span).
Elvin Hayes A little before my time, but everyone seems to agree that he made Karl Malone look clutch by comparison.
Bob Pettit Sorry, I can't vote for anyone who played during an era when players actually smoked butts at halftime.
My vote still goes to Duncan. Although Amare Stoudemire might end up blowing everyone else away before everything's said and done. Or, as Detroit reader Mike Rooney points out, "If there's an NBA lockout, there's a chance that Amare Stoudemire could put on 150 pounds like Shawn Kemp did. Shouldn't that be enough to get the sides to agree?"
• This is worth rehashing one more time: The center spot was San Antonio's Achilles' heel dating back to David Robinson's retirement and the indefensible Rasho Nesterovic signing, the only real mistake of the R.C. Buford Era (yes, that's the Spurs GM, and yes, that's a stage name). So when they hijacked Nazr Mohammed from the Knicks in February one of those crazily one-sided trades that actually made me gasp out loud when it happened (the trading equivalent of seeing a Lindsay Lohan photo from the past six weeks) they didn't just acquire a half-decent center who could give them 25 minutes a night, they were knocking their only weak link (Rasho) out of their playoff rotation. In 16 playoff games, Rasho hasn't played a total of 100 minutes yet.
So in a way, the Mohammed trade was the 2005 equivalent of the Rasheed Wallace trade; maybe it didn't have the same cachet, but it was just as crucial to the overall success of the team. You can't win a championship with Rasho playing 25 minutes a game but you can win a championship with Mohammed playing 25 minutes a game. In other words, there isn't a day that goes by that R.C. Buford isn't thinking, "Thank God I called Isiah that day just to offer that stupid trade that I never thought he would do."