SAN ANTONIO -- Tim Duncan eagerly carried the mantle of go-to guy for the San Antonio Spurs for much of his 18 seasons, as did Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili at different parts of their careers.
But the emergence of Kawhi Leonard, coupled with the addition of four-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, signifies a shifting landscape of transition in San Antonio with Duncan working diligently this preseason to carve out a new niche.
"My role has changed a little bit this year," Duncan said. "I'm trying to figure that part of it out. But it's fun to be out there. It's fun to be with the guys that I've been with for so many years and some new guys that I'm learning."
Having relied on continuity over the past four seasons, the Spurs are working to figure out how to integrate Aldridge's skillset and Leonard's rapidly evolving game into Gregg Popovich's system alongside Duncan, Ginobili and Parker. While Duncan seems to have taken somewhat of a step back on offense, considering his usage rate of 22.2 percent on San Antonio's plays last season represented the lowest of his career, he's still a factor in the club's pick-and-roll game.
Despite the smaller role in 2014-15, Duncan displayed efficiency by posting a true shooting percentage of .560, which tied as his best since 2006-07.
"You have certain guys you go to," Popovich recently told the San Antonio Express-News. "Manu [Ginobili], Tony [Parker] and Tim [Duncan] were the three guys for most of their career. It shifted a little bit. It shifted from Timmy to Manu and Tony. You don't take it away from the former, but now it shifts a little bit towards Kawhi, a little bit towards LaMarcus. But you can't forget about Timmy, Manu and Tony."
Aldridge's arrival could result in Duncan spending more time in the high post, where he has proven to be a savvy distributor. During San Antonio's 96-92 win over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday, Duncan was credited with one assist to go with his six points. But he showed signs of developing chemistry with Aldridge, who finished shooting 4-of-14 and failed to capitalize on a couple of easy looks courtesy of Duncan passes.
"I fit into the flow tonight," Aldridge said after the game. "I had a lot of easy looks I just missed. I think Tim gave me some great passes I just wasn't used to getting. I think that will come with time, with playing with the guys more."
Duncan thinks so, too, and said the chemistry with Aldridge is "coming."
"We play a different way, and I've been here long enough that I don't really know that until people come in here and say, 'Wow, you guys play different,'" Duncan said. "So we play a different way, and people have to get used to that. Our movement, our motion, the ball movement, how unselfish people are, it's a blessing, but something that people have to get used to. He's just going through that process right now."
Duncan is undergoing something similar as the team is starting to gradually transition away from his production on offense. However, that's not to say the Spurs will completely abandon leaning on Duncan at times.
"As an individual, you have to try not to fight it," Duncan said of the transition. "We're all competitors and we all want to do what we've always done. But you have to understand what's best for the team, and I think we're all here for that. So it's just about accepting that, finding your niche and your new role."
That's not as easy as Duncan made it sound, and he even admitted to resisting somewhat.
"I always resist it," Duncan said. "Yeah, absolutely. But it is what it is. If I didn't resist it, I wouldn't be a competitor and I wouldn't be where I am. You just have to kind of play through it, and know it's what's best for the team. Eventually, it's what's best for you, too.