Tony Parker as Steve Nash

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Tony Parker assisted four of the first five San Antonio baskets, leading the Spurs to a commanding early lead against the Clippers. The Clippers would eventually battle back with a run of sorts, but last night’s game was over soon after it began.

Tony Parker is credited with with 28 assists over the last three games, games in which he’s played a total of 99 minutes. The Spurs’ already efficient offense has looked explosive, and Parker may have refined his role on this remade San Antonio team. When the Spurs get Richard Jefferson and Manu Ginobili involved early, the offense starts to hum. And this despite a horrendous stretch of high turnover contests. It seems counter-intuitive, but it’s right there for us to see.

Tony Parker’s point play is at  the center of the latest version of the 2009-10 Spurs–the team is a brief 21 games in, but it feels like the Spurs have already shed their skin two or three times this season. Version 3.0 defeated the Clippers last night.

To suggest that Tony Parker is playing like Steve Nash is a moment of hyperbole. You know that. But the last three contests have seen Parker assume a distinct pass first mentality in the first quarter. Of his seven assists, five came in the first quarter. His first shot attempt of the game came with 4:20 remaining in the first, and it was his only attempt of the quarter. Richard Jefferson was 3 for 5 on the quarter; Manu Ginobili was 2 for 3.

The results of the Charlotte game (two victories back) are less obvious, but consider that Parker only attempted seven shots against the Bobcats. And that Richard Jefferson and Manu Ginobili finished with 17 and 22 points, respectively.

Against the Kings, if you recall, Parker found Richard Jefferson for a scripted–gasp–alley oop on the game’s fifth possession. Parker finished with 11 assists, 7 of which came in the initial 12 minutes.

I call your attention to the trend, which, I admit, may turn out to be nothing. But it’s a potential watershed moment for the Spurs’ title contention, and the development of Tony Parker’s game. In some ways it’s a chicken and the egg conversation. Is Tony Parker collecting early assists because the Spurs are starting to play well? Or, perhaps, are the Spurs playing well because Tony Parker is making a concerted effort to find his teammates?

One wonders if the recent rash of turnovers owes anything to the the Spurs’ conscientious attempt to invoke that time-honored Judeo-Christian ethic of the pass shall be first. That, and a measure of makes-you-grimace sloppiness. At any rate, the Spurs have tallied an awful 54 turnovers in the previous three games. But I see more than a sliver of silver in those dark clouds.

  • Dr. Love

    We’ll get to compare TP to Nash in a controlled experimental setting tomorrow night. But for now, I concur with your causal hypothesis. Many of TP’s turnovers in Spurs 1.0 and Spurs 2.0 came when he dribbled into a thicket of bigs looking for a lay-up that wasn’t there. Now that’s he’s kicking it back out instead of forcing a shot, the other Spurs are getting involved.

    But I think the main difference with Spurs 3.0 is that RJ and Manu are sinking some shots. We didn’t see so much of that in earlier releases.

    Looking forward to Spurs 2010….

  • DieHardSpur

    I dont like it that everyone was sooo down on Parker for being a shoot first point guard. He was what we needed him to be. Last year with a half of a Duncan and no Ginobli, we needed someone who could score the ball and create their own shot. He rose to the occasion by refining his jump shot. His ability to finish in the paint was already top of the league. Early on, Spurs fans were/are down on him for his turnovers; he is simply trying to refine his passing skills. Comments?

  • Daniel B.

    I’ve been wondering the same thing. Parker’s turnovers have been through the roof lately, but I think that’s because of the metamorphisis you identify. Last year, he was our offense. This year, he’s trying to set the table for our offense. These roles are hugely different and require a change of both mindset and habits. As he becomes more accustomed to our new weapons (and integrates back in old weapons who saw the pine too much last year because of injury), I think we’ll see the turnovers decrease. A perfect transformation wouldn’t make Parker a only-pass point guard, though, as that would waste his considerable offensive firepower. Instead, it would result in something like a Steve Nash or even a CP3–someone who can both score at a high level and set up his teammates in their sweet spots. I’m curious to see if he’ll rise to the challenge.

  • http://www.maxmktg.com Tom in Bakersfield, CA

    One thing that has kept me hopeful this year is point differential. Last year we barely squeaked by to win the division. It came down to the last game and 3 teams finished within a single game of each other. We deserved to win the division, but we were only winning games by slim margins. Our first round exit was not completely unexpected.

    This year, even with the ups and downs, we have been winning games by a much more comfortable margin. In the last 10 games, we have a +8 margin of victory. Even for the whole season to date we are over +5.

    I think if we can limit our turnovers and beat a few playoff teams, we will be back in serious contention. I am looking forward to the Phoenix game!

  • Ivander

    Tony has another role this year, last year he very often was the only real offensive threat, this year he’s surrounded by a lot of guys who can score. That’s why he looks to pass the ball more often, draw attention an then kick it out to someone. I don’t think he’ll ever average 10 assists per game like CP3 or Nash do but he doesn’t need to. Other guys on this team can organise the game too and Parker is simply to good as a scorer to be a pure pass-first PG.

    Anyway it’s good to see RJ seems to have found his touch in the last few games, and I can only repeat how much I am amazed by Tim Duncan’s performances this year, he hits shot after shot after shot. He really looks 5 years younger!!
    Manu looks better every game too, dunking the ball in traffic or stepping back to hit a three-pointer, I love it!!!!
    Blair scared the hell out of me at the end of the Clippers game when he apparently tried to dunk over Steve Novak , fortunately he seems to be OK !

