The importance of T.J. Ford

By Quixem Ramirez

Spurs backup point guard T.J. Ford has been assigned to the Austin Toros for a one day rehab stint. He’ll probably be OK to play against the New York Knicks on Wednesday so this move is nothing major.

Ford, in his first year in the Spurs system, hasn’t had enough time to become a meaningful contributor to the Spurs rotation. Because of the injury to his left hamstring on Jan. 10 at Milwaukee, he’s missed 24 games.

This isn’t the first time that Ford has been bitten by the injury bug, however. As a member of the Bucks, he missed the entire 2004-05 season because of a frightening spinal injury. In his injury ravaged career that spans eight years, Ford has missed 183 games. To put that into context, Ford is good for missing 30% of his games every year. In a normal 82 game regular season, that comes out to about 25 missed games due to injury. If he continues that pace this year (and he might be lucky to do so given his track record), Spurs fan should expect 33 games from our backup point guard.

Ford’s absence is notable considering the amount of minutes coach Gregg Popovich is forced to give Tony Parker. Parker, who is playing at an elite level (19.2 points, 7.9 assists, .460 FG%) has been tasked with 69% of the minutes at point. Parker is only 29 years old but the sheer volume of time he’s logging on the court coupled with the quantity of games per week isn’t necessarily a good thing for his long-term health.

Ford (12.0 PER) is a capable distributor and that skill set is invaluable on a team full of shooters like the Spurs. He isn’t a good shooter but he doesn’t need to be. In limited time this year, Ford has exhibited his impressive court vision. His assist rate stands at a gaudy 65.2 (it will probably regress to mean with more sufficient playing time). He’s struggled with turnovers this year (also will probably regress) but, even so, he still remains a much more reliable creator than Gary Neal and Cory Joseph.

In yesterday’s game (Editors note: Spurs-Nuggets recap coming later), his unselfishness led to many uncontested looks for Spurs shooters. Singlehandedly, Ford can revitalize the entire second unit because of his adept knowledge of the nuances of the game. He can control the flow of the game more than any other Spur not named Manu Ginobili or Parker. Backup point guard Andre Miller posed a distinct matchup problem for Ford (size) so he only received six minutes. Or maybe Pop had simply planned on giving him some action before sending him to Austin to rehab for the game against New York on Mar. 7.

Either way, Ford’s importance on this squad shouldn’t be understated. When he’s on the court, the Spurs score 108 points (per 100 possessions) and allow 99 points. Ford’s two-year adjusted plus/minus is plus-3.79 which is third behind Tim Duncan and Manu.

In the time being, the Spurs will depend on Danny Green, Manu and Neal to handle the ball.