The 6-foot-11-inch rookie is in the high post, his 7-foot mentor is on the blocks and college is in the rearview mirror. Tim Duncan admits missing the camaraderie at Wake Forest, but life with David Robinson in the Twin Peaks offense has its upside.
"I don't know what I'd do without him," Duncan said of Robinson, a seven-time All-Star center. "There would be a lot more pressure, and it would be a lot harder for me if I didn't have him."The No. 1 pick in the June draft was posting up Patrick Ewing on Sunday night in a preseason game between the New York Knicks and San Antonio Spurs at the Carrier Dome. He scored 19 points in the Spurs' preseason opener on Saturday, hitting 9 of 13 shots from the field, grabbing 4 rebounds and looking the part of one of the best young pivot men to enter the National Basketball Association in years.
"Tim's looked good all along," Robinson said after that game. "I think Tim's an All-Star. He's already one of the best in the league."
Not since an agile Ralph Sampson and a young Hakeem Olaju-won teamed to power the Houston Rockets in the mid-1980s has there been such a potentially formidable twosome in the middle. Robinson is coming off a season in which he missed 76 games because of injuries, and Duncan will be learning the pro game for at least this season.
How well they can coexist in the middle of the key will not be decided for some time. But their off-court relationship has blossomed, with Robinson playing a major part in molding the rookie. Robinson invited Duncan to his summer home in Aspen, Colo., for one week over the summer, and the two worked out with the Spurs' backup center, Will Perdue.
"It made me feel great that he was willing to start working me that early," Duncan said. "I got in on his workouts and got to see what it takes to get ready for the season."
Duncan was celebrated for remaining in college for four years instead of taking the money and coming out, as many young players have done the past few years. Making good on a promise he made to his mother before her death, he felt he needed to mature and did not want to discard the university experience for the 82-game grind that awaited him.
Robinson is still listed as the Spurs' center in the starting lineup, but the position has become interchangeable, with one playing the high post and the other playing the low post in coach Gregg Popovich's scheme. Duncan is unpretentious, courteous and thoughtful, and his demeanor seems to be a mild-mannered protest to the glut of image-consumed young players flooding into the league.
Popovich telephoned Duncan shortly after he was drafted, thinking he would have to work long and hard to convince his young center that he should play in the Utah summer league with other young players who needed experience.
Popovich was telling Duncan of the advantages of his cutting his summer vacation short to play in the league when Duncan interrupted him. "Pop, do I need to be there?" he inquired.
"Yes," Popovich said. "It would help you out."
"Then I'm there," Duncan said. "No problem."