Who is the best player of the last decade? I can only think of two players that merit the debate: Shaquile O’Neal and Tim Duncan. But who is better and why? Each player has their favorable traits, assets and abilities that make them stand out. Both are dominant and with Duncan’s championship this year each has four rings. The MVPs, the All Star selections, the individual accolades and the team success are all there for both players... So who's the choice?
A few years ago Shaq would have been everybody’s answer. In the post-Jordan era, he has clearly been one of the league's most colorful characters and personalities as well as one of the most dominant, if not the most dominant player in the league. His size and skill set is enormous. Shaq is in the Wilt Chamberlain and Moses Malone mold – straight power. There is no finesse about his game. He anchored the Lakers teams that won three championships. Everything was run through him and he could explode for 40 points and 20 rebounds whenever he put his mind to it. He won his fourth championship with the Heat in 2006, but clearly he played second fiddle to Dwyane Wade. His star is still bright, but it’s fading. The wear and tear to his massive frame is showing. Shaq can’t even make it through a season anymore. Can he win another title, or more likely is he through?
Tim Duncan on the other hand seems to still be in his prime, although his individual explosions never met the heights of Shaq’s. His steadiness year in and year out has matched it. Duncan is the silent assassin. The best power forward to ever play the game. He is more of a finesse player than Shaq. More Kareem to Shaq’s Wilt. More McHale to Shaq’s Malone. But is he better? Is he the more dominant player of the last decade?
Their supporting casts have to be looked at too and both have played with a multitude of prime-time players and superstars. Shaq with Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Robert Horry and Wade and Duncan with David Robinson, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Could the 2007 Spurs beat the champion Heat from a year ago? I believe so. Could the 2007 Spurs beat the Shaq/Kobe Lakers? I’m not so sure about that, but probably.
So when it comes down to it, we have to look at the body of work. Shaq was more explosive and his star shined brighter for a shorter period of time, but Duncan’s steady burn keeps going and going and going. Can we see a fifth and sixth ring for Duncan? If the Big Three of the Spurs stay healthy, they obviously can accomplish that.
What about Shaq? I don’t think he will see another ring with the Heat, but can he attach himself to some other potential champion like Dallas? Who knows? But as it looks right now if we are talking about a player of the decade and that decade is the first of the third millenuim, I’d have to give the nod to Tim Duncan.