MySynergySports: How should the Spurs utilize Tony Parker?


May 29, 2012; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) reacts against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first half in game two of the Western Conference finals of the 2012 NBA playoffs at the AT

(Editor’s note: This is the third of a series of posts that detail the San Antonio Spurs in a much more defined, analytical light. Statistics courtesy of the excellent MySynergySports.)

Tony Parker’s MVP caliber season wasn’t without it’s warts — his points per possession efficiency dropped a bit from his 2010-11 season, while not dramatic, which was to be expected for a player that was given full reigns to the Spurs’ offense.

With power comes great responsibility and because of his quickness, Parker managed to succeed admist a sea of persistent defenders. His proficiency in transition improved a couple notches, allowing San Antonio to effectively leverage the pace until their optimal pace is achieved, which is generally around 96 possessions/48 minutes according to work done by statistician Aaron McGuire of Gothic Ginobili.

For San Antonio, blistering pace is conducive to success. The same goes for Parker, a sort of synonymous relationship between the two. As the pace lessens, it gives the opposition time to exploit San Antonio’s above-average defense, but certainly flawed, while alleviating the damage of their biggest perimeter threat.

And that’s why he’s so darn effective. It is difficult to stop Parker from not getting out in transition, as 17% of his possessions are classified as such, especially when he is the beneficiary of space and pinpoint outlet passes from Tim Duncan. On some occasions, his job is already done; Duncan has an innate ability to set the tenor of possession with a timely pass, leaving the easy work for Parker.

While pick-and-rolls still represent a good chunk of Parker’s possessions, the Spurs may be forced to become more creative with him off the ball. The Motion Weak offense is designed to create these kinds of looks and they had success in finding Parker away from the ball against Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals. Parker scored 12 points on 12 off the ball possessions (one point per possession), an insignificant sample size, yes, but it does illustrate the potential success of working their primary threat away from the ball.

As teams decide to play Parker with bigger, longer defenders, this facet will become a necessity. Navigating a single pick-and-roll on the top of the key rather than navigating one, two, three screens away from the ball is significantly easier for bigger defenders like Thabo Sefolosha. The extra couple steps he gains from a well executed set make it even more of a foregone conclusion that Parker scores.

The rest of Parker’s possessions distribution can be found below in this chart.

Parker away from the ball: As mentioned above, the Spurs should get creative with Parker. He scored well in a limited sample size on hand offs, cuts and off screens. These sets wouldn’t result in 3-point attempts, though. The key to utilizing Parker away from the ball is to sever enough space from his defender, while not compensating some through sound floor spacing, and he will do the rest. It’s that simple.

Mid-range: Parker took and made a higher percentages of his attempts from 10-23 feet, while being assisted on a smaller percentage of his shots. His mid-range game has developed to a point where defenders can’t always go under the screen with impunity. He still struggles in traditional spot up situations, however.

Getting to the line: Increasing his free throw rate was a positive development for Parker’s season, as free throws are a viable solution for his extra workload. About two-thirds of his and-1 opportunities last season predicated from the pick-and-roll and transition.

More Synergy breakdowns: Part I | Part II