    Keep it up now, Spurs!!

  • Rick Ashford

    In regards to Parker’s turnovers, I’m not entirely sure that the situation is entirely due to him adjusting to being a pass-first PG.

    Many of the ones I’ve seen appear to have come when he’s trying to turn the corner, and just plain loses the ball. Now it may be that he’s trying to look for teammates instead of looking at the rim (much more difficult task to do), and that this is why he’s losing control, but it’s definitely disconcerting to watch.

    It also seems to me that he’s still a step or two slower than he normally is. He doesn’t seem to be blowing by people in half-court or transition like we’re accustomed to seeing. I wonder if the ankle issues that were a problem earlier are still bothering him.

  • ThatBigGuy

    You can’t fix everything at once. The team has been so focused on involving each other and running the plays right that there is a lack of focus on taking care of the ball. Now that we’re starting to get the hang of other things, the turnovers will take care of themselves.

    Usually, turnovers are the sign of bigger problems, i.e., locker room troubles, injuries, difficulty with new plays, or pressure from the front office. Once those problems are addressed, the turnovers always come back down to a normal average. Since our team has so many new guys learning a new system, once they start to truly understand it, the turnovers will slope back down.

  • Chris K.

    I agree, Parker has looked slower than usual. He’s still quick, but the lightning quickness hasn’t been there yet this year (was it there at the very beginning of the year, before the injury?)

    But, the first quarter last night was a phenomenal offensive performance. The Spurs looked focused, efficient, and dangerously versatile on offense. They looked frustrated when the Clippers somehow scored. They looked like a team that’s coming together.

  • zainn

    I am calling a winning streak to come up in the next 10 games due to the fact that the only hard teams coming up are pheonix, portland, milwaukee, miami at home and dallas at home. I think that we have a legitimate chance to get a win streak going.

  • JT

    Great game, a little disappointed that we let them come back, but it was nice to see that we got away when we wanted, as if we knew we had the ability to come back intentionally.

    Blair scared the heck out of me on that last play, he needs to be careful and realize that it was a dumb play, we are up by 20 points and he cant risk getting injured like that on what was obviously an offensive foul.

    Cannot wait to the Suns game, in a way, I’m glad we are finding our rhythm now in perfect time to beat the Suns, I would just for our domination over Phoenix to go on forever. :)

    I like that Bonner is getting at shooting the 3 much quicker, hes been playing great for us.

    Is that…Ginoliliiiiiiiii… Manu is playing great… seems like he’s got a personal thing with the rim :) He’s been shooting lights out from 3. Keep it up…

    Here come the Spurs!!!!!

  • rj

    i have been very critical of parker’s score first mentality and i’m also an emotional guy, which is why i could never be a sports writer, but parker’s ascension into a facilitator is magnificent.

    with so many offensive weapons on this year’s squad, someone has to look to get everyone involved. popovich claims it is beacause of how other teams are playing parker, which may be a result of watching last year’s film (the tp show). i believe this is indeed true, but parker also understands that they can’t be a three (or two, depending on manu’s health) trick pony anymore. his selfless play shows a sound development in his maturity as a player and as a person.

    parker the passer elevates us to elite status.

  • Ian

    I haven’t watched any games recently, but from what I’ve seen in late November and against Boston, Parker did seem to have changed his style a little – in general, he seemed to be trying to get his teammates more involved by sharing the ball and creating plays. I first thought it was the injuries and fatigue that prevented him penetrating more often, but it may be more sensible to assume that Parker is starting to figure out how to utilise the team’s (offensively) much improved roster. He is a PG of nearly a decade of experience after all.
    I wouldn’t compare Parker with Nash, since their team is playing very different style of basketball. However, if Parker can further develop his abilities of involving other teammates and making plays, I don’t see why he cannot reach Nash’s status as an elite PG. It would be interesting to watch them clash in the next game.

  • jaychuch

    how can you say hes not an elite pg 3 titles hello? nash 0 a kthx…

  • deent

    i m a spurs fan from abroad and i get to read you guys everyday since i can t watch all of the spurs’ games!! but it s just amazing to see how many of u are down on tony!
    how come the spurs organization and all those who know better about the game than us believe he s great for the team (and handed him 3 all stars selections, finals mvp…) and most of u guys keep bashing him on a spurs fans site!!!!
    now how about trading him if he doesn t feat as many of u tend to believe???
    i wonder how the spurs whould fair out!! see how easier it would be for opposing teams to defend the spurs, knowing he s not out there anymore (and turning all their attention to timmy)! So please just trade him! alk, gegremmer etc… could start posting on someone else!!
    Don t u guys see what u have!! instead u just keep complaining, and again and again and again about the same one player!!
    hope to see the spurs start rolling!! the bench he s been great!! and seems to me manu is back, i mean really back!!!!
    go spurs go

  • Will

    Parker is clearly trying to distribute more, especially early in the games to get his teammates going and their confidence up… exactly what he did with the French NT when he saw he couldn’t do it all and that scoring 15 points in the first quarter took the other guys out of the game, he switched to what he’s currently doing with the Spurs. Who said international play was wasted time? :)

    My view is that Parker is an extraordinarily gifted player who will step up to whatever challenge he has to face. There’s a debate whether Pop asked him to behave like this (current streak) or if he did it on his own – that would be an interesting question to ask at a press conference. Give him 20 guys to morph into his new role and he’ll be a 15&10 guy instead of 22&7.

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