What’s the Point? Parker Must Lead the Spurs in His Own Way
Tony Parker is not John Stockton. We know that. The Spurs know that. In fact, they built one of the most successfully executing and complicated offensive systems in the NBA around that bit of knowledge.
There was a time, however, when Gregg Popovich did want Parker to be Stockton. In the summer of 2003 the Spurs even attempted to bring in someone Stockton-like in his ability to run an offense and rack up high assist numbers. Iâ€™ll spare you the history lesson because chances are at some point tonight one of the television personalities will tell you about it anyways.
Tonight Parker will look his defender in the eyes and see his exact opposite, a point guard who scored inefficiently but excelled at feeding teammates, and remember what the Spurs once wanted. Fortunately for the Spurs, Kidd resigned with the Netsâ€”sorry, thereâ€™s that history lesson after allâ€”and Popovich recognized Parker for the unique player he truly was, allowing him to grow into the point guard that won the Finals MVP inÂ the team’sÂ last championship.
â€œFor us, Tony has to be at the top of his game,â€ Popovich stated after a Dec. 21 win over the Clippers. â€œItâ€™s always been that way and always will be.â€
At the top of his game Parker is aggressively attacking the basket and finishing in the lane. But despite both the team and individual success Parker has helped create, there are always those detractors that still demand Parker to be Stockton. That still wish we could trade him for Jason Kidd. Or Chris Paul. Or Steve Nash. Or even Rajon Rondo. All of it in the name of a misguided and overrated notion of the traditional â€œpureâ€ point guard.
But what is a true point guard? These â€œtraditionalistsâ€ would tell you that itâ€™s to initiate the offense, create for your teammates and shoot only when no other option presents itself. Any guard that deviates from that, no matter how successful, is automatically lumped in with Allen Iverson and Monta Ellis as selfish ball hogs, or perpetual losers.
I would argue that this is a limited and archaic view of basketball and that the concept of â€œpureâ€ point guard is overrated. After all, how many titles do these â€œpureâ€ point guards have? Parker and his scoring mentality have accounted for three titles.
So if Parker doesnâ€™t fit the mold of point guard we want to hold so high, how have the Spurs been so successful?Â Simply put: Â assist averages do not predicate success. Systems do. The goal of an offense is to make the best use of its resources in generating the most efficient shots possible and adapt when those options are taken away. A point guard then should be judged solely by how well his team fulfills those goals, regardless of style.
Statisticians have repeatedly pointed out that the most efficient shots are lay-ups and corner threes. Itâ€™s a big reason why dominant big men are so integral to championships. They prevent lay-ups while generating close shots and open three-pointers. And what is Tony Parker if not a one-man lay-up line?
Sure, his critics have had ammunition this year (and no, not the Gilbert Arenas kind). After all, last season was supposed to be the coronation of Parker as an elite player, one who Popovich made a copy of Tim Duncanâ€™s keys to the franchise for. Given the reigns to the offense and a bevy of new weapons wasnâ€™t this suppose to be a glorious encore for Parker?
It hasnâ€™t turned out that way. Parkerâ€™s numbers are down and the Spurs began the season in a disappointing clash of turnovers, failures to incorporate new players and losses to winning teams. With the team struggling, Parker even attempted to reinvent himself on the fly.
But the Spurs troubles were never a conflict of styles and itâ€™s not been because Tony Parker hasnâ€™t been John Stockton. The biggest problem is that Tony Parker has not been Tony Parker. At least not the one weâ€™ve seen over the past few seasons.
Iâ€™m sure you can find some statistics to showcase Parkers struggles. A rise in turnovers, a drop in scoring average and shot attempts. Some of it has been attributed to a transition to a passing mentality, but watch the tape. Does he look right?
Players are staying in front of Parker, or at least bumping him enough to allow the help to recover. Theyâ€™re stripping him repeatedly on drives while it doesnâ€™t appear defenses are doing anything new.
At least three Parker trademarks have been noticeably absent this season. When was the last time you can recall one of his patented spin moves in the lane? Or a â€œEuro-stepâ€ on a fast break that actually created separation from the defender? Even the teardrop has appeared less.
They were all present at the beginning of the season which leads me to believe that the ankle, or summer fatigue, are preventing Parker from accessing his fastest gears and full offensive game.
And despite what some think, Parkerâ€™s complete scoring arsenal is relative to the success of his teammates. Even if heâ€™s not the passer Steve Nash or Chris Paul are, his ability to completely break down a defense makes his teammates better by allowing them to operate against a broken, scrambling defense.
Think about the Spursâ€™ system. Parker may not have huge assist numbers, much to the chagrin of some, but how much of a detriment is that? In Tim Duncan the Spurs have the best passing center in the league, leading all pivot men with 4.6 assists per 48 minutes to run their offense through. In my previous post, I touched on how Manu Ginobiliâ€™s playmaking complemented Parkerâ€™s game. When you get so much playmaking from your center and shooting guard spots, isnâ€™t it okay for your point guard to score a little?
Itâ€™s never been Parkerâ€™s pin-point passing that has elevated the Spurs. As a point guard, Parker is a unique and dangerous combination of speed and finishing ability. His approach might not ring up assist numbers, but the attention that teams need to pay a healthy Parker open up driving lanes for players like George Hill or Richard Jefferson, who, while excellent finishers, have trouble creating driving lanes of their own.
Curbing a weapon like Parker to conform to an outdated definition of point guard, especially when you have two other players more than capable of supplementing his playmaking duties, is simply a gross mismanagement of our resources.
Moving forward, itâ€™s not in the Spurs best interests to alter Parkerâ€™s game or trade for a point guard who would appease â€œtraditionalistsâ€. The Spurs tried that before and if they have any notion of doing so again, they simply need to look on the floor and weigh the point guard so many always wanted against the rings the team already has